The Impact of Parental Anxiety on Children

Parents are not only faced with anxiety around their own well-being, employment, mental health, etc., but also around making the correct decisions for, and supporting, their children.  While it is completely natural to experience anxiety, it is vitally important that as parents, we do not transfer our anxieties onto our children.  How can we prevent this from happening?

  • Looking after your own mental health
    • Limit amount of time on social media and news channels
    • Only use reputable sources for information
    • Focus on the things you can control
    • Have a routine
    • Practice good sleep hygiene
    • Eat healthy
    • Hydrate frequently
    • Exercise
    • While working, follow the 55-5 rule (55 min seated working, 5 min walking around)
    • Have a dedicated work space separate from a leisure space
    • Plan for what you can
    • Stay connected with loved ones and friends
    • Take time off to do things you enjoy
    • Get into nature if possible
    • Avoid self-medicating (this includes alcohol and other substances)
    • Practice mediation or deep breathing exercises
  • Communicate:
    • At an age appropriate level with your child/ren
    • Be kind and supportive
    • Allow them to ask questions
    • Do not discuss topics with your partner in front of children if these are not age appropriate
    • Work with children to set up rules during home-learning and living
    • Routines and structure are important
    • Discipline in a positive manner (e.g. talk about the behaviour you want to see, rather than focus on the negative / undesirable behaviour)
    • Normalise their fears around safety and reflect that you are being extra cautious to do everything possible to protect your family
  • Spend Time:
    • Quality time interacting is important (e.g. family games, walks, playing)
    • Spend meaningful time on screens (e.g. read stories together)
    • Ensure that they spend time connecting socially not only learning on screens
    • Time and communication with extended family members and friends is important
    • Spend time together while helping others (e.g. making sandwiches for the needy, knitting squares to make blankets)
  • Access to Technology:
    • Ensure parental controls are in place on all devices
    • Ensure that privacy settings are on
    • Educate children around safe technology use (e.g. never provide your address or personal information to strangers, do not send photo’s to people you do not know)
    • Monitor them when being online – be aware of any secretive behaviour
    • Limit screen time during times when you can engage with your child
  • Model & Encourage Healthy Online Habits
    • Encourage children to maintain their manners as if they were face-to-face in class
    • Be kind and respectful on video/voice calls
    • Be mindful of what they wear and where they use the device (e.g. if they need to go to the toilet, not to take the device with them)

Where parental anxiety is transferred to children, we will typically see:

  • Heightened anxiety
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Regression to behaviours that they had already outgrown
  • Becoming more clingy / show separation anxiety
  • Have difficulty regulating their emotions
  • Not be able to self-sooth
  • Acting out behaviours
  • Attention-seeking
  • Wanting parents to be involved continuously
  • Inability to play on their own
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Defiance
  • Not wanting to engage in online learning
  • Increased conflict between parent-child and siblings

If you see any of these signs or other incidents that concern you for an extended period, you should contact a Psychologist to help you and your child.  Children from the age of 2 until 12 will engage in play therapy, while older children and adolescents engage in “talk” therapy.