Everyone knows at least one person like this. You know the type who runs screaming when her kid trips and skins his knee? In today’s age of too much information, it may be an inevitable outcome that most of us are suspicious of our neighbors and check every babysitter reference for clues that point to predatory behavior.
But the anxious parent isn’t just overly cautious. She is the person who intervenes far too early during every bump in her child’s life. She is the person who screams “Be careful!” every time her child starts to get on the jungle gym. She is the person who dreams of impending danger at every turn—who imagines the car crashing, the plane blowing up, the bully in the playground beating up her child, etc. In short, her anxiety is not only harming her own health and interfering in her daily life—but she is creating a child who is fearful in general, afraid to take risks and not confident. If you see yourself in this category of parenting, take a deep breath and read on. There are ways to overcome your excessive anxiety and help you raise a confident child.
“A sign [that you are an anxious parent] is when you find yourself avoiding things that others are not. If you are not willing to go to the park for fear of your baby being snatched, this is definitely a warning sign,” says Johanna S. Herwitz, PhD, a psychologist in New York who specializes in anxiety disorders and runs workshops for parents and children with infants.
Herwitz teaches Rie classes that allow parents the chance to watch infants up to two-year-olds play uninhibited in a safe setting without intervening. This process allows parents to see that while their children do have a natural curiosity, they are also, in general, very careful by nature.
“I see a lot of anxiety and its impacts in this special setting. ... In a class last week I had put a crib mattress down for babies to crawl up and down. One crawled up and then fell—and you should have seen the look on that mom’s face. She was terrified!” explains Herwitz.
Sadly, I can relate to this knee-jerk reaction. Intellectually, you know that a baby falling a few inches off a soft surface is harmless; but watching a baby fall at all can trigger many fears causing us to overreact. But this overreacting can have horrible consequences on our children in the longrun.
“The affect this reaction has, or when parents rush to pick up a baby or get a toy or help him turn over at the first sign of struggling, is that it teaches him to not take risks. It teaches him that daily bumps must be avoided at all cost. When you are protected at all times, the negative consequence is that you begin to feel that it is an intolerable experience to ever fall down.”
So What’s an Anxious Mom to Do?
First of all, admit you have a problem. Don’t let your anxiety get so out of control that you are having panic attacks and land in the hospital. Determine what you are avoiding. Perhaps you avoid going to the park with your child? If so, Herwitz recommends that you go one day with a good friend. Familiarize yourself and then finally, go one day alone with your child.
Perhaps you are so distrustful of people that you are terrified to let anyone else take care of your child. If you and your partner haven’t had a date in over a year, it’s time to hire a sitter. References can be checked. You can join a mom’s group and “borrow” a friend’s sitter for an evening out.
Another tip is to slow down your reactions, explains Herwitz. She advises all her patients to spend more time observing their children at play and not intervening too quickly. If a baby is getting frustrated while trying to crawl or reach for something, this is a natural process and is healthy for her to struggle with on her own for little while. As your child ages, Herwitz recommends the same type of parenting. Watch your child on the playground and intervene if he is in danger, but otherwise, watch and see what he can solve on his own before rushing to the rescue.
If you find your heart racing and that you are panicking before any outing, as one mom of two admitted, you may want to look at how your diet could be exacerbating your anxieties. One mom who was having panic attacks was given medication by her doctor, but then she realized that she was drinking three cups of coffee a day and hadn’t been exercising regularly in years. Once she cut out coffee and joined a gym, her panic attacks stopped.
These are all general recommendations and for more in-depth parenting information, Herwitz recommends new parents read Your Self Confident Baby by Magda Gerber.