Anxious Parenting Series Week 1: The Building Blocks of Your Child's Anxiety

Parenting an anxious child can be anxiety provoking in and of itself.

And if you’re a parent who is already prone to anxiety, seeing your child develop their anxiety can bring up some uncomfortable emotions for yourself. Many parents I work with report feeling guilt, shame, anger, frustration, fear, sadness, and so on about the impact that their anxiety has on their kids.

But what if we took a step back from all the shame and guilt?

Let’s figure out what goes into anxiety before blaming ourselves.

Here’s week 1 of our 8 week series on anxiety and parenting - and here’s what’s coming up on the docket:

  1. The Building Blocks of Anxiety: The Internal and External Components of Anxiety in Kids, Teens, College Students, and Their Parents

  2. Managing Your Own Anxiety as a Parent

  3. Parenting Anxious Pre-Schoolers and Elementary Schoolers

  4. Anxiety and Parenting a Child with Anger Management Issues

  5. Perfectionism and Parenting Your Highschooler

  6. Preparing Your Highschooler for College

  7. Out of the Nest: How to Parent Your Anxiety-Driven College Student

  8. Moving Forward and Next Steps

What causes anxiety in kids, teens, and college students?

When counselors, therapists, and psychiatrists work with anxiety, we assess two parts of it: the internal, and the external.

Internal causes of anxiety:

Internally, anxiety can be due to your genetic predisposition. Brain chemistry can be a component of anxiety, where some people have a natural imbalance in their neurotransmitters - meaning, your brain is making you or your child more prone to have a higher reaction to anxiety provoking situations.

Everyone has a fight/flight/freeze response, but people with anxiety have that part of their brain activated more frequently and more easily.

External causes of anxiety:

Your fight/flight/freeze response is activated by external stressors - so, how you take that information in impacts how you react.

So for kids, teens, and college students with anxiety, those external stressors have increased their anxiety response.

External stressors can be big, like a past trauma, but they can also be seemingly small, like being picked up late at school, being teased, their homework load, etc.

If you’re an anxious person, you’re likely to have an anxious child, because of the internal and the external forces at work.

And there’s actually a name for this!

The stress diathesis model: “the theory that mental and physical disorders develop from a genetic or biological predisposition for that illness (diathesis) combined with stressful conditions that play a precipitating or facilitating role.”  

Basically, everyone starts out with a different likelihood of having anxiety - this is due to biology and brain chemistry.

Then, when you add in stressful conditions, that likelihood of having an anxiety disorder increases, along with the severity of that anxiety disorder.

So what do you do about it?

Remember your homework from last week? I asked everyone to write about your own past experiences with anxiety, what helped, and what maybe didn’t help.

You get a very unique opportunity if you’re a parent with anxiety! You get to hone your anxiety management skills, and pass those along to your child as well.

You recognize those small signs of anxiety that other parents might miss.

You are proactive about managing their anxiety and reaching out for help, because you can recognize the impact anxiety had on you.

And, most importantly of all, because you recognize signs of anxiety, and the impact of untreated anxiety, you are open to helping your child through counseling.

In anxiety therapy, we work on building up the skills they need to manage their internal anxiety and their external stressors. And you get to support that work, because you’re an invested, anxious parent.

So passing along your anxiety isn’t a bad thing.

It’s a great opportunity.

It’s a strength.

Homework for this week:

Next week we’ll be talking about parenting as an anxious parent. So let’s think through your strategies:

  1. How does your anxiety impact your parenting and stress response?

  2. What has worked well in shaping your child’s behavior, when you recognize their higher anxiety level?

  3. What hasn’t worked as well?

Curious to hear more? Reach out to me at kelsey@compassionatecounselingstl.com. As a child anxiety specialist, I work with kids, teens, college students and parents to help manage their anxiety, stress, and anger. Compassionate Counseling St. Louis is located in Clayton, MO and works with families throughout Creve Couer, Ballwin, Town and Country, Brentwood, and Ladue. You can set up your first free consult on this very website, on our consultation page - so if you want to talk through your homework for this week, I’m happy to take your call!