With it being Halloween, we may be on a heightened alert of what scares us. This week we are talking about fear and how it impacts our lives in various ways. Parenting can often trigger fears in us that we did not even know existed! I think most of us who are parents would agree that there are times when nothing can be scarier than being a parent!
There are many common fears that parents struggle with like, "What if something bad happens to my child and I am not there to protect him/her?" or "What if I do or say something that will impact my child's life forever?" or "What if we are inadequate as parents and we don't know what to do?" These are common fear based thoughts that many parents have throughout their journey in raising children. Anxiety, worry and self-doubt are common casualties of the parenting experience as children grow through the various stages of development, from infancy on through adolescence and maybe even beyond!
One of the most unfortunate outcomes that fear and/or anxiety takes from us as parents, particularly when our kids are young, is our ability to enjoy the present moment with our children. Fears often come from our past or in anticipation of the future. Our previous experiences can impact how we perceive our world from a place of fear and potentially distort our way of thinking, inhibiting our ability to see the reality of how things truly are, and eventually lead us to becoming a "fear based parent.".
The first thing in assessing whether or not we are a "fear based parent" is to focus on our thoughts or our "self-talk." What do you commonly say in your head? What do you imagine will go wrong? What do you want to prevent from happening? Or, what don't you want your child to experience? These fears can reflect in our thoughts or in what we say in our mind. These fear based thoughts will influence our behavior, resulting in fear based decision making in our parenting.
So what are some strategies that can help parents decrease their fear level in parenting?
1) Trust that your children are good and want to do good. Until kids give you a reason not to be trusted, give them the benefit of the doubt and assume the best.
2) Allow your children the opportunity to work out and solve their own problems. It is OK for children to fail. Failing is part of the learning process. If we are too protective, we prevent our children from learning from their own experiences and developing problem solving skills.
3) Accept children where they are today and believe in their potential. Fear often expects perfection and high performance. Parenting from love provides a safe place for children to grow and be accepted for who they are, without condition.
4) Talk to your children, not at them. Be respectful of your children and allow them to have a voice. Do not demand, try to control or order your children around. They deserve the same care and concern as you would give a friend. By modeling respect, you will most likely be given respect in return.
5) Allow the expression of emotion. We all feel feelings on a spectrum, even children. We all need to feel heard and validated, even if we don't share or feel the same thing. Acknowledge the emotions that are being expressed and show empathy and compassion towards your child, so they know it is safe to express how they feel.
6) Finally, give yourself some grace! Parents will make mistakes! None of us are perfect and we need to allow ourselves to learn and grow alongside our children. Don't be afraid to try something new, admit when you are wrong, or if you just don't know what to do in a situation. Forgive yourself, show yourself empathy and self-compassion, and recognize that you have never been a parent before and that it is a steep learning curve with every child, as they are all different and require different things of us as parents. Doing this will allow your children to see that you are human, and that parents need to figure things out too!
I hope that this has been helpful for you in reducing your fears in parenting! Take care and Happy Halloween! Thanks for reading!
Written by guest author Emily Freeze, MPH, MA, LMFT
Emily Freeze, MPH, MA, LMFT is a Marriage and Family Therapist at New Beginnings Family Counseling in Provo, Utah. Emily enjoys doing individual counseling, couples counseling and family counseling. Emily specializes in women's issues, specifically maternal mental health and reproductive mental health.