Parenting and Mental Health

Being a child

From the moment we are born, our parents are our first teachers. They shape our world and our beliefs as we are conditioned according to the way they have been influenced by their own parents.

We tend to adopt their behaviours and apply what we have learned from them to our own lives. For example, If our parents are academic, this can influence the way we view education and studying. If they have a strong work ethic, we may also be motivated to work hard and become successful. However, if our parents have unresolved issues from traumas, it’s possible that they will unintentionally pass their fears, anxieties and habits on to us.

Being a parent

We are all programmed for survival. Our brains are designed to alert us of perceived danger in order to protect us from it. As we develop, how these instincts are triggered depends on the things we learn and how we perceive our environment.

When you become a parent, as well as feeling great joy, the level of responsibility can also be overwhelming. Your awareness of safety is heightened as you require these instincts to protect another human being who is solely dependent on you. 

If you have suffered traumas in the past, becoming a parent may trigger anxiety or exacerbate an existing disorder. 

Anxiety as a parent

When you find the origin of where your anxiety started, consider how it has played a role throughout your life and how that belief may be magnified now that you are a parent. For example,

  • Emetophobia(fear of vomit) can be magnified as a parent due to the exposure of a child becoming unwell.
  • Health Anxiety or Phobia of Death. Constantly feeling concerned if the child is seriously ill and obsessing about death. Worrying about the health of the child can lead to OCD behaviours and performing rituals to keep them safe from perceived danger.
  • Social Anxiety that causes someone to feel unsafe in public resulting in reluctance as a parent to take their child out in public in fear that something bad may happen. Social Anxiety may also be present due to a fear of judgement where you worry if your child cries and you are unable to settle them, you fear that people may question your abilities as a parent. These fears of people judging you can stem from self-confidence and self-esteem issues.

Self-doubt as a parent

If you have experienced self-doubt and low self-esteem, it is likely to have been caused by being bullied or treated badly by a parent, relative, friend or partner. This behaviour, despite it being a reflection of other people’s insecurities and not yours, can cause you to feel like you’re not good enough and therefore transfer onto how you view yourself as a parent. 

You may compare yourself to other parents and feel inadequate as you perceive they are better.

If you have been mistreated by your parent, you may worry that you will behave like them as a parent in some way despite being entirely different to them.

It is natural to have occasional concerns and worries for your child’s well-being because you love and care for them. However, if these anxieties and fears are prolonged and impact negatively on your life, it’s essential to deal with those past events and view them from a new perspective. 

Some helpful points to consider:

  • The fact that you worry about your child already makes you a caring parent, capable of making positive decisions and providing a great environment for them.
  • There is no such thing as a perfect person or perfect parents.
  • If the child has had a fall or accident, it’s important not to blame yourself. It’s impossible to keep them within your view 24/7. Understand that these accidents are extremely common as children are natural explorers and can quickly sneak out of sight!
  • Self-care is necessary. If you are taking good care of yourself, you will be better equipped to deal with any challenges that come with parenthood.
  • You can’t prevent your child from becoming unwell, however, if that does occur, there will be access to doctors if assistance is ever needed. 

Ways to help your child

Childhood is when our beliefs are installed, so here are some ways to promote positive experiences in your child’s life.

  • Encourage communication. Creating a safe non-judgemental space for your child will encourage them to open up about issues they may be facing.
  • The power of words. Show how the things they say can have a huge impact on another person. Get them to think of the consequences if they feel like saying something negative. Tell them that it feels much more satisfying to say something nice and then watch someone smile as a result.
  • Encourage Kindness. Teaching a child the importance of kindness and empathy will help them to have better relationships with others. Allowing them to understand that some of their fellow pupils and friends may have unhappy home lives and therefore the kindness they receive at school may be the only positive interactions they experience each day.
  • Encourage activity. If a child develops a particular interest in a hobby or activity that aligns with their wellbeing, it helps to show encouragement and support on their journey.
  • Reassurance. If a child has a fear or phobia, for example, costume characters, ask your child if they think you would ever put them in danger. If they say “No” then reassure them that if you have taken them to see a character at an event, it is because you know they are safe. Explain that they are fun people in costume who are there to entertain people and make them smile! Give them the evidence that each time they may have encountered something they are scared of, nothing bad happened.
  • Restriction. With the regular use of technology in everyday lives, children may be exposed to unsuitable material that will have a detrimental impact on their development. It is necessary to restrict what they can access as they are too young to have the cognition to process certain types of content such as horror movies, violence or anything of an adult nature. Children have a colourful imagination so seeing something that may be harmful can accelerate the potential for fear.
  • Importance of a healthy diet. A healthy diet and staying active are essential for positive development and a healthy mind and body.
  • Explaining “No”. Allowing a child to understand why you have to discourage them from certain things and explaining that by you saying “No” you are doing so with their best interests in mind. Also if you are trying to encourage them to do something, giving them two options can be effective as they feel they have been given control. For example, “Would you like to do your homework before or after the movie?”
  • Differences and self-worth. Each child must know they are special and loved. Each one of us has different qualities, strengths, capabilities and personalities which makes everyone unique. There is only one of each person in the world. If they encounter unkindness, reassure them that if someone is rude, it is because they are unhappy within themselves. Encourage the practice of positive affirmations daily to promote a positive self-image.
  • Make time for positive conversation. Have regular chats about what you and they are grateful for.  Use “But luckily” at the end of negative sentences. Give praise when you are proud of something they’ve done.

As a parent show yourself kindness, empathy and respect. Acknowledge that you are doing an amazing job of being the best parent you can be. Your child is 50% of you and they are your legacy in this world. Enjoy and cherish the role of being their parent and together, make precious memories that will last forever.

Being a parent can be extremely challenging, however, you are not alone. Here at Trauma Research UK, we have a six-week, online programme that provides the tools and techniques needed to break anxiety-inducing habits and create new ways of life-transforming thinking.  Read more…