Why is that parents get blamed for their child’s anxiety?

Well, frankly I think parents get blamed for everything when it comes to their kids. It’s not just anxiety it’s everything else. Parents get blamed for their kids who tantrum, or their kids who whine, or their kids who struggle in school, or their kids who struggle in life.

Parents just get blamed period. 

It’s tricky because our parenting does have a big impact on our children and our choices do shape who they are — I mean, I think it’s a lot of nature but that nature is shaped by the nurture. Basically I believe we are born with personalities and tendencies and preferences and strengths and those things are impacted by our environment, including our parents.

That makes us awfully powerful but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot that’s out of our control.

I think it’s important, too, to recognize the two-way street of parenting. We do shape our kids but they shape us as well.

There’s a lot of research about this but the information hasn’t really drifted down to commonsense understanding of the reality of parenting.

Some children are more difficult, more sensitive, more reactive than others and we have kids like that, we learn to handle them more gently, which can look like enabling them.

For example, lots of us rock our babies to sleep for a long time. Some babies grow out of it, some babies don’t. And some of us get trapped into remaining part of our child’s sleep routine — like laying down with them or staying in the room with them — until they’re ten or even older. If you talk to somebody about that, they might say it’s your fault for always staying with them. That you shouldn’t have started that so-called bad habit of laying down with them. But if you’ve got a toddler or a preschooler who desperately needs sleep and who falls apart if you’re not with them then of course you’re going to stay with them. It works until it doesn’t. 

It’s not the parents fault that there is now a 10-year old who can’t sleep alone. I think we have to stop thinking about blame and fault and instead say, “Is that still working?” Does the parent still want to lay down with them? Is it preventing the 10-year old from gaining some new skills that they’re going to need? Are they missing out on slumber parties? Is the parent missing out on adult time? 

Basically it worked and now it doesn’t. It’s not helpful to say, “You shouldn’t have done it in the first place” because that’s not even true. You do what works until it doesn’t and then you do something different.

That’s why I say it’s not your fault but it is your responsibility. As parents, when we need or want change, we will have to upend our routines in order to create change.

It’s not our fault if a ten year old still can’t sleep alone but we will need to take action if our child is stuck and we or they are suffering for it. 

I know parents feel guilty when they realize that they are responsible for changing things up because they look back and say, “I should have done it differently.” But that’s not helpful. You did it that way — whatever way it was — because it worked or else you thought it would work. I mean, it made sense for you to do it that way. Now it doesn’t make sense. So now you get to reassess and do things differently. That’s all. No blame. It’s not your fault but it is your responsibility.

There are lots of things like that. Maybe we used to play tennis but now our knees hurt so we start taking swimming instead. Tennis was great until it wasn’t. It’s not our fault we have bad knees and it wasn’t a bad idea to play tennis. It was a good idea until swimming became a better idea. You wouldn’t beat yourself up for playing tennis? Or at least I hope you wouldn’t. So I hope you can find a way to not beat yourself up if you realize your parenting needs to change, too.

When it comes to anxiety it’s super easy to get stuck in patterns and routines that make things worse. Remember 94 to 99% of all parents with anxious kids and teens get stuck, which means you are NOT alone. But you have the opportunity to learn from these stats, to learn from the research and figure out what you’re going to do to change things up.

When we know better we get the opportunity to DO better.

And if we know better and choose NOT to do better? Well, then we need to take a long hard look at what’s stopping us.

In my work with parents I can say that the common barriers to upending anxious patterns are:

  • Lack of information, parents don’t know what to do or how to do it even if they know that something has to change;
  • Lack of support, all that blame they get isn’t helpful and is often hurtful;
  • Their child’s behavior, which tends to get worse when parents try to shift things up.

What happens is the family continues to struggle, everyone and their brother has advice to give, which only makes things more confusing, and the parents feel worse, which makes change that much harder. 

I will tell you right now, that anyone with solid training on supporting anxious kids and their families knows that you got here not because you care too little but because you care, period. You care about your kids, you’re trying to do right by them, and parenting an anxious child is confusing and exhausting. It’s hard to make the right decisions when those decisions aren’t always clear and you’re ground down by the reality of parenting an anxious child. 

But I want you to remember that you did not create your child’s anxiety, that the patterns that we fall into are ones that are common and understandable, and you can do things differently when you’re ready. Note I said when you’re ready, which might be before your child is ready but we can plan for that, too.

Just because what you’re doing is no longer working doesn’t mean you’re not doing a good job. It means that you and your child are growing and your parenting needs to grow, too. That’s all. No shame. No blame. Just the facts

Do you have a question you'd like me to answer on the show?

Scroll to Top