When September approaches many parents begin to feel some anxiety about the coming school year. How will my child do this year? Will he or she like his teacher? Make friends? Make the honor roll?
Make the team? Get into the college of his/her choice? Whatever age/stage you are at with your kids, few parents’ sail along without some worries, and many parents worry A LOT. These parents are normal, functional people, who hold jobs, and have relationships, but still find they worry more than they want to admit. Are there any techniques for managing this anxiety? How do I know if I’m worrying needlessly or not paying attention to something I should be worrying about?
Community: “It takes a village…” Hillary Clinton made this saying famous in her book of the same title. The best way to reduce the amount you are worrying is to find someone to share your worries with. If you are lucky enough to have a supportive partner or spouse to co-parent with they can be that person. But, they might not be helpful if they are anxious people themselves – or if they too are lacking in perspective or information. Instead you may need to look to the larger community around you to find support. The most obvious choices are parents of your children’s friends. It may take some effort – and courage – to reach out to these people, but more often than not they have some pieces of the puzzle of better understanding your child’s world.
Information: One of the first steps to reducing anxiety about your child is to gain a sense of control through information. Typically, parents are less anxious about the second child in a family because they know some of what to expect. However, this is only true up to a point – as each child is unique, and therefore can provide you with new and different worries. It still helps to have a road map, a preview of what lies ahead in the coming year. For example you know…in fifth grade we have the puberty program…. in eighth grade we choose levels for high school…. etc. Much of this information can be gained from other parents or from more formal avenues such as the PTA, your child’s teacher, school administrators or guidance counselors. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. “What are the biggest challenges my child will face this year?” “How can I support my child?” “How involved should I be in school projects?” “I work, so I can’t volunteer in school, but are there other ways I can participate and help out?”
Read and Re-evaluate: Another way to gain understanding of your child is to read about their developmental stage and discover what age appropriate behavior is. There are many good books on parenting which can help you navigate various stages and behaviors and help you pick your battles. Even if your own parents were great, changing times can necessitate different approaches to difficult issues. Read what the experts say and have an open mind. Some of your worry may be caused by trying to uphold standards or rules left over from your own childhood. Taking the time to re-evaluate these may help reduce your anxiety about your competence as a parent, as well as reduce conflict in your household.
Peer Pressure: While talking with other parents can be a source of support, sometimes it can have the opposite effect and deepen your worries. Some parents’ ideas about the number of activities or the age to allow privileges may be very different from your ideas. In some communities kids grow up very fast and you may feel your child needs a slower pace, or fewer outside lessons and group activities and more “down time”. When faced with conflicting opinions, a good rule of thumb is to pay attention to your instincts about what’s good for your child and to trust yourself.
Talk to your child: While it’s not appropriate to share your worries with a child, it can be a good idea to check in with your child – especially if you think they are anxious about something. Find a good time when you are both relaxed and not likely to be interrupted, then, in a matter of fact way ask some open-ended questions. For example, if you are concerned about your child coming home alone after school, ask “How is this for you?” “Would you like a different arrangement?”(if that’s an option) “Is there anyway I could make this better for you?” This shows your concern and willingness to help and to hear their point of view, but doesn’t communicate any fears or anxiety you have about the situation. Sometimes after a conversation like this one you may discover there isn’t anything to worry about. Your concern – that they are lonely or scared – isn’t the case, in fact, they like the time alone.
Self-care: Being a parent is a job with built-in stress. Where you have love, you will find worry. It is important to keep that worry in perspective and to pay attention to your own needs. Whenever possible, take some time for you, even if this can only be in a fifteen-minute increment. Use whatever stress relievers work for you – exercise, chats with friends, hobbies…Know that if you feel better physically and mentally you will be a better judge of when your fears and worries for your child are excessive – and when they are legitimate and require action steps.