This week’s question is, is it my anxiety or my child’s? That’s a great question. And I’m going to insert that meme here, where the kid says, why not both? The truth is it can be difficult to tease out where the anxiety started. Do we have an anxious parent? Do we have an anxious kid? Is the parent anxious because they’re anxious about their child is the child anxious because they have an anxious parent. It’s very complicated.
So first of all, let’s explain that when we are talking about child and teen anxiety, we are talking about it in the context of a family.
And that’s because the research shows us over and over again that the family system perpetuates anxiety. We do not need to know if it is the parent’s anxiety or the child’s anxiety. We can just say there is anxiety in the family and it needs support. Now the people that are most in charge, most in control of how the family functions are the parents. Which is why we start the intervention with the parents. We work on helping the parents interrupt patterns of anxiety and as we start to unhook from anxiety, then we can work more directly with the child. All right. As far as is it your anxiety? Is that the child’s? I kind of feel like at the beginning, at least it doesn’t matter. So for example, I have many families who come to me and the child has anxiety with one parent more than the other parent and the parent who is not seeing the anxiety will often tell me, I think it’s the other parent.
I think the other parent is so anxious they make the child anxious. And I say, yeah, maybe, maybe that, that could be part of it. It’s still going to need the same kind of attention, which is we have to interrupt the pattern. Is the parent creating the anxiety in the Child, perhaps but it’s very chicken and egg.
You cannot look at something happening with the child and know exactly what’s happening in the family. It’s kind of backwards when we do that. So when we, when we’re working with a child and we say the parent is clearly doing it wrong, we’re ignoring the fact that maybe the parent is doing things in reaction to the child.
All right. We know that. We know from the research that parents of anxious kids get trapped in those anxiety patterns. We also know that some children inherit anxiety from their parents, both genetically; they have brains shaped for anxiety. And also because we teach them how to be anxious. For example, if you’re afraid of spiders, then every time you see a spider, you’re going to jump and act afraid your child learns, oh, I get it.
Spiders are scary. I need to be afraid of spiders that doesn’t make it your fault per se. It’s just the reality that we teach children how to function in the world. On the other hand, if the child is afraid of spiders and freaks out every time they see it. The parent will start being afraid of seeing spiders because they know it will create a reaction in the Child.
Then you’ve got both people kind of freaking out over spiders. And you can’t say, well, it’s the parents’ fault because they shouldn’t be freaking out over spiders. Any more than you can say, it’s the child’s fault because they’re freaking out over spiders. So let’s quit talking about fault and instead start talking about how do we interrupt that pattern? And that is through exposure designing exposures about spiders. And that might be getting some spider toys, some little rubber spiders, some toys spiders, reading books about spiders. Until the pattern is interrupted in a way. If you’re just working with the child with the rubber spiders, toys spiders, all of those things. And the parent is still reacting. Hey, are you okay? There’s a spider. Are you all right? Then you can see that’s not going to go very far with the child. We also have to work with the parent. We need to calm down your reaction to the spider.
We need to help you not freak out when you see a spider, whether that’s because you yourself are uncomfortable with spiders or because having a child who’s afraid of spiders has made you reactive to spiders. Am I making sense here? We do know, too, that the bigger your child’s reaction, the more outsized their child’s reaction, the more likely you are to get activated.
If your child has big behaviors in their anxiety, then you are likely to feel that more and to get more caught in those anxious patterns. By the same token, if you are a sensitive, anxious individual, then your family is also more likely to get stuck in anxious patterns. Which is all to say, it is not helpful to talk about blame and talk about how we got here so much as to talk about how do we get out of here. If you’re feeling guilty because you feel like you have brought anxiety into the family. Please let that go
and instead, focus on how do I figure out how to get out of these anxious patterns we’re stuck in? How do I learn to take care of myself around the anxiety? Because I guarantee that’s going to make things better for your child. The more you can take care of your anxiety about your child’s anxiety, the better. And sometimes when I’m talking to parents that go, I do not have anxiety.
This is all my child. But the fact they’re reaching out to me tells me they do have anxiety. They’re anxious about their child’s functioning and that anxiety while you might not think of it as well. I’m an anxious person. You do have anxiety within the relationship because naturally as a loving, connected, empathetic parent, you’re worried about your kid. And that’s the anxiety that we’re going to pay attention to
as we work on getting the family out of the whole anxiety pattern. I get it, that the focus is on the child because the child is the one everybody’s concerned about. The child is the one who may be seems trapped. The child is the one who’s maybe causing issues for the family at large. But again, we need to start with the parent. Once the parent understands the patterns.
Once the parent understands how they are perpetuating or trapped in the patterns. Once the parent understands that they do have anxiety, even if it’s just about their child’s anxiety, then we’re really going to be able to get to work. .As we work on the parent to extricate themselves, I promise you, the whole family will extricate.
It may not look like you expect it may not look like all of a sudden my child’s anxiety has gone; they’re coping, et cetera. But again, the more you focus on you and understand what’s happening. The more you pull out of it. The more, you’re going to be able to support your child. I hope this all makes sense.
Thanks for tuning in this week. Remember if you have a question you’d like me to address on the show, please go to ChildAnxietySupport .com/question, and you can post it there. Maybe I’ll address it on a future episode. I also wanted to let you know that I have a webinar called “Tell Me It Will Be OK: How To Talk To Your Anxious Child About Their Anxiety”
and you can register for that at ChildAnxietySupport.com /webinar. That’s free for you. I just want you to check it out and let me know if it’s helpful. If you’d like to learn more about me and my program and see if maybe I can help your family, please visit ChildAnxietySupport.Com.