- Modern-day parents often rely on resources to guide them through difficulties, but individual struggles during the pandemic can leave parents feeling lost.
- Parenting with anxiety or parenting a child with anxiety is not new, however, and it is a common experience during the pandemic.
- To help ourselves and our kids deal with anxiety, we need to learn to self-regulate, which involves calming the part of our brain that responds to danger.
- Mindfulness-based interventions may help parents and their children deal with anxiety.
Modern-day parenting comes with a lot of resources. When you find out that you’re pregnant, you can sign up for apps detailing what is happening to your embryo day-to-day. There are books and websites available to help decide which stroller, bottle, swaddle, bouncy seat, and teether, are best for your baby based on your family’s specific needs, wants, and even geography (think wide stroller wheels for the city and thinner for the burbs). When your baby won’t sleep, there are advice columns and sleep scientists to turn to. There are websites and specialists and blogs for anything and everything when it comes to parenting. We have become a generation of parents who rely on it to allay concerns and find guidance.
The Individual Impact of COVID-19
Enter COVID-19, and many parents have felt that they have suddenly had to manage the complexities of parenting in a pandemic alone. In these unprecedented times, parents are having individualized struggles and it may leave them feeling isolated and lost. Despite the best efforts of a “we’re all in this together” campaign-like slogan, we aren’t.
Depending on your geographic location your children may have gone back to school full-time last fall, while in other parts of the country families are hoping that their children will be able to safely return at the 18-month mark. Some families have lost parents, grandparents, friends, and even children while others don’t personally know someone who has had the virus. Front line workers have had to dedicate more hours to work than ever before, often leaving children at home to manage virtual school independently. Others have been home with their children more than ever before and are trying to manage work while parenting and overseeing school.
Most of us are struggling in some way and it can feel lonely and helpless. As a generation of parents who rely on expert opinions and a social media village of support, it can feel like we don’t have anywhere to turn.
Parenting Through Trauma and Anxiety
Having said that, if we step back and look at what is happening right now through a trauma and anxiety lens, it’s not all new. Psychiatrist, author, and educator Bessel van der Kolk defines preconditions of trauma as the following: lack of predictability, immobility, loss of connection, numbing out, a loss of sense and time, and loss of safety. We have had to navigate all of these things for the past year.
We are all living through a traumatic experience. It has left many of us and our children feeling new manifestations of anxiety. If we name our experience of this time as such, we may be able to once again find the support we need. Parenting with anxiety or parenting a child with anxiety is not new for many of us, it’s just the content of this experience that is new.
The good news is, anxiety doesn’t know content. As information comes into our brains, it is filtered through the amygdala. This brain structure prepares us for the fight vs. flight response so that we are ready to respond when we are in danger. The challenge is that when the amygdala senses something is amiss, it responds, even if there is no imminent threat. So we feel like we are in immediate or constant danger whether or not we actually are. Understanding this brain mechanism allows us to shape our current concerns into a more common parenting question: How can we help our kids (and ourselves) manage anxiety?
Training the Brain to Self-Regulate
The answer to this question starts with learning to self-regulate. In neuroscience speak, this means we need to learn to calm the amygdala. In our book Working with Worry , my co-author Samantha Sweeney and I offer mindfulness-based interventions as a solution. It may seem simplistic to imagine that deep breathing, listening for five sounds, or sensory awareness exercises are going to solve the anxiety created by a global pandemic, and they won’t make it disappear completely. But, they will help your children (and you) learn to manage their anxiety in ways that they can use throughout their lives. So, in this time that feels overwhelming and at moments helpless, remember you are not alone and that the support you have always leaned on is still accessible.
Kilbride, M. L., & Sweeney, S. S. (2021). Working with Worry. Bull Publishing.
Steering Ourselves and Our Clients Through New and Developing Traumas
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April 2nd, 2021