Parental Anxiety: The Psychology Of Being A Better Parent

parental anxiety - photo of anxious dad with child


Some say that parenting is a job that it’s almost impossible to prepare for, and in many ways that’s true, but if you’re experiencing parental anxiety or are simply wondering what’s behind the psychology of being a better parent then this article could help you…


After all, no matter how many books you read on the subject, there’ll always be the odd surprise along the way.  There are certainly enough books out there about parenting tips – but these usually focus on your child rather than you.  This article is about looking at the effects of being a parent on anxiety and how you can work with yourself as well as your child.

What Is Parental Anxiety:

Whilst there isn’t a clinical disorder called ‘parental or parenting anxiety’, it is an experience that most parents are likely to have at some point.  The key thing to remember is that anxiety is a normal emotion to have, even though it is a difficult one.  In most situations anxiety is triggered by the mind perceiving some type of threat and so feeling anxiety is the body’s way of prompting you take action to stay safe.  As with most psychological issues, the problem isn’t as much having the anxiety, rather it’s more about knowing if you are experiencing anxiety either too frequent or more intensely than seems reasonable for the situation.

So what is a reasonable level of anxiety about parenting?  There probably isn’t a clear-cut answer to this, as everyone will have different thresholds that they consider appropriate.  There are two ways that could however be helpful to you in deciding if you are experiencing about the right levels of parental anxiety or too much:

1) What are the consequences of the anxiety you feel?

If you believe that the amount of anxiety you are experiencing is interfering with your day to day life (for example stopping you doing things that you need to do, or preventing you from enjoying time with your child) then the chances are you are experiencing unreasonable levels.

2) Another way to find out is to roughly compare the amount of anxiety you feel with other parents.

Whilst comparisons with other can often be unhelpful in many situations, in this example it might help you calibrate.  Why not find out what concerns other parents have and what things make them anxious – what levels of anxiety do they feel, and does it impact on them in any way?  Answers to these types of questions might give you extra useful information.

It might be the case that you notice feeling anxiety at being a parent, but don’t see it as being as much of a problem as others around you might believe it to be.  If this is the case it might be a good thing to sit down with them and consider what leads them to thinking the way they do.  This could be a tough thing to do – especially to do with an open mind, but it might give you some things to think about in more detail by yourself.  After all, most of the time friends and family just want the best for people they care about, and want to help.


What If I’m An Anxious Parent?

The first thing to keep in mind is that now you have realised this, you have the opportunity to think about how you might be able to do things differently.

Some people experiencing parental anxiety might worry that it will be having a detrimental affect on their children.  It’s true to say children can be very perceptive. There have been a number of studies over the years that appear to show links between parental stress and stress in children in some situations.  However, it’s also true to say that children form different attachments with different people in their lives – including wider family, family friends and their own friends as they become older.  It’s important to remember that whilst your anxiety levels as a parent can be an important area to address – they aren’t the ‘be all and end all’ of how your child will develop in future.

Avoid Communication Breakdowns


communication breakdown - anxious parents picture

In all interpersonal relationships, communication is often a key to success. This goes for everything from marriages to siblings and all that’s in between. Many parents can feel distanced from their kids, or feel like they don’t really ‘know’ them – particularly as the kids get older.

This is partly the natural process of maturation (i.e. becoming a teenager), but it can also be the result of a breakdown of communication. One way to tackle and prevent this is to get into the habit of talking to your kids on a regular basis. It doesn’t need to be a serious talk, just a friendly chat. You might be amazed at how much closer you feel after doing this for a few weeks.  Sometimes of course this can be easier said than done.  But if you are trying to keep communication lines open and use positive strategies to maintain relationships with your children then it is important to remember that as they grow older, they too share responsibility for communicating and strengthening relationships with you.

Understand The Developmental Path

We’ve already mentioned preparation, and how difficult it can be in the context of parenting. But there are some areas where you can do a little research and anticipate potential developments as you go along. For example, if you’ve been frustrated by a seeming failure to adapt to a change in your child’s behaviour, it could be a simple matter of biology. We’d always recommend that you understand the key milestones in a child’s psychological development. The web is a treasure trove of info on this topic, as well as the thousands of books. But throughout their lives, kids are prone to display certain types of behaviours, and if you can at least be aware of them, it can be a hugely normalising process.  A great place to start would be the website for the National Childbirth Trust.


Offer Praise, But Always Explain Why – And Don’t Forget To Praise Yourself Too!

Positive and negative reinforcement are not simply buzzwords, but real strategies that you can (and should) use in your parenting.  These are the ideas that to shape a child’s behaviour we should reinforce the things they do that we want them to do more of by using praise.   This is particularly applicable in younger kids, but it’s always a good idea to offer praise wherever it’s due, which also includes to yourself as a parent.  This is often a key area that people are reluctant to do, and usually comes down to parents believing that they are ‘doing nothing special’, or are ‘just surviving’.  Being a parent can be tough, and if you find something working – or that you are managing in the face of anxiety, stress or difficulties then make sure to take time to praise yourself too.  After all, it is more likely that you will find the motivation to cope even better if you have previously praised yourself.

Whether you’re a new parent or you’re a dab-hand, we hope these tips offer some insight into the sometimes confusing (and often scary) world of modern parenting.  However, if you are struggling with parental anxiety, why not get in touch to see how our therapy team could help?


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