Anxiety is something that parents ask me about all the time. Their children are anxious and struggling and they don’t know what to do. A dear friend of mine, Renee (pronounced Ree-Nee) Jain has dedicated her life to helping children learn about their anxiety and teaches them effective ways to deal with it through animated online stories and activities. You can find out more about Renee’s terrific work here.
Renee shared some of her thoughts on anxiety, and I will do my best to share some of them with you here. Some of the issues we face today – device use, over-scheduling, perfectionism, helicopter parenting, the “rat race” – dealing with any of that is like trying to fix a leaky pipe while the house is on fire. We must get to the root of the issue (anxiety) – disconnection from self.
1 – Motivation
Parents want their children to be motivated. But it is difficult to “force” motivation. What we can do, however is cultivate curiosity. When they wonder about something, we can encourage it. Get a book on the subject, google the question they have, talk to someone who is an expert on that topic, go out an explore it with our child. We can continually nurture and fan the flames of their curiosity. Because that is a gift that can last a lifetime.
Parents also want their children to be successful. This is a very loaded and weaponized word that I try to avoid using. What does success mean, anyway? Good grades? High-level sports? Making lots of money? Being popular? Rather than encouraging success, what we can encourage is for our children to find meaning in their lives. Viktor Frankl said that meaning is belonging to and serving something bigger than oneself. The world needs so much help and we and our children CAN contribute. A meaningful life is more meaningful for the person living it as well.
3 – Happiness
The other thing that parents want for their children is happiness. But again, what does that mean? Happiness is a fleeting feeling that is nothing more than a response to a situation. But what happens when that situation ends or changes? Does our happiness end as well? Instead, we can focus on presence. Being IN the situation, the moment we are in. Right now. When we really experience our lives like this, moment by moment, it allows a deep feeling of joy as well as the experience of the full range of emotions which makes our lives very rich.
Too many times parents are missing the point. They focus on the surface-level things in a never-ending quest to make our children motivated, successful and happy. The result is a generation of anxious, overly-stressed and miserable children. As parents we must dig deeper than that. Go beyond the surface level, materialistic ideals that society is constantly shoving down our throats to something far more meaningful – helping them to live lives that bring them joy, meaning and satisfaction. They deserve nothing less, right?
If you have an anxious child and have not yet checked out my free download on Taming the Anxiety Monster, you can do so here.