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Children and mental health: how parents shape the well-being of their children

As such, we strive to invoke our best angels, modeling equanimity and empathy as much as possible, with the small hope that these moments will outweigh the insane ones.

There are times when it’s easier and times when it’s harder. Right now, in case anyone out there gets unclear, it’s much, much harder.

With the pandemic, school closures, the fight against racial injustice, the climate crisis and political uncertainty, this year has been difficult for anyone to keep it reasonably united. Now add to that list the growth of future keepers of this vulnerable world.

The good news is that kids don’t need us as pillars of strength in the rubble. Nor does a parent̵

7;s anxiety or depression mean that the child will inevitably experience anxiety or depression now or in the future.

What matters more than how unstable we feel is how we deal with these disturbing feelings. This is the case whether it is us parents or our children suffering from anxiety or depression.

The relationship between parenting and children’s mental health

There is a longstanding relationship between the mental health problems of parents and children, explained Marcy Burstein, a clinical psychologist and employee of the National Institute of Mental Health, who has studied this topic.

Children of parents with anxiety disorders are four to six times more likely to develop an anxiety disorder in their lifetime, and children of parents with depression are three to four times more likely to develop depression. Often these disorders appear in childhood or adolescence.
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Why, however, remains uncertain. It’s likely a combination of genetics, biology, and the environment, Burstein said. Also, it’s not always something that is passed on from parent to child; a child’s behavior can impact the parent.

“This is a bit of a chicken and egg phenomenon,” Burstein said. “The parent-child relationship is two-way and complex. Sometimes the anxious child may elicit less parental warmth or overprotection, as studies show.”

But no matter where and how mental illness begins – something that may be impossible to pinpoint precisely – Burstein wants parents to know that no one is to blame.

“Mental health problems should be viewed like any other disease,” he said. “We don’t blame anyone for having diabetes.”

Eli Lebowitz, director of the Yale Child Study Center’s anxiety disorder program, agrees.

When it comes to children suffering from anxiety and depression, he rarely thinks a parent’s struggles with mental health are the direct cause.

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“There is still the idea that it’s all the parents’ fault, that mental health, as a discipline, has a long history of affirmation,” said Lebowitz, author of the forthcoming “Breaking Free of Child Anxiety and OCD: A Scientifically Proven. Program for parents “,” They blamed the parents for so many problems. ”

This is not to say that parents have no influence on the mental well-being of their children.

It’s all in the answer

Emotional suffering is inevitable. Life is painful and uncomfortable at some point for all of us. If you never have these feelings, well, I have some bad news. You’re probably neck-deep in denial or toxic positivity (or both), and it’s not benefiting anyone, much less yourself.

Sometimes anxiety and sadness can be managed without professional help. And sometimes they are so strong that they qualify as a clinical disorder and require professional help.

It is not possible

Either way, denying this pain can cause harm to our children and ourselves in the long run. The emotionally healthy thing to do, which is also the hard and courageous thing to do, is to acknowledge our struggles in front of our children and shape a healthy response to them.

“Babies look to parents to understand their reality and to understand the world. It starts in childhood,” Lebowitz said. He pointed to a study in which babies respond to their parents’ facial cues when deciding whether or not to crawl on a transparent floor. Babies of parents who seemed frightened stopped crawling. Those whose parents seemed calm kept crawling.

“This is an important way we learn what is safe and dangerous, happy and sad,” he added. Our children pick up on our verbal and non-verbal emotional cues and tend to be more perceptive than we often give them credit.

This does not mean that we should always appear calm. When we are feeling anxious about Covid-19, fires, racism or financial insecurity – or because we have a clinical anxiety disorder – we should recognize it frontally with our children in an age-appropriate way.

When a parent feels like they’re wrong, parents should start taking care of themselves. In a culture that implicitly and explicitly encourages parents to put their children’s needs on their own, this might seem wrong or, heaven forbid, selfish. But it is for the good of all.
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Pressure relief can occur through exercise, time off work, a phone call with a friend, or therapy. “Find those little ways to recharge the battery,” Lebowitz said.

But that is not all. In addition to finding ways to help themselves, parents should also talk to their children about what’s going on.

“It is scarier for a child to have a parent who is struggling and not talking about it than a parent who is struggling and talking about it,” Lebowitz said. “Just make sure you use the words they understand.”

For young children, “sad” and “scared” are probably better choices than “depressed” and “anxious”.

Age-appropriate conversations about anxiety and depression can achieve many results. First, talking to your children normalizes these feelings and shows children that it’s okay to acknowledge and express them. Second, communication ensures that children know that a parent’s stress and anxiety are not the children’s fault. Finally, when parents talk about what they are doing to deal with these feelings, they show their children how to deal with their grievances.

“Rather than engaging in non-constructive behaviors like catastrophizing, shutting down, or yelling, parents should try to model coping behavior right now,” Burstein said.

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When children are anxious, Lebowitz encourages parents to respect but not necessarily satisfy their concerns. This can go against the deeply ingrained parenting instinct to protect children from what scares them. But the line between protection and accommodation of unhealthy and irrational behavior can be a slippery ground.

If a child is afraid to go to the park because they are afraid of contracting the coronavirus, do not say: “I understand that you are afraid and we will not go.” Instead, say, “I understand you are afraid, but we know it’s safe and I know you can do it.”

“Show the child that you are confident that you can tolerate stress and that you are still okay. Let him know that you believe you can handle it,” Lebowitz said. (For more information on how to do this, check out SPACE. It is a therapy method created by Lebowitz that addresses children’s anxiety by treating parents and teaching them these skills.

“Parents are like the mirror that children look into to get to know themselves,” Lebowitz told me.

In my experience, the mirror works both ways. Knowing that my kids are watching my reaction to stress and sadness inspires me to deal with them in healthier ways than, for example, hiding under a blanket and scrolling through Twitter for hours.

In our home, when mom is stressed out, she tells everyone she doesn’t have it with her to cook and clean and we order dinner from our favorite Chinese restaurant. When mom is stressed out, we go out for a family walk. When mom is stressed we put on some music and dance until, even if only for a few minutes, we forget.

The problems may not improve, but my ability to deal with them does.

Elissa Strauss he regularly collaborates with CNN, where he writes about parenting politics and culture.

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