I remember it like it was yesterday. I was sitting in my room, grinding my teeth, when my inner voice exploded with anger: Enough!
His screams had made their way deep inside the part of my brain that houses rage and I just couldn’t contain myself anymore.
So I bounced up and stormed in his direction. When I had him cornered I glared at him and demanded silence.
I pointed at him and shouted: Stop! He looked back at me with a quivering lower lip and these sad, sad eyes that made me feel like total garbage.
You see, the guy I was yelling at was my 3 year old son Nathan.
And what’s worse is that it wasn’t the first time I had snapped at him.
At the time I felt like I couldn’t enjoy my son, or my wife for that matter.
And it wasn’t until much later that I realized that my high anxiety had begun to poison my most cherished relationships.
Luckily, over the past few years I’ve been able to reconnect with my family.
But it wasn’t easy. Mostly because anxiety is a consumer. It eats up all the fun, the love, everything. Until all that’s left is anger and resentment.
That’s why it’s important to understand some of the common pitfalls that you could face as an anxious parent.
Fewer Hugs and Smiles
I’m about to generalize, so be warned. But anxious parents aren’t as loving as they could be.
Studies have shown that moms and dads that live with abnormal anxiety smile, hug and praise their children less than their non-anxious counterparts.
It’s thought that the decreased emotional expression in anxious parents stems from a desire to keep control of their feelings.
After all, if you feel too much you’ll go nuts, right? At least that’s what the anxious brain repeats.
When I had high anxiety I would hug and kiss my son (we’ve since had another boy) but I somehow always felt distant and flat.
I went through the motions of being a happy dad but lacked the feelings of happiness that usually come with a good hug, for example.
I’d even see Nathan smack a plastic baseball deep into our backyard and I’d give him the saddest excuse for a smile you’ve ever seen.
Looking back, I think I was trying to protect myself. I was playing defense against the looming disasters that constantly occupied my mind.
But while I maintained my perpetual vigilance my family was paying the price.
Tip #1: Increase warmth and awareness
It takes some practice, but try to get better at spotting when you are self-analyzing too much.
It would be ridiculous for me to ask you to stop altogether, but there’s a good chance that you already notice when you’re lost in thought. Use this as a cue.
When it happens make an effort to engage people around you; especially your kids who need your warmth and affection.
It matters. Hug your kids and tell them you love them. And keep doing it until you can feel the warmth too.
The Invisible Scars of Criticism
When I was a kid my parents were hard on me. It wasn’t unusual for them to lace their parental instructions with insults of one kind or another.
Now I doubt that you’re verbally abusing your kids, but if you’re an anxious parent there’s a good chance that you often make negative comments.
This kind of makes sense when you consider that the anxious mind is over-focused on negativity in general, but harsh criticism can be hurtful.
Tip #2: Embrace the full cup concept
A helpful remedy is to use positive reframing, which is basically looking at the good in any situation.
Reframing won’t change what your kid did wrong, but it can change the perspective that you adopt when dealing with a difficult situation.
This can help reduce the frequency of negative interactions and allow your kids to correct mistakes without feeling ashamed.
My Way or No Way
Anxious parents can also be controlling. Some researchers theorize that this is because anxious parents perceive a lack of control in their own lives.
This can cause some parents to overcompensate and exert too much control over their kids creating an authoritarian parenting style.
The ugly side to this is that kids who aren’t allowed to explore and experience natural consequences (within reason) develop low self-esteem and a more limited belief in themselves.
Tip #3: Let freedom ring
If you want to help your kids develop a strong belief in their ability to succeed in life then grant them more autonomy.
Let them make mistakes and help them to learn from their mistakes rather than shielding them at every turn.
And although there has to be limits, let your kid be a kid. That means letting them be loud and unruly during playtime.
That means letting them express themselves (appropriately) without fear of retribution. In short, don’t be a tyrant.
Show Them How It’s Done
Perhaps the best way to be all you can be in the parenting department is to take care of yourself.
If you address your anxiety problem your family will benefit from having a healthier version of you around.
Plus, when you face your fears and overcome adversity, I believe that you’re being a true
role model hero for your kids.
Your recovery will teach them that they are not helpless victims.
It will show them that they have the power to make a positive change when things get tough, which is a powerful gift.
In this week’s episode of The Anxiety Guru Show I talk about my journey as an anxious parent and how I turned things around.
I also have a few extra tips that I didn’t mention in this post. So take a listen and leave your brilliant comments below!