I'm An Anxious Mom, Will I Pass It On To My Kids?
Anxiety is a pretty constant feeling for you. You’ve become an anxious mom without even realizing it or wanting to be one. There’s so much to worry about when you have kids, such as if you are being a good enough mom, if your child is happy, or even worrying about the supposedly safe places you send your child.
Then there’s this other worry: does my child pick up on me being an anxious mom and does it affect them? Or will it affect them later on? The last thing you want is for your child to develop some of your symptoms and struggles but…you hide your anxiety so well, don’t you?
Can I Pass Being An Anxious Mom To My Child Genetically?
The answer to passing anxiety on to your children is, yes, you can. Our brains have mirror neurons, essentially monkey see monkey do. If your child laughs, part of your brain lights up. If your child cries, you feel it. They also feel your feelings and emotions too. Even when you try to hide your stress, your child still picks it up AND becomes stressed themselves. Remember, children are sponges.
Having an anxious mom can even affect your child’s development and change your child’s genetic makeup including a higher risk of mood disorders, addiction, and even disorders like ADHD and autism.
Do you know the most damaging time for your child’s development? When they are in the womb absorbing all of your stress which can even affect their brain.
Can My Child Learn Anxiety From Having Me As An Anxious Mom?
Think about a time when you were around someone who was anxious. Were you able to stay calm as you were around them? Did part of you pick up on it and feel more anxious as a result? Did it affect the rest of your hour or day? Our kids can pick up on our feelings without us even knowing.
How you interact with the world as a mom matters. If you teach your child that the world is a scary place where they shouldn’t trust anyone, then they won’t. If they notice that you struggle to relax, then you don’t project the peace and calm that they both desperately want and need to learn how to have on their own.
Anxiety can also be something your child learns through them noticing your:
Seeking Of Constant Reassurance
Inability To Relax
Days Of Physical Pain
Later, after watching you in these habits, your child may begin to also need to triple check a list before they leave the house, call themselves stupid, worry they aren’t good enoguh if they make a mistake, or constantly need to hear that they matter. They may struggle to relax or get a lot of unexplained stomach aches.
They may eventually refuse to attend school or have trouble leaving the house. Your child could struggle to sleep well and often complain about being sleep deprived, which will probably affect their school grades. Their social skills would not be great and they may struggle to make friends.
Wait, Right Now They Seem Okay
But, right now, as a toddler or infant they appear okay, you murmur. Possibly, but what we know about kids is that they are happiest until they are 9 and then their happiness begins to plummet. In teenage years their brain begins to rewire and prune itself and mental illness begins to come out. So even if they seem fine now, they are still watching how you as an anxious mom interact with the world and forming their own opinions on it. They are still absorbing all of your habits, the essence of who you are, and compiling that into their brain.
How Do I Avoid Passing My Anxiety To My Kids?
First and foremost, the biggest part of parenting that no one will tell you is to put on your oxygen mask first. If you are on a plane and it is about to go down, they tell parents to put on their oxygen masks before they help their kids. You can’t help your child or be the best parent you can be without taking care of yourself first.
Society may have convinced you that it should always be all about your child or that helicopter parenting is the best kind of parent. The truth is, you were a person before you had a child and it is okay to still schedule nights with friends and leave with your child with a sitter, to have date nights with your partner, or to go to the gym and put your child in child watch. Believe it or not, your child will also benefit from a break of being with you 24/7 or the time spent around other kids developing social skills. It also models for your child that it’s okay to take care of yourself, to ask for help from others and not keep soldiering on when you are breaking. It may teach them when they become parents themselves one day that a good parent is one who takes care of herself too. That is an excellent legacy to pass on.
This can be a great time to learn how to manage your own stress, what coping skills you need when it gets too high, or what you need more of in your life to feel calmer and happier. It could be a time to model for your child that mom has coping skills such as deep breathing, meditating, or taking time to herself and that’s a good thing.
It can also be a great time to learn about negative thinking and how to change those negative thoughts to positive. People who look at things with a more positive outlook tend to get sick less, be happier, and have more energy. By learning how to control your thoughts, you can model and pass on this behavior to your child before they pick up the pattern of negative self-talk.
How To Work On Being A Less Anxious Mom
Yes, your child can pick up on anxiety from having an anxious mom and inherit it genetically. However, there are so many other lessons you can pass on to them as well, such as coping skills, resiliency skills, positive thinking, taking care of yourself, and even asking for help. As a parent, the best thing you can do is to show your child that you love yourself enough to take care of yourself.
Imagine six months from now when you have begun to implement positive and healthy habits to work through your anxiety. You are exercising regularly, sleeping better, and feeling less stressed in general. Your child also picks up on your calm levels and, as a result, acts much calmer and displays healthy levels of coping. You can do that and more in therapy with Willow Tree Healing Center at (757)296-8794.
Mary Willoughby Romm is a licensed professional counselor in the state of Virginia who provides online therapy for Willow Tree Healing Center. She enjoys transforming the lives of women, college students, kids, tweens/teens, and families. She is certified in Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (ages 2-7) and Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.