3 Ways To Not Let Anxiety Hijack Your Parenting

Dr. Delaney Ruston – Let me start with an anxiety analogy.

I think of a pair of fraternal twin sisters. One of these sisters is named Conscientious, and the other is named Anxiety. Anxiety’s given name at birth was Fear, but she decided it was too common, and Anxiety sounded sassier.

These two sisters are adults, and they are parents of teenagers. 

Now here is the particular scenario. 

These sisters, who live together, enter their living room, where each of their teens is sitting on the couch. The teens were supposed to be setting the table for dinner.

The sisters have been calling the teens from the kitchen to come and help them to no avail. 

When the two sisters get to the living room, a decision has to be made. Will Conscientious  handle the situation, or will Anxiety?

Conscientious is gifted in being able to see situations from many perspectives and clever in being able to think through different scenarios before acting.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is singularly focused — laser-like. Anxiety approaches situations reflexively.

The question these two sisters must decide at that doorway is who will step over the line into the room and attend to this situation with the teens, Consciousness or Anxiety?

When Anxiety takes the lead, this can be a real problem. First of all, she is contagious, so others absorb her negativity. Another issue is she is not very effective. She gets the job done in the short run but rarely has made real progress toward lasting change.

How to prevent Anxiety from monopolizing the interaction:

  1. Write a list of some of your parenting moments in which Anxiety has taken the lead. Anxiety might take over when your kids spend hours watching shows or playing video games on the weekend. It could be seeing them on the couch during the week, being on their phones for much longer than you’d like. It could be activated regarding chores or when siblings fight over device time. 

Writing a list is therapeutic in itself (because it takes the abstract and makes it a bit organized), and it can help a person get into a calmer mental state, promoting better problem-solving. In Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER, relationship researchers John and Julie Gottman help explain why this is the case from a biological perspective. 

  1. Write down some methods for addressing these various situations and how you want to  respond when the issues come up in real-time. Conscientious will be so happy you thought of some plans. 
  2. Share the story of the Conscience and Anxiety sisters with your child. What a gift to model to your kids that you know Anxiety hijacks your intentions at times and how you work not to let that be the case.

Questions to get the conversations started:

  1. Let’s think of some situations where we feel anxious.  Is it true to say that behind that anxiousness is fear? 
  2. In what ways do you (the child) see and experience my (parent’s) anxious feelings?
  3. Have you (child) ever seen me about to respond to a situation from a place of anxiety but then do something to stop myself? For instance, do I ever take some big breaths or excuse myself and leave a situation for a few minutes?