Trees and Apples: Anxiety, Children, and Parents
Anxiety and stress are just part of life. From our earliest ancestors, who were probably pretty stressed out if a day’s hunting had come up unsuccessful, to us large-brained humans worrying about whether we’ll make friends on the first day of school or whether our children are getting enough sleep, there seems to be a lot to worry about. For some problems, however, the solutions are surprisingly easy. By observing and listening to our children and their anxieties, we can often learn a lot about our own and about ourselves.
Tune in to find solutions
We all come into the world with certain predilections, and sometimes we just need to hone in on what it is that makes our kids anxious. It seems obvious when you read it, but it’s not always easy to do in real life. My son, for example, is a natural rule-follower and hates being late. It makes him anxious to be late, even if he’s going somewhere he doesn’t particularly want to go. I, on the other hand, am extremely punctual, which is to say I often arrive by the skin of my teeth at the appointed hour or a minute or two late but rarely a minute sooner (except the airport).
One day, after rushing again to get to school on time, I – somehow for the first time – really got that it caused my son stress to always beat the bell by mere moments. And I realised that I was the responsible party. After that day, I did my best to make sure we left earlier. Now if I know ahead of time that we won’t get to sports practice by 4, for example, I let him know early in the day so he can absorb the idea. He still isn’t happy about it, but at least we aren’t left breathlessly running and stressed out.
A friend’s daughter is made very anxious by mess and disorder (we should all be so lucky to have such a child). She would almost rather put her toys away than play with them and her own name labels would be a dream gift. Her little sister, on the other hand, is a graduate-level mess-maker who loves nothing better than to follow big sister around and play with her things.
The parents aren’t the micromanaging types, but they needed to set out acceptable actions, time limits, and behaviour expectations for the younger one. In doing so, they haven’t exactly waved a magic wand, but they have shown the older girl that they care about her anxiety and want to help her solve it, while also communicating that she needs to learn patience and to share time and toys with her little sister – and that the world won’t end if something ends up in the wrong box.