Want Less Anxious, Bossy Kids? Do This! – Part One
Experts say that anxiety levels in children are at epidemic levels. Kids are experiencing anxiety to a degree previously only seen in war times. Anxiety is a complicated phenomenon with many contributing factors. One thing that is true is that how you parent a child with a tendency towards anxiety makes a profound difference.
We have gone astray in so many ways with modern parenting. Some things, like our desire to be more gentle, conscious parents, are a great improvement. However, without the tip I am about to teach you, this goal can feed anxiety and cause issues that are at least as big as the ones you were trying to prevent. Put another way, you know that domineering parenting damages kids in so many ways. However, raising anxious kids instead of ones who’ve had domineering parenting isn’t what you are going for, right?
One of the biggest things missing in the modern conscious/gentle parenting movement is leadership. What I mean is your child needs a north star, a strong GPS to guide him or her. That does not mean a bossy leader who doesn’t consider feelings. But it does mean a leader who knows how to consider feelings while not making the child feel anxious about a lack of direction.
Think about it. If your GPS system on your phone gave you tentative directions, how would you feel? Would you feel confident that you’d get there? Would you start taking over (being bossy) and picking a route yourself based on your knowledge? Would you worry, if you had no knowledge to rely on, that you’d never get there?
We end up being a weak, tentative GPS a lot nowadays. It’s because we don’t realize what the situation requires. We have part of the equation right for great parenting: we know that we shouldn’t steamroll over our children’s feelings. But when we focus too much on their feelings and end up using them as a guide, we end up lost right alongside our kids. That increases our anxiety just as much as our children’s anxiety!
For example, if a child expresses fear of going to a new place, many parents panic. They fear their child will lose it, and not be able to handle the situation. So, they search for ways to try to calm their child down. Often the parent loses his or her way and, instead of confidently teaching the child that feelings aren’t facts, starts to rely on the child’s feeling to know what to do. So, the parent may avoid the situation, stay at the play date to reassure the child, or do any other number of things that actually feed the child’s sense that his or her fears are accurate. After all, if there was no issue with going on the play date alone, why is mommy staying there and not dropping the child off?
What works is to acknowledge the child’s feelings (“Hmm. You are feeling scared about going to the new daycare”), then show them that it will be okay. It’s important to allow for feelings and encourage their expression, but then you need to give the clear guidance that he or she will be fine. You show them they will be okay by confidently saying goodbye and walking out the door.
Next week, I’ll go into some other examples of how to be a strong GPS, including when your child is tantruming or in some other way refusing to do what you have asked. For now, I’d like you to start looking at your interactions with your child and asking yourself, “Am I conveying confident leadership, or making it seem like my child is right to be nervous and afraid?”
I will also talk about the difference between giving your child choices and letting the child lead in a way that feeds anxiety. Strong willed children are on the rise, but they often aren’t the confident, mature beings that their parents think they are. Instead, they are often bossy because nature abhors a vacuum, and when your child doesn’t experience you as a strong GPS, it’s normal for the child to step in and do their best to fill the void.
I hope this has provoked some thought! Comment and share this post if you found it helpful. We have come a long way from the “because I said so days”, and sometimes the pendulum swings a bit too far the other way before finding the sweet spot in the middle. You’ll find it so much easier for you and for your kids when you make some tweaks and become a more confident GPS. (I’ll also talk about what to do when you don’t know what to do!)
In the meantime, check out my weekly tip about why Because I said so, isn’t that bad!