There is no doubt that parent concerns can mean a constant stress spiral, unless we are taking specific action steps to keep us in check.
What do parents really worry about?
All kinds of things, apparently.
According to Childcare.co.uk who asked 5,342 parents about their biggest parenting fears for the year ahead (2020), and their five biggest worries. The answers are quite interesting and revealing. They are ranked by percent, as follows :
1. The anti-vaccination movement – 82%
2. Climate crisis – 73%
3. Bullying – 48%
4. Gaming addiction – 41%
5. Screen time – 39%
6. Racism – 34%
7. Mental health – 31%
8. Obesity – 28%
9. Social media – 23%
10. Crime – 19%
Two thirds (66%) of parents also say they felt concerned about their child’s social media use or the time they spend online.
The New York Post in 2018, reported that parents spend an astonishing 37 hours a week worrying about their children, with over 5 hours per day spent in worry, and more than half of parents reporting losing sleep over their worries.
The detail of this study reveals that the top worries for parents whose children are going back to school are children’s safety & happiness, bullying, class performance and grades, kid’s social life, and eating habits among other worries.
As for sleepless nights, this research found that the top 10 parenting nightmares look a little bit like this:
- Kid coming home with broken/sprained limb — 41 percent
- Kid coming home with a broken heart — 40 percent
- Kid coming home with lice — 36 percent
- Kid coming home with chickenpox — 33 percent
- Kid coming home with a broken/sprained finger — 31 percent
- Kid coming home with strep throat — 29 percent
- Kid coming home with an allergic reaction — 29 percent
- Kid coming home with the flu/cold — 27 percent
- Kid coming home with pink eye — 26 percent
- Kid coming home with broken glasses — 16 percent
It is no doubt in a world with Covid-19 that worries and nightmares regarding illness would now also include this within the top worries for parents.
There is no doubt that all of this uncertainty and these concerns are enough to keep parentings in a constant stress spiral – unless we are taking specific action steps to keep us in check.
The voices of parents and their worry
A Mothership Down came up with some interesting findings in April 2020. Yes, it was a Facebook survey and only had 34 parents with responses but they are very grounded and very real.
“My biggest concern for my kids is that I am overwhelmed and not responding to them as they need and deserve. That I am snappy rather than understanding, making a situation which is already hard on them worse.”
“I’m more sad than worried. My kids are 12 and almost 7. The 12-year- old is OK. He misses his friends, but technology has helped them stay connected. But the younger one is devastated. He misses his friends and his teacher and his routine. He cried when he realized they didn’t get to have an Easter party at school. Now we are having to cancel his birthday party, which he’s been counting down to for months. My mama heart is just so, so sad for him.”
“My oldest has a history of anxiety and depression. She is currently doing great, and for that, I am extremely grateful. Pre-COVID her therapists told us that the most important part of treatment for depression and suicidal ideation is community, activity, and socialization. Unfortunately, this quarantine goes against all of those recommendations. I’m not going to borrow stress and worry when it is not currently warranted, but I will say that my kid’s mental health is one of my main concerns right now.”
“My biggest concern is the social impact. My daughter was working so hard on coming out of her shell and developing her self confidence away from us, and I feel like it has all been taken away from her. I really worry that this lack of socialization is going to cause a lot of regression and make the next school year harder for her.”
“I’m most worried that if I die, they’ll have no mum. I’m not worried about the academics. I’m not worried about their social life. I’m worried that me or someone they love will die, and it will break them.”
You can really hear the emotion in the voices of these parents. What I notice is the big worry about social isolation, and lack of social contact with school and friends. Not to mention children with additional needs that require ongoing input from specialized services. All of this is much more difficult being done virtually.
These worry monsters can really do the trick for your worry-ridden kids. These soft and cuddly (if somewhat eclectic) plus monsters can provide some comfort. Kids love them because you can write your worry on a small piece of paper and feed it to the worry monster. You zip it up and the next morning the worry monster has gobbled up your worry. If your child doesn’t write yet, I’m sure they can use their imagination to draw up their worry, or they could pretent to hold their worry in their hand and feeding it to the moster.
If only adults had something like this! Though we’ve heard great reviews on writing down your worries and lighting them on fire. We’ll try it and let you know how that goes!
Alternative ideas – top 10 tips to tame worry
Here are some ways to help regulate with worry for us parents.
1. Learn how our brains work with worry
Dan Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, calls this ‘name it to tame it’ in his video on the topic.
You have probably heard of fight, flight, or freeze. We have a part of our brains called the amygdala which is the fear center. This is a primitive part of our brains which is designed to protect this, but which is not a deep thinker. It reacts very quickly as part of ensuring our survival. It was useful when we were in prehistoric times and needed to run from a bear or fight a bear. However, now it goes off like an alarm bell when we see a difficult email or when somebody cuts ahead of us at the checkout queue.
Breathing and mindfulness help us to turn down the thermostat in terms of fight or flight, and to more effectively regulate ourselves. By staying in the present, we do not move into the spin cycle of thought after thought after thought. Mindfulness helps us stay rooted in the present.
2. Tune in to your body
Bessel van Der Kolk tells us that the body keeps the score. I believe that we can rationalize anything and that we can convince ourselves of anything. However, our bodies pick up on the stress and never lie. Most of us have some kind of a body ‘tell’ when we get anxious or worried. People talk about tightness in their stomachs or where the stomach begins to flip, or heaviness in the chest, or a migraine. Some people curl their toes, or frown, or bite their lips or grind their teeth at night. None of these things happen by accident.
It is important to recognize, without criticism of ourselves, that our bodies are feeling distressed and that they are trying to tell us something. It is much better to befriend this and to be compassionate towards ourselves. If we notice that somebody else was anxious or in distress, we would most likely go over to them and seek to comfort them. We might offer soothing words. It is really helpful when we do this with ourselves, and engage in much more caring and soothing self-talk. Acknowledge the distress, and provide comfort to ourselves with kind words.
3. Put the problem in the cloud
We have powerful imaginations. We can think of thoughts as if they are clouds passing across the sky of the mind. Notice that they are thoughts and that they are not facts. Label each thought and put each one in a cloud and let the wind blow them past. Do this with each thought, and say to yourself “that’s a thought”, and with the next one “that’s a thought”. Put each thought into a cloud, and let them blow past. Just as clouds blow past in the sky, let these thoughts blow past in the clouds of your mind. Just as you remain with your feet on the ground looking up at the sky and the clouds blowing past, remain on the ground looking up at the thoughts, blowing past in your mind. You do not jump into the clouds in the sky and blow away with them. Do not jump into the thoughts in the clouds in your mind and blow away with them. Keep your feet on the ground, and tap your feet on the ground to remind yourself that you are close to the earth. This takes practice but it works.
4. Change the music and the message
We get very caught up with phrases such as “he is making me angry” or “this traffic makes me feel really stressed” or “that child just makes me shout”. It is almost as if another person, or the traffic or the child has a remote control that we have given them, and they press the big red button on that remote control that makes us react. It might feel like we have given control of our emotional state over to the outside world. We need to change the message that we give ourselves and to realize that we do not give away this big imaginary remote control and all of our power to the external worlds – we always have a choice as to how we react or choose to respond.
5. Open the valve
We need to find healthy ways to dissipate stress. We need to open the valves in some way and let the steam out. Some of the best ways to do this are through exercise, dancing, yoga, pilates, or tai chi. Mindfulness meditation is really good for this as well and for bringing about calmness. Exercise releases endorphins which are known as the happy hormones, and these also give us a lift.
6. Change the locus of control
The notion of a locus of control comes from Rotter (1966). This refers to a person’s beliefs about the extent of control that they have over things that happen to them. It is usually divided into two categories: internal and external. If someone has an internal locus of control, they link their success to their own efforts and abilities. Someone who expects to succeed will be more motivated and more likely to learn. Alternatively, someone with an external locus of control, who links their success to luck or fate, will be less likely to make the effort needed to learn.
The result of this is that people with an external locus of control are also more likely to experience anxiety since they believe that they are not in control of their lives.
People with more of an internal locus of control seem to fare better and to cope better. The more anxious or depressed a person is, the more external their locus of control tends to be. A greater external locus of control is linked with a greater vulnerability to physical illness. However, we can strengthen our internal locus of control through therapy, biofeedback, and using mindfulness.
All of these steps take practice and more practice. the steps can be taken in small steps and slowly. However, no one is going to come and give us a gift of these things or wave a magic wand so as to change it all at once.
If a ship on a journey is to change course by one degree, it will arrive at a completely different place.
Small changes make big differences
Think about what you would like to begin to change and what small steps you can take from today, to make a difference – so that you can reduce and eliminate worry.
Worrying is perfectly normal, but we can take steps to make sure that worry is not the captain of your life.