Becoming a parent involves a steep learning curve with so much to learn and so many new practical skills to master so it’s not surprising that all parents will sometimes worry and lack confidence in themselves. Anxiety about your baby is a universal aspect of parenthood and is one of the reasons that we humans are such attentive parents. When you first hold your ‘little bundle’ you suddenly realise that they are utterly reliant on you… and you are a beginner. It’s not surprising that new parents check their baby is breathing, fret about how often their baby poos and worry a lot about her health!
Anxiety and poorly babies
Worrying and stress can of course be more common if your baby has been poorly or was born prematurely, as you have already seen your child being vulnerable and needing help from healthcare professionals. However, for some parents this natural tendency to worry can develop into an overwhelming anxiety that has an effect on their baby and diminishes their enjoyment of parenthood.
What is it like to have an anxious mum or dad?
Anxious parents are more likely to display fear and worry in common situations, be critical of their children and worry what people think of them and their parenting. As children grow up, this triple effect may lead to low confidence and fear and this is partly why the children of anxious parents are more likely to suffer with anxiety and anxiety disorders in both childhood and adulthood. (In addition, some anxiety disorders have a genetic component too.)
Five top tips for anxious mums and dads
- Pretend Children use their parents’ behaviour as a barometer to guide how they should feel or behave in certain situations. This is called ‘social referencing’ or ‘emotional regulation’. They will model their parents’ behaviour so to avoid passing on some of your own phobias or worries, try to be brave for your child. Even if you are not keen on, say, heights or spiders, try to be as calm and reassuring as you can for your child so that they don’t learn to respond with fear and anxiety too.
- Personality All babies have their own personality and one strong aspect of temperament is how fearful versus how bold your baby is. As you get to know your baby you will be able to gauge their anxiety around certain things, eg loud noises and heights. Remember, you are their secure base so encourage them but avoid forcing them to do things that they find very frightening. Being forced to do scary things can make a child feel more anxious, so respect their personality and take things gently.
- Performance Everyone worries a bit about what other mums and dads might think of their parenting and their children. Try not to worry about what you think other people ‘might’ think of you, and instead focus on your child and deal with situations in the way you know works with you and your child.
- Play Babies and children are designed to play and love to try new things. This is how they learn, so let them try, and sometimes fail, and try not to micro-manage what they do.
- Praise Lots of warmth and praise works wonders for a child’s confidence. Praise ‘trying’ and not just the end result.
These top tips can help all parents to be warm and sensitive and encouraging with their children.