Role of parenting in Childhood Anxiety
“Why have you not finished your breakfast yet?” asked Shobha irritably to her 7-year-old daughter, Keya. The kid had her online classes scheduled in the next 15 minutes and Shobha was after the kid to get ready.
“Mom, I told you I will get ready, stop telling me the same thing again and again.”. Keya replied in an equally irritable tone. Shobha just looked at her exasperated. She looked at Keya and proceeded to setup the laptop for the online session.
While she was setting things up; Shobha wondered, what was this sudden change in Keya’s behavior. Over the last few days Keya was not eating properly unless it was some kind of junk food, she was suddenly insistent that Shobha did not interfere in her school work and became very angry if things didn’t go her way. A brilliant child, Keya used to love her school but since this new online school sessions had started, she had lost all interest in her studies. Shobha was at an utter loss as she had tried talking to Keya and the only reply she got was there is nothing wrong.
What Shobha couldn’t understand; in fact, could not have even thought was that Keya was suffering from Anxiety. Anxiety is something we all associate with grown – ups; but a kid feeling anxious to the level of becoming irritable, angry and scared is something not all parents realize. Particularly in the Indian context, we all grew up to look at parenting as having “well behaved” kids who do what their parents ask them to do. Any divergence from this definition puts the kids in the category of the “bad boy” or “bad girl”. Typically, we end up labelling the children as “good” if they are docile, agree to what we say as parents and get good grades. And we label a kid as “bad” if they question our methods, or speak up and express their opinions especially when these opinions are not those of the parents.
Although the millennial parents are able to connect on a better level with their kids, we are yet to realize that kids also face anxiety. Since our parenting system has never equipped us to accept that kids have evolved thoughts too, we assume that the anger, irritation, steadfastness etc. are all just “bad behavior” and nothing else. We never look at the possibility of something troubling the kids and thus triggering so called “unacceptable behaviors” in the kids.
What would really help Shobha and parents like her is to understand that children have their own way of thinking and that they analyze things happening around them too. Sudden changes in their life like the one’s they are facing in the Covid scenario where in they are unable to go to schools, not being able to play with their friends, observing their parents working stressfully from home are all a trigger to such anxious behavior. Primarily for a child; the feeling that “all is well” is of utmost importance and thus when it comes to sudden changes, they are unable to cope up and also unable to speak out their anxiety to the parents.
In a culture where we find it difficult to talk about our own fears, we now need to learn to help our children speak out. Symptoms of anxiety like sudden anger and irritability, waking up multiple times at night, excessive fears around bathroom or bugs etc., constant feeling of vomiting when trying to eat food, repetitive constipation are all indicators that the child is feeling anxious and needs help. The first step to helping these children is to talk to their pediatrician. Also, making them feel comfortable and helping them to speak out their fears is important too. We need to remember that as parents we should give importance to their fears and help children face their fears by putting logical explanations to those fears rather than getting irritated at the kids for being afraid of “small things”. The more we as parents learn not to over react and be calm around our kids shall help them take it easy around them. A strong relationship with the kids where they can trust the parent to speak out anything at all is the key to having kids who feel secure and thus are free of anxiety.