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How Anxiety can be Caught by or Taught to our Children

We all have anxiety, it is naturally occurring in all of us.

Healthy anxiety creates motivation and aids survival, without it we wouldn't function.

Things become unhealthy when anxiety builds up and negatively impacts our life; this is an anxiety disorder.

People with anxiety disorders are constant worriers, they often feel a sense of imminent disaster, and often they struggle with a persistent sense of fear.

Anxiety and panic disorders in adults are often a result of adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s). Check out the website for more info

Anxiety is both taught and caught.

Children are taught to be worried by how their parents respond in situations and anxiety gets caught from not having a sense of safety and security, and not having their opinions and feelings validated and respected.

When children are not supported in exploring and expressing their thoughts, feelings and adverse experiences their emotional brain stores them away and they build up, over time the storage space fills up and as a protective measure they are leaked out, these leaks come out in the form of anxiety disorders/behaviours.

The build-up of anxiety creates toxic stress in the body which is unhealthy, this can lead to health issues that last long into adulthood if not resolved, this may include the likelihood of addictive tendencies, unhealthy relationship patterns and long-term illness.

What does anxiety in children look like?

The common signs of anxiety are restlessness, tiredness, trouble concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, and trouble sleeping along with tummy troubles and headaches.

Anxiety symptoms can be very confusing for parents and children especially as they can show up in unexpected ways. In children, anxiety signs can look different from just the more commonly known avoidance of situations and clingy behaviour, anxiety can show itself as tantrums, meltdowns and aggression.

Signs of avoiding things, illnesses like sick tummies and headaches usually accompany angry or aggressive behaviour.

Imagine how confusing it is for our children to be seen as merely angry, having a tantrum or just a ’bad child’ when inside they are really struggling with the feelings of anxiety, but are unable to communicate it or even understand what is going on?

How can a parent/carer avoid their child inheriting anxiety?

As I am sure we are all aware, as parents/carers we have a lot of power, and we have the job of helping our children learn how to manage life. We, as parents/carers both strongly influence our children in how to express and regulate our emotions as well as demonstrating how to socialise and how to treat others while managing life experiences.

Children often worry about what others may think, feel or how they may react to their stories and worries and sometimes keep them inside, this allows things to build up and turn into anxiety disorders, if we can always listen without judgement and reaction they may be able to off-load to us and avoid the build-up.

The energy we project in the home will be absorbed by our children; if we are calm children are likely to be calm, if we are anxious they will catch our anxiety.

When we treat our children and others with love and respect, our children will value themselves and others.

If we demonstrate dislike and disrespect towards our children and others, our children may feel that they are worthless and helpless, and view others in a negative light, this evokes anxiety.

If we are constantly on edge and behave as if a disaster is about to happen at any moment, we teach our children how to be anxious.

Demonstrate calm and hope (even if you don’t feel it inside)

If we can deal with situations calmly it influences our children to do the same. If we make loud noises, curse and show negative body language every time something goes even slightly wrong our children see this and they will demonstrate the same frustration, we are not encouraging resilience.

If we constantly negatively anticipate the future, for example, saying “you can’t be trusted to do that, last time you…” or “….always happens” we teach our children to doubt themselves, our children will always presume the worse and not have hope.

It is great to offer alternatives, hope, and encouragement, and focus on the positives (even if we have doubts ourselves) this doesn’t mean giving false hope, sometimes we have to be realistic although we don’t need to unnecessarily have to give children a dark anxiety cloud floating over their heads every day.

Avoid shouting and screaming at our children

When somebody raises their voice, 9 times out of 10 we are more focused on the fact they are shouting and the feelings in evoke rather than listening to what is being said, our children are unlikely to hear the message we are conveying.

When we shout and scream we teach our children how to disrespect another human being and that when we feel a strong emotion it is alright to take it out on others.

Shouting at our children may make them feel we don’t care enough about them to control ourselves and speak calmly; children who are regularly berated often have low self-worth and become anxious, this is categorised as an Adverse Childhood Experience.

Regulate your emotions so they learn to regulate theirs

If we regularly go from calm to screaming and shouting for no obvious reason it creates a traumatic bond rather than a secure, loving bond with our children; they will take responsibility for trying to pacify and please us, and they may feel like they have to walk on eggshells around us in order to stop us from getting angry.

Children with unpredictable parents don’t learn to have a good sense of self instead, they may be easily influenced as they tend to look outward to blame rather than taking responsibility for their choices and circumstances.

It is good to try and make sure our reactions match the cause, if parents demonstrate unpredictable or confusing reactions they will imprint on their children that life is like walking through a battlefield, and they will take anxiety into adulthood.

Provide healthy boundaries and natural consequences

Children who grow up with firm, but fair and consistent boundaries know what to expect and they feel contained and secure.

Children who are threatened in order to do stuff or to behave in an ‘acceptable’ manner often suffer from anxiety and may panic if they sense they won’t meet expectations.

If we frequently make threats of severe punishment our children may become fearful and suffer from one or more anxiety or panic disorders.

Treating other people badly in front of our children is harmful.

If we treat other people badly in front of our children we will not only reinforce the idea that our children risk the same treatment but because children mimic what we do they may display the same behaviour with their peers and/or family members.

Some children may feel deep sadness for the person being threatened, this extra pain may help embed in our children deep-seated confusion and guilt.

Some children may spend the rest of their lives feeling inadequate, guilty, and with a deep sense of responsibility for things they have no control over; they may become people pleasers or enter abusive relationships.

Let’s not impose conditions of worth on our children

It is really important not to teach our children that the core of their worth exists in their performance, we, as parents owe it to our children to allow them to make mistakes, to not feel pressured to always do well and to accept imperfection.

If we are judgmental and harsh whenever our children do something wrong, not as well or how we want them to it evokes a feeling of failure and insecurity, this lowers self-esteem and encourages anxious symptoms. It is unhealthy to impose conditions of worth on our children unless we want them to feel they have to be a certain way to feel accepted, this evokes anxiety.

Parents help their children by offering guidance

If we let children guess how to do new things and then get cross at them when they get it wrong they may feel vulnerable and anxious as children often do when they are left to fend for themselves.

A parent’s job is to be a great role model because children usually mimic what they see around them, it is also helpful to offer guidance as without it they may feel confused and unsupported leading to anxious feelings; they may also internalise the message that they are less capable than others if they feel they have failed. After all, as parents we are our children’s first teachers, guidance supports their eagerness to learn and creates confidence and regulation.

If you or your child are struggling with Anxiety, please reach out for help

Anxiety is often passed down from generation to generation.

The best gift we can give out children is to break the pattern either by resolving our own anxiety and or helping them resolve theirs

If you want to live a life with more ease and flow and to find out more about recovery from Anxiety book a no-pressure, friendly chat to see how I can help you or your child


I look forward to connecting with you and supporting your journey to greatness!!

Much Love, Light & Peace

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