Can Parenting Prime a Child for Anxiety?

It’s true. Over-cautious parenting can prime anxiety and create anxious children. Consequently, clinical psychologists want to help you understand how to balance educating your children about dangerous things and safety-related issues without provoking unnecessary anxiety.

► Manage expectations: Talk about what is likely to happen, instead of discussing what is extremely unlikely to happen. For instance, if you’re educating a child on airplane travel, do you bring up the subject of planes crashing?  Well, yes, they do—but with extremely low likelihood. Air travel is considered very safe. So what should you talk about on an airplane? How about all the exciting and fun things that will happen at your destination?  The beautiful blue sky and the shape of the clouds? The gorgeous sunset or sunrise? Rather than instilling fear in our youngsters, we can instill a sense of awe and wonder.  

► Let kids ask the questions they want to have answered: For instance, if a child on his or her first airplane ride doesn’t ask about airplane safety doesn’t question it, don’t bring it up. If the child does question it, keep your answers as brief as possible. For example:

Q: Mom, do planes crash?  

A: Yes, but rarely.  

Q: Dad, why can’t people smoke on planes?  

A. Because it stinks and pollutes the air that passengers breathe.  

Q: Why do I have to go through an x-ray machine before boarding a plane? 

A:  Because those are the rules of flying.  

Q: Why can’t we take liquids through security?  

A: Because they want us to buy drinks at the airport so they can make their money.

► Provide answers that are age-appropriate.  The appropriate responses to a youngster’s questions are going to vary depending on their age. If a four-year-old asks if planes can fall from the sky, it is fine to say a simple no. If a fourteen-year-old who can access the internet asks the same question, it is appropriate to have a more in-depth discussion about airplane safety.  

If you are nervous yourself, try not to instill that same anxiety in your children.  Indeed, kids learn by example. For example, if you are worried about flying, try not to share that fear with your children. That way, you can watch them grow up enjoying something that makes you anxious. If possible, have your kids sit with an adult who does not fear flying so that the kids can learn to associate flying with enjoyment and calm. 

You can take steps to overcome your own fear of flying by reading a self-help book or attending a class offered at your local airport. Or, you can seek treatment from a clinical psychologist.  And, remember, your youngsters can provide you with helpful distractions. You might even discover that flying becomes less of a challenge once you have kids, and your attention is diverted from your fears while you tend to their needs. For more information and help in reducing anxiety for yourself and your children, schedule an appointment with an anxiety therapist in Palatine, IL.

Thanks to Lotus Wellness Center for their insight into counseling and how to help a child with anxiety.