In my last column, I discussed how to help reduce your kids’ stress as they begin a new school year. But what about your stress? It’s tough being a parent, and in the world we live in today, it’s hard not to worry about how life is impacting your children.
But how much worry is warranted and when does it become too much? Psychologist Carl Pickhardt, in an article for Psychology Today, defines worry as a combination of ignorance, anxious questions, and fearful answers. He explains, “Worry begins with ignorance: ‘I don’t know why my teenager isn’t home by the time agreed upon.’ Ignorance is made threatening by asking an anxious question: ‘What if my teenager has gotten into trouble?’ Jumping to a fearful answer or conclusion completes the worry: ‘My teenager has probably been in a terrible accident!’ Thus one formula for worry is this:
Worry = ‘I don’t know’ + ‘What if?’ + ‘Suppose the worst!’”
I love this definition because it really does boil down to why worrying is irrational and unproductive, not to mention how it feeds on itself, oftentimes making a mountain out of a mole hill. Add the “teenager factor,” in which they admittedly give us a LOT to worry about, and we can find ourselves stressed beyond our wildest imaginations.
There are ways to get a handle on things before they devolve into worry, however. Below are my 5 tips for educating yourself and avoiding anxiety for both yourself and your kids.
Accept that you won’t know everything. Most pre-teens and teens stop telling their parents everything when they realize that some news might be upsetting or disappointing. This is perfectly normal. At this age, kids assert their independence and become more wise to the ways of the world. That includes keeping things to themselves. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re involved in anything nefarious. So if you discover something your teen didn’t reveal, try not to jump to conclusions or be hurt that she no longer confides everything.
2. Don’t mistake worrying for caring. You can care deeply for your child, and I’m sure you do! But as I defined worrying earlier, it’s not the same as caring. Caring is expressing concern, having a conversation about it, and letting your child know you will always be there. Caring is not overreacting when your child does confide in you. Caring is putting a certain level of trust in your child rather than always assuming the worst.
3. Don’t assume that one mistake is the beginning of the end. Everyone makes mistakes, including you. Imagine how you would feel if your mistake was held over your head and thrown back in your face repeatedly. For some reason, we think it’s okay to tell our child, “You failed that test so now I can’t trust you to study,” when we would never be that hard on a friend or co-worker.
4. Don’t make your worries your child’s problem. I’ve never met a parent who didn’t worry about something when it came to their child. But be careful not to project your concerns on your child or to remind them that you are worried about them. You understand the concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Tell a person enough times that you expect the worst from them, and they will deliver to you exactly that. Instead, project confidence and educated trust. Not blind trust. Be smart.
5. Worry when you should. I know that is an oversimplification, but the Internet and book stores abound with excellent parenting resources that share the signs of depression, eating disorders, self-harm, and drug use. However, I caution you to treat these resources just as you do Web MD. Understand that symptoms and signs can indicate any number of issues, and not all of them are dire. If your child exhibits most or all of the signs of depression, for instance, and you have ruled out other variables that may be causing these symptoms, then by all means, seek professional help.
Trust me when I tell you this. When your children are grown and you look back at the years you had with them, you don’t want them to be years of worry and anxiety. Those emotions don’t create a happy home and often lead to strained relationships. So I encourage you to care, not worry.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” – Philippians 4:6-7
Rebecca Deurlein is the author of Teenagers 101: What a top teacher wishes you knew about helping your kid succeed, and President of Teenager Success 101, a one-on-one academic coaching company dedicated to helping kids find success. She blogs and writes internationally, speaks to parents across the nation, and loves every minute of living in Sugar Land, TX. Find her on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Huffington Post, or through her own blog A Teacher’s Guide to Understanding Teenagers. All can be accessed at www.TeenagerSuccess101.com.