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Three things I learned while working with parents who are high in anxiety

As a psychologist at the University of Sussex, I have worked with many parents who experience anxiety and wanted to share some of what I have learned.

Three things I learned while working with parents who are high in anxiety
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

I am part of a team of psychologists at the University of Sussex whose work focuses on parental mental health, who also happens to be a mum.

It's understandable how hard it can be to navigate the pressures of children, relationships, work, life, everything. Because of that, it is important it is for every parent to get good information and support if they need or want it. Our clinic focuses on parents who experience anxiety, and below are the three key things I have learned by working with these parents.

Parents with anxiety are "super-parents"

From our work with parents who experience anxiety, we know that many of them go to huge efforts to do what is best for their children, and they do this while dealing with their own anxiety.

Think of Ginger Rogers doing everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards in high heels. One mother explained to us that anxious parents are "super-parents" for the work they put into managing their anxiety while juggling the demands of parenthood.

Our children's worries do not have to be ours

When you are feeling anxious, your child's worries can be overwhelming. You may want to step in and fix things for them, so they don't have the same experiences you did. School is a common example of where we can transplant the feelings we have about our experiences onto our children. But just because your child is worried about something, it doesn't mean you have to be too.

If you can step back a little from their worries, you will be better able to help them cope with them. This is not always easy, and don't beat yourself up if you find yourself sharing their fears.

It is OK to nudge your child out of their comfort zone

When children become worried about something, they can start to avoid it. By gently helping your child move out of their comfort zone, you will help them build their confidence. Do this gently and in gradual steps. For example, if your child is frightened of getting on a bus, you can start by just going to the bus stop.

Then, next time, they might be willing to have a look through the door or put a foot onboard. Whenever they try something, give them lots of cuddles and rewards and be prepared for some attempts not to go so well. If it's too hard for them, it's fine to take a break and leave it for another time.

If you are feeling very anxious, this process can feel overwhelming, and that is entirely OK.

If you don't think that you can manage to do this, you might think about asking someone else to help – either by coming along with your or taking your child out on your behalf.

If you are interested in joining our current project to trial an 8-session online course, you can find more information here.

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