5 Ways You May Be Contributing to Your Kids Anxiety

As parents, we all want to do our best to raise loving, God fearing, and well adjusted children who will make an impact on this world. Yet we are flawed humans raising little flawed humans, and there will be times we negatively impact their mental health, even without realizing it. Take time to reflect and pray for God’s insight on areas of our life where we fall short. Where are we struggling with not making our expectations clear, having unhealthy communication patterns, or overloading their busy schedules with activities that are causing more harm than good? Consider some ways that you might be contributing to your child’s anxiety.

Unclear expectations

Unclear expectations may contribute to our children’s anxiety. Back when I was in high school, our church youth group leader used to have the “expectations” talk every few months. He would discuss all of the expectations of the youth group in an effort to make everything as clear as possible so none of us would cross a line unknowingly. We all crave boundaries far more than we realize. When we know what is expected, we don’t have to read minds and this eases our anxiety. I believe this runs true in our families also. When our children aren't aware of the rules or the rules constantly change, it leaves a lot of room for conflict and apprehension. In Jesus’s “Sermon on the Mount” he addresses this issue and calls us to be clear in our communication by following through on when we say yes or when we say no, without giving into the temptation of dishonesty by not following through in what we say. “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37). The more we can be intentional about making our expectations clear, upfront, and following through on them, the more emotional safety we will provide for our children.

Unrealistic expectations

Do you expect your children to be perfect? I am assuming your answer is no. We know that we are all human and in our human nature perfection is unattainable. Yet if you find yourself making comments that allude to your disappointment when your child doesn’t bring home a really high score on a test, or doesn’t make the team they tried out for, you might be unknowingly contributing to their anxiety. Your approval matters to them, and they are seeking it. Children may be reading disappointment as disapproval, and unknowingly carrying that weight along with them. The goal should be encouraging our children to do their best, problem solve, and start over when they are stuck or fail at something. Look for opportunities to reassure your children that you are proud of them and all of their accomplishments. Encourage your children to pursue their natural gifts instead of the gifts and abilities you might have hoped they would have.

Unclear communication

One area that needs clear communication is disciplining our children. As parents, we have been given the command to discipline our children so we can correct their mistakes and give them the direction they need to live a Godly life. Our motives of discipline should be corrective instruction instead of punitive shaming. If we shame them without restoration, more anxiety may grow within them. The more shame they feel, the more uncertainty they may develop in where they stand in our relationship. Paul addresses the church at Corinth with this same command when he says,

“If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent—not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow” (2 Corinthians 2:5).

Our goal should be correcting our children without causing the excessive sorrow that might overshadow the experience of joy of being forgiven. We should make sure we follow up our discipline with clear communication of how they broke our expectations, what the consequences were, and how they are forgiven and fully restored. We should make it clear that our love for our children has remained unchanged by their mistakes.

Failing to apologize

Another source of anxiety is failing to apologize to our children when we are wrong. During the times I have wronged my children, I can see the anxiety and uncertainty on their faces. I sense they are trying to make sense of my actions because they know I am wrong even though I am the adult they are looking to for guidance. I have come to realize that nothing eases this anxiety within them like humbly coming to them and admitting when I have been wrong and then apologize to them for it. I find their compassionate hearts are waiting to tell me “it’s ok” or grab me for a hug. When I apologize I see relief wash over them, I can tell their world feels in order again. The Bible is clear on our need to “clear the air.” In Ephesians 6:4 the Bible instructs us to address any issues between us and other believers as a priority, “leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Ephesians 6:4). When we address things between one another, even our children, we find peace instead of uncertainty.

Over scheduling

We live in a busy society, running around from task to task with a large coffee in our hand. Many of the things we are involved with may be good, but not necessary. Sometimes we need to step back and slow down in order to consider what is best. When our kids are rushed around without a chance to have the play time they need to grow, the family time they need to feel loved, and the rest they need to recover, anxiety can start to bubble within them. Maybe you notice shorter tempers, irritability, or differences in their attitude that you typically don’t see. When you notice these things it’s important to take a step back and look at what they might be lacking, and if it’s time to cut back on all the things your family might be involved in. Jesus is a good example of needing rest away from the crowds while he was in the middle of his ministry. 

“Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest. So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place” (Mark 6:31-32). 

Jesus was fully God while also being fully human, and so he is able to relate and show the importance of rest in our lives even when we are involved in activities that are positive or even ministry related.

Our children will face much anxiety in their lives, most of which we can’t protect them from, but we can use Godly wisdom to discern areas of our family life that may be contributing to anxiety. We can make changes necessary to create a safer environment that fosters positive mental health. Every child is different, so what might cause increased anxiety in one child might not in another. As parents, we know our children well and are the best people to be on the front lines, trying our best to be aware of their individual needs. We should always be praying to God for the wisdom and conviction to know how to best guide our children, and committing to making the changes necessary to do so.

About the author — Laura Goossens, MSW, LCSW

Laura is an Illinois Clinical Social Worker at Chicago Christian Counseling Center and has spent several years working with a variety of different age ranges in the medical and counseling fields. She believes in the importance of counseling, and having an outside source of encouragement, empowerment, and support through the trials and transitions of life. She also believes that God never gives up, works good in all situations, and can change our lives in ways that are far beyond what we can imagine. Her experience and interests include helping individuals with anxiety, depression, spiritual issues, relationship and marital issues, grief, women’s issues, low self-esteem, stress, chronic disease, and life transitions and conflicts. Chicago Christian Counseling Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and has provided professional Christian counseling in Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana since 1973. For more information, call (708) 845-5500 or visit www.chicagochristiancounseling.org.

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