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Anxious Times - Resilient Parents
by Chris McCurry, Ph.D.

Lately people have been asking me, with the economy and the world in general in a shambles, if I’m seeing more anxious children in my clinical practice. I can’t honestly say I’m seeing more anxious children, but I am noticing a marked increase in parent anxiety.

Who isn’t stressed these days? Every day brings more bad news. We are trying to hang on to our jobs or find new ones. Those of us in the “sandwich generation” are caring for our children as well as for our aging parents. The demands of life are relentless. How can we not succumb to the stress? People are counting on us. How can we remain resilient as parents as we navigate these treacherous social and economic waters?

Here’s what I’ve been advising anxious parents lately.

First, some Don’ts:
  • Don’t be alarmed or offended if your children appear short-sighted and self-centered in the face of economic hardship; “If Daddy loses his job will we still be able to go to Disneyland for my birthday?” Take a deep breath, give your child an honest answer, and move on. Avoid the “gratitude” lecture.

  • Don’t use your child as a confidante or support person for yourself. As I’ll suggest below, you need to find adults in your life who can serve that purpose.

  • Don’t argue or discuss sensitive topics with your spouse, parenting partner, in-law, creditor, whomever, in front of the kids.

Now, the Do’s:
  • Do keep your children’s lives as routine as possible. Focus on the consistent and important issues such as school, friendships, and simple family activities.

  • Do wait to be sure of any plans or life changes before announcing them to your child, and then present the information completely, simply, and matter-of-factly. Avoid speculating or throwing out half-formed ideas such as, “We might be moving in with Grandma, or we might not. And if we do I don’t know if we’d be able to bring the cats. Maybe one of them. We’ll see.”

  • Do put your family on a “news diet” and take a break from all the other sources of doom and gloom information impinging on us every day.

  • This is the biggie: Do nurture yourself. It’s not being selfish. Think of “secure your own oxygen mask first before assisting others with theirs.” A good night sleep, a healthy diet, exercise, avoiding drugs, and keeping alcohol use to a minimum are necessary to stay resilient. Exercise is the miracle drug. The jump in health benefit, mental and physical, from doing nothing to doing 30 minutes a few times a week is huge.

  • Do take time away from your children. You need a regularly scheduled, uninterrupted 2-hour block of time, for yourself, at least once a week. And not to catch up on household chores! The time must be scheduled so that you are doing it “just because” and not in flight from your children, not in frustration or anger or in retaliation against them or your spouse. Think of this time as refueling; restoring your energy reserves so that you can go back at it again.

  • Do slow down and be mindfully present even while life is frantic. Practice breathing at a rate of 5 or 6 breaths per minute to relieve and prevent stress. Practice doing one thing at a time with your full attention. It’s actually more efficient and less stressful than so called multi-tasking. Really listen to your spouse, your children, your neighbor. A great deal of security and solace comes from simply being heard and understood, even if the situation cannot be changed.

  • Do get out. If you’re unemployed or underemployed and your life prior to this circumstance centered on managing projects, interacting with others, and getting things done, then sitting around the house can be deadly. Volunteer. Staying active with friends, church or community groups will keep you from sinking into inactivity and possibly irritability and depression. Share your concerns with, and seek help from, other adults you trust and who understand your situation.

  • Do focus on the Big Picture; your family’s long-term values and goals, which are more important and durable than shifts in our economic fortunes.
All of the above will help you to not just survive these tough times, but to prevail. Typically we think of resilience as the capacity to “bounce back” from challenging situations. Froma Walsh, a professor of Social Work at the University of Chicago, puts a unique spin on this concept. She thinks of resilience as not just surviving adversity, but using tough times as an opportunity for growth. She advocates resilience as bouncing forward; coming out on the other side of a crisis with new skills, better relationships, and more wisdom and confidence than you had before. One can only hope that as each family bounces forward from the current economic crisis, society as a whole will be better, stronger, and more in touch with what really matters. Teaching our children that kind of resilience is a gift that will last a lifetime.

About the Author:
Chris McCurry, Ph.D. is a husband, a father, and a Clinical Child Psychologist in private practice at ABCD, Inc. in Seattle, Washington. He is the author of Parenting Your Anxious Child with Mindfulness and Acceptance from New Harbinger Publications. His website is www.chrismccurry.com.

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