Parenting with anxiety

Emerging Minds, Australia, October

Resource Summary

This resource has been developed to help parents identify how their own anxiety may impact their child’s likelihood of experiencing anxiety too. Techniques for self-managing this anxiety and recommendations on self-care are provided, along with helpful tips and links to other resources.


Emerging Minds acknowledges that families come in many forms. In this resource, the term ‘parent’ includes biological, adoptive, foster and kinship carers of a child, and other caregivers who have chosen to take up primary or shared responsibility in raising that child.

As a parent, it is common to have worries and anxious feelings as you move through your daily life. These feelings can often be further impacted as you support your child through life’s many ups and downs. These anxious feelings may come and go, but if they have become more regular anxiety may begin to affect daily life, including your parenting role.

If your child is younger you may stop going to playgrounds in case they fall and hurt themselves. Or perhaps you are overly cautious when your child comes in contact with a dog because of your own fear. If you have older children you may help them avoid uncomfortable situations such as public speaking or going to a party with children they don’t know. And though you may have good intentions when doing these things, it can unintentionally create feelings of anxiety in children.

While it is normal for children of all ages to experience worry or some anxious feelings at times, if this behaviour begins to affect a child’s ability to go about their daily life it may be because they’re experiencing anxiety and need some extra support.

As a parent if you have anxiety or have experienced anxiety in the past you are:

  • more likely to notice if your child is showing signs of anxiety
  • better able to understand what they are going through; and
  • more likely to know strategies to support them.

It is also important to think about how your anxiety affects you day-to-day and how you manage it. It can be helpful to stop and think about ways in which anxiety is shaping your approach to parenting. By giving yourself space to stop and remain curious about it, you can begin to identify any ways in which you might want to respond differently. For example, letting your child explore new areas of the playground or letting them pat a dog when it’s safe to do so.

Engaging in this process, as best you can, is a great way of helping to prevent your child from developing difficulties related to anxiety. It’s also important to remember that anxiety is very treatable and there are lots of practical ways in which you can reduce the impact it has on your child.

Think about what your child is seeing and hearing

As a parent, you are your child’s most important teacher and role model. This is obvious when they are young, but even teenagers are more influenced by your reactions and behaviours than you might think.

Your child notices how you react to stress and situations you feel anxious about. So – as much as you can – try to stay calm, and think about the words you use, your facial expressions and how you physically react in front of your child. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, walk away (if it’s safe to leave your child where they are) – make a cup of tea, go for a walk, take a bath or use coping strategies you have found helpful in the past.

Without meaning to, parents can send their children messages about whether the world is a safe or dangerous place. Be aware of how your child might understand what you say to them. For example, what messages do you think a child gets when their parent:

  • tells them not to go on the playground slide because the child might fall off?
  • refuses to go to a work function because the parent is worried that none of their colleagues will talk to them?

Think ahead about how you might respond in situations that cause your child (and maybe also you) to feel anxious.

  • Instead of ‘helicoptering’ – hovering around them or stepping in to do things for them, which sends them signals that there’s a threat and you don’t think they can cope – take a step back and show you have confidence in their skills.
  • Instead of jumping in and ‘rescuing’ your child or saying something like ‘I don’t think you can do this by yourself, let me help you so you don’t get hurt’, you could say ‘You can give this a go by yourself. If you need my help, I’ll be right here’.

Monitor and manage your emotional reactions

Learning how to manage your own anxiety is one good way to indirectly support your child while helping yourself. By understanding how you react to and manage anxiety you can support your child in dealing with theirs; you can share what you’ve learned during your own experiences and model good coping strategies.

If you’re not coping well with anxiety, now’s the time to get some support – the ‘fit your own oxygen mask before helping others’ advice applies here: you are best placed to help your child by helping yourself first. Mindfulness techniques like connecting to the sensation of breathing and staying in the present (rather than worrying about something that happened in the past or might happen in the future) can help you feel calmer and be better prepared to deal with anxious feelings when they come up.

Managing your own anxiety is the best way to support your child. You can share what you’ve learned during your own experiences and model good coping strategies.

Sometimes supporting a child or young person with anxiety can trigger an increase in your own anxiety levels, even if they were previously well managed. If you’re struggling to manage anxiety yourself, or notice you’re finding it challenging to be patient and compassionate with your child, talk to your GP or mental health professional about getting support.

Learn more about the role of a GP in this video.

Take care of yourself

Parenting can be stressful under any circumstances. Parenting a child who has anxiety can be challenging and tiring, and requires understanding, patience and compassion – for your child and for yourself.

It’s important to take care of yourself and build your own support network so you are able to provide care and nurture your child, yourself and other family.

Taking care of yourself means:

  • getting enough sleep every night
  • eating well and staying hydrated
  • staying physically active
  • spending time away from your kids, doing things you enjoy
  • finding ways to relax – so you can cope with daily challenges.

It’s important to create your own support network – including friends and family. Often people are happy to help if you ask. Being specific with your requests for help, for example: ‘Can you look after the baby for an hour this afternoon so I can spend one-on-one time with Ava after school?’ helps trusted friends and family to know exactly what you are needing for support.

‘Each week I try to make a special date with myself where I just have personal time to do something for myself. It might be window shopping, going to the library, going for a coffee or lunch… just something to make sure that I am out of the zone of anxiety and I can relax.’

– Jaisen, father of four, Tasmania.

The Raising Children Network parenting website has more tips for parents dealing with anxiety.

You might also find it helpful to have a confidential chat on the phone or online for free with someone who understands the challenges of parenting a child with anxiety:

Remember – your experience with anxiety is a positive thing because it can help you to recognise and manage anxiety in your child, supporting them to live their best life.

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