Children seem to be more anxious in our society than ever before. This is something that I have been reading quite a bit about recently and the facts are quite staggering. In fact the research shows that as many as one in six young people in the UK suffer from anxiety. To look it another way, one in five teenagers in an average class will be suffering from anxiety (anxiety.org.uk). This is a frightening statistic frankly and it got me thinking about why this is happening. As a mum, I know that there are many pressure of our teenagers which I have written about Here.
I have wondered though if we can make our children anxious?
As a teacher and a mum I come across many, many children and their parents. I’m not a mental health expert and I’m only offering my opinions gathered from my experiences in this post. I certainly wouldn’t want to offend anyone but I wonder if the way we parent is adding to the anxiety that our young people are experiencing? In being such caring parents perhaps we are not helping our youngsters?
Here are my thoughts:
Perhaps by always telling our children that they are amazing at things, we are creating anxiety?
As parents and teachers, we want to praise our children for the things that they have done but I think the words we use are so important. Telling relatives that your child is going to play for a county team because they are amazing at sport actually creates tension, as your child is then expected to make that team. We’ve all done it; I know I have but labelling your child as ‘really good at maths’ creates a pressure for your child to always be really good at maths when their flair for maths may just be a stage. We want our children to enjoy what they enjoy or are motivated by, not become burdened by adult expectation.
Do we overplay a ‘blip’?
As parents, we worry when our children get a bad grade in science or stick on a reading level but we really shouldn’t. All children plateau with their learning as that is the nature of learning! I’m often dismayed to hear that children as young as 6 years old are having tutor support because they received one poor maths grade. It may be just that they need to consolidate what they have learnt and then they will start making progress again. Tutors are great for children who need a little confidence or who have a barrier to learning such as dyslexia but all children will plateau at some point. This does not mean that they need extra tuition. If our children think the ‘blip’ is important enough to need support, they become anxious about their performance. Learning is a process that is complex and children must feel confident in their own abilities to make those next steps.
Do we overplay friendship issues?
One moment of unkindness is not bullying. Seeing you get upset when your child is working through a friendship issue will make them think the issue is more important than it really is. It really isn’t. All children have friendship woes, it’s a normal part of growing up. We need to help our children talk about their worries but not add to them by making small issues bigger than they actually are. I’ve noticed in my career that more and more parents are rushing in to talk about their child’s friendships when they should be allowing their child to figure some things out for themselves. Many, many children hit, scratch, kick, bite, pull hair and say unkind things. We need to teach our children tolerance, kindness and how to say sorry and forgive. Holding a grudge about a certain child that once pulled your child’s hair will also add to your child’s anxiety. They need to learn to get along with their peers and this anxiety about another child will not help them.
Do we hide our feelings from our children?
I do this. I find it tricky to show my children if I’m sad or worried by something. I think that this is not healthy though. Obviously we shouldn’t be sharing things that are not appropriate with young children but if we are feeling sad we could tell our children that. ‘Mummy feels sad today but your smiley face is helping me feel happier.’ I think that children need to know that life can make us feel a range of emotions on a daily basis and that’s ok.
I’ve done all these things as parent at some time or another.
As a teacher, I know that praising effort is more important than praising attainment and I have always tried hard to do this with my own children. It does develop confidence and that is the one thing that young children need to try new things. Try it. Praise your children for the efforts they have made with a new skill rather than praising them when they achieve the end result. This is especially important for bright children when things come easier to them because they need the confidence to push themselves out of their comfort zone and learn that small failures are ok. Resilience to failure learnt young is better than feeling anxious as a teenager when exams hit.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Take care everyone. X