People worry. One could even argue it is simply in our nature. Some are more prone to it than others, but certainly none of us are completely unbound by it. Our ancestors were rightfully concerned about their chances of survival very often while we have the luxury of worrying about entirely different matters, but we tend to worry with a similar zest. However, it turns out there is plenty more to it than just genetics.
By Emily King
The environment plays a big part in forming a worried mind. Stress as a positive, adrenaline inducing state of mind can be of great benefit to us, but too much of it will affect our ability to tackle even the simplest tasks.
There are ways you can teach your child not to worry too much and to recognize when positive stress turns into anxiety. Here is a short overview of some of them with a bit of psychological background on anxiety that transforms into a roaring pestilence we call worries.
Pull Up a Mirror
Although it is somewhat of a cliché, the best way to start is to analyze your own approach to handling stress. Children don’t adopt only mannerisms and opinions of their parents. They also instinctively take over their parents’ internal mechanisms for dealing with all sorts of problems, including their emotional response in any given situation. Stress can be learned from our parents!
The logical conclusion to be made is that the first line of your kid’s defense against stress overload and anxiety is your own ability to handle everyday challenges calmly and rationally. Make no mistake—you cannot fake it. Your child will know the difference and will adopt your hiding of negative feelings as an instinctive response, which can arguably cause more damage than openly showing your anxiety in front of your kid.
Achievement and Parental Pressure
Various studies conducted among kids in the top 3 percent of grade-level achievement have shown that only 39 percent of them were feeling intense pressure from the parents, as opposed to 92 percent of the parents feeling it was important for their kids to achieve academic success. We could derive the conclusion that, if you are actively involved in your kids’ education, you have about a 40 percent chance of putting too much pressure on them to succeed, which certainly calls for a degree of caution.
Understanding the Problem
The simple way to define anxiety would be as worrying in advance. Again, it is important to separate the positive stress derived from enjoyable and challenging activities, which can be described as excitement or a state of heightened alertness, from the negative stress that builds up when people are forced to face too many unwanted challenges. Learn the differences between positive and negative stress here.
Recognizing stress in your child and teaching him or her to recognize such thoughts can be tricky and requires a soft touch and a great deal of introspection on your kid’s part.
First, you must teach your child to separate thoughts from emotions, and then take a step back and analyze his or her negative thoughts. For example, if your child is anxious about a school test, ask him or her to voice their specific concerns, or better yet, write them down. The process of putting thoughts into words itself has proven to be a great tool for getting insight into one’s hidden concerns and underlying causes for negative thoughts and feelings.
Help Them Enjoy the Ride
Proper, healthy nutrition, regular meals, and enough sleep are identified by the experts as the prerequisites for achieving a hormonal and chemical balance, which is especially important for kids as their bodies go through more volatile changes on all levels than adults. This also causes them to experience more violent emotional changes than adults, especially in their teens.
One of the great tools for achieving such chemical balance is any form of exercise, and the best way to encourage a child, especially a small one, to take up any kind of sport or physical activity is taking an active part in the process. If you miss your chance while they’re in their single digit or tween years, it will be much harder for you to steer them in that direction when puberty kicks in, as they will probably avoid family activities like the plague for a certain period of time.
Small things like colors also affect the overall state of a young mind a great deal, so paying attention to details is crucial in teaching your child to enjoy the moment rather than dread the next one. As said before, the primary tactic in actively battling your kids’ tendency to worry too much is encouraging them to define their concerns and then face them one by one when they are in plain sight, unable to hide in a swirl of thoughts and emotions.
In a time of almost fashionable worrying about just about everything, including the environment, poverty, another crisis in the East, disease, human rights and economy, among other things, it can be very hard for parents to instill a healthy attitude towards life in their children and find a fine line between underachievement and constant stress overload.
The first step must be refining your own attitude. It is less important whether you resort to video games, running, yoga, or using stress balls to blow off steam. Only when you have found the inner balance can you teach your child how to find that fine line and never to lose sight of it.
Emily is a mom of two happy little girls. She wants to teach them how to be happy and fulfilled in life, and she finds the first order of business is to help them understand they do not have to take the pressure and stress imposed by most of the outside world for granted.