The parents role is to ensure that children’s atmosphere is positive, hopeful and optimistic. When a child comes home from school with tales of mean girls, aggressive boys, and insensitive teachers, remember that children feed off a parents emotions and can get more distressed when a parent reacts in a distressed or excessive way. Parents need to try to keep their own anxiety in check while sympathising with the child’s. Parents have to be the emotional rock: the person who understands and supports, maintains perspective and balance and does not over react.
Parents often advocate too hard for the child. All parents tend to want to stand up for their children, but a parent’s eagerness to advocate can sometimes actually raise anxiety levels. If a child shares a school problem with a parent, it is unhelpful if that parent’s first instinct is to march into the school and try to resolve it. This tells a child that as a parent you don’t have faith in the school to fix the child’s problems. A parent’s first priority should be to help the child find a solution they can implement without a parent’s help, every time.
Parents tend to want to compensate for a child’s weaknesses. Most adults get confidence not from compensating for weaknesses, but on playing to strengths. Children can’t always avoid their weak areas, but by focusing on strengths, a parent can build self-efficacy and confidence.
On the other side of the coin, is the tendency to overplay strengths. A positive affirmation can easily turn to pressure. A parent ought to compliment a child when they excel, but don’t make their excellence a reason to expect even more a child, this can result in a burden the child finds hard to carry.
Well grounded, and firmly established family values are important, just as rules and boundaries are. Sometimes children will make poor choices, and the thought of a parent or sibling finding out can seem like a fate worse than death, for the child. It is important that children know that while values are important, as a parent we understand the realities and temptations they face. It is important that on insisting on standards and values, we don’t create a culture where a child is too anxious to come to a parent and admit they messed up. Developing in children the habit of being truthful, open, and forthcoming, sharing the good news and the bad news stories with a parent is worth every effort.
Hiding your troubles. If a parent is struggling with an aspect of their own life, financial, work, social or personal, it is sometimes better to share some of the context, rather than hide it. Children are perceptive if they suspect something is not right, and if they don’t know the whole story, they can exaggerate the matter. Parents often feel that we shouldn’t pile our own troubles on a child’s shoulders, but it doesn’t hurt, to be honest about what our concerns are and, more importantly, what we’re doing about it. By sharing what makes us anxious and how we deal with it, we’re modelling practical ways to resolve anxiety in a child and helping them build resilience.
Adapted from an article by Karen Banes in the Principals’ Digests Newsletter, Volume 22, Number 19,