ANXIOUS MOTHERS AND THEIR CHILDREN

Why did you want to cover the subject of “anxious mother”? Are there any carefree mothers? Or to put it this way, “Isn’t anxiety an emotion that all mothers experience?”

A very pertinent question. You are right, every mother starts to think and worry about things she never thought about before, even when she decides to be a mother. For a mother, there is always something to worry about in every age period of her child. Will my baby be healthy while pregnant? Do I have enough milk as a baby? Is he sleeping enough? Why is she crying? When he gets a little older, growth and development come to the fore, crawling, walking, talking, toilet training, is it early or late? With school, success anxiety comes to the fore. All this is accompanied by health concerns. Does he eat enough, does he catch a cold, does he get sick? Does he fall, get injured, have an accident? Of course, we should not forget the most basic motherhood anxiety: “Am I a good enough mother?”

So, is it possible not to think about all this or not to worry? Does anxiety have a function?

Anxiety is one of our most basic emotions and has a very important function: to be protected. Anxiety has enabled the human race to continue through the ages. It is perfectly natural and necessary for a mother to worry about her child. Anxiety helps the mother to be more careful and attentive while caring for her child. The human baby is the most delicate creature that needs care and attention as it grows.

Then you’re saying that a certain level of anxiety is normal, even necessary. So how do we know if the anxiety level is normal or excessive? For example, do you think I am an over-anxious mother?

I hear this question mostly from anxious mothers ☺ It is not easy to say how much of the anxiety is enough and how much is too much. After all, it’s not a tomato, so let’s measure it by the kilo. We can only observe the excess of anxiety with the negative effects it gives to the mother and therefore to the child.

Let’s take a look at what an over-anxious mother can go through:

An anxious mother is a mother who has trouble sleeping. Almost every night in bed, she struggles with thoughts about her child. Is he in good health? Is he getting taller? Why does he get sick so often? Is he eating right? What should I eat tomorrow? Am I a good enough mother? Since he cannot stop these thoughts that come after him, he cannot calm down and fall asleep. He wakes up in the morning devastated and in a bad state. The child wants to know and control every step taken during the day. Scenarios of bad things that could happen to him are constantly running through his mind. For example, she worries that her child will have a serious illness and constantly searches for signs of illness, often goes to doctors and has tests done. Even she can’t trust a doctor and she doesn’t feel comfortable without getting confirmation from other doctors. Or another anxious mother writes scenarios about her child having an accident or abduction and cannot get her out of her sight. She cannot entrust it to anyone, she warns her child to constantly run, sweat, be careful.

When you’re anxious, your body releases stress hormones that alert you. The constant high level of these hormones in the blood impairs physical health. Extremely anxious mothers therefore experience various health problems. Muscles that are constantly tense cause neck and joint stiffness, which we call fibromyalgia. Their eating patterns may be disrupted, they may experience overeating or loss of appetite and weight, stomach complaints, and blood pressure problems. They are nervous, impatient and irritable. Their work performance also decreases due to reasons such as absent-mindedness, forgetfulness, and inability to focus.

In summary, if a mother constantly writes disaster scenarios in her mind about her children, has the above mentioned physical complaints, experiences fatigue, boredom, burnout, and has functional losses in her daily life, she is likely to be an extremely anxious mother. The first thing such a mother should do should be to seek help from a specialist to solve her own anxiety problem. When I bring this suggestion, the most common response I hear from mothers is I can wait for my child to get better first. However, it is not possible for the mother to help the child without resolving her anxiety.

So how does having an over-anxious mother affect the child?

The child of an extremely anxious mother grows up with constant warnings and admonitions. “Be careful, you will fall, you will get hurt, you will get sick.” He is not allowed to step on his own, while his peers are playing on the street, he is either at home or his mother is next to him on the street. The message that the child who grows up in this way receives from his mother is: “Life is full of dangers, anything can happen to him at any moment, you are safe only with me.” This attitude is the most fertile ground for the child to be an anxious child.

Another problem that we see frequently in anxious mothers is that they cannot calmly respond to their children’s usual emotional reactions such as crying and fear. It is difficult for anyone to endure a child being unhappy and crying. But for anxious mothers, the sound of a crying child is like a panic button. They rush to the side of the crying child, who stumbles and falls while walking, or is afraid of something, and they want to take control of the situation and silence the child as soon as possible. Seeing the worry on the mother’s face, the child thinks, “Something very bad must have happened to me,” and gets even worse scared. For similar reasons, anxious mothers cannot clearly set rules and limits for their children. He says “Don’t worry, we’ll buy a new one” to silence the crying child because his toy is broken, or he tries to draw his attention in another direction. The child is successfully sedated. Making the child forget the feeling of the moment temporarily relieves the mother and the child, but does not gain the child anything in the long run. On the contrary, when faced with obstacles, the development of the ability to endure and struggle with difficulties is hindered. A child who has never experienced disappointment, stress, never cried, grew up in cotton wool, gives up on the slightest problem or expects solutions from others. In order for children to learn to manage their emotions, they should be allowed to experience all emotions such as fear, anxiety, sadness and even anger.

If anxiety is a natural and necessary emotion for children, how can we distinguish children who are overly anxious? Can you talk a little bit about the characteristics of children who are overly anxious?

Children with high levels of anxiety generally have a respectful, mastery, responsibilities, obeying the rules, meticulous and sometimes perfectionist nature in environments outside the home. Some worry that something bad might happen to them when they are away from their parents. For this reason, they often call their parents on the phone, hear their voices and feel the need to relax. Fear of failure, criticism, being disliked, and punishment is another concern for children with this type of structure. For example, a client of mine who likes to play basketball almost avoids the ball for fear of not being able to score a basket, preferring to pass the ball to someone else instead of trying to score a basket with the balls that come to hand. He quit basketball training this year, saying that he didn’t want to anymore, that he was too tired. Fear of failure prevented him from revealing himself in the classroom, even in the subjects he knew, he did not raise his hand, thinking that he was wrong. He was nervous during written or oral exams, could not remember what he knew, had sweaty hands and passed the exams poorly. Another reflection of excessive anxiety in life is social anxiety. Shyness, not wanting to enter new environments, different social environments, and not being able to join peer groups affect the social lives of these children. Specific phobias such as fear of the dark, fear of animals, and not being able to take the elevator are also anxiety disorders.

To emphasize again here, anxiety is a normal emotion that exists in healthy individuals and has a protective and adaptive function. Anxiety disorders are characterized by fear or worry that causes marked distress and loss of function. In the transition period from childhood to adulthood, it is difficult to distinguish between normal and pathological concerns. At this point, the most important point to consider is whether anxiety causes avoidance and dysfunction and its continuity.

How are anxious children at home?

These children, who are defined as calm, master, obeying the rules outside the home, draw a different picture in the home environment. They are persistent, demanding and even angry in their relations with their parents. They expect help and support even for tasks they can do on their own. Does something often happen about the issues they are worried about? or something will not happen right? They expect to be comforted by questions such as: Intense question and answer traffic overwhelms and consumes parents. Anxious children have a very intertwined, cohesive but conflicting relationship with their anxious mother. Over time, they begin to feel rebellion and anger against their mother’s anxious, controlling and warning attitude. Sometimes things turn upside down, and the children try to comfort and calm their anxious mothers. But this too is a child-consuming effort, and it also breeds inner anger. For whatever reason, the child who is angry with his mother also feels guilty about it and tries to suppress his anger.

So is anxiety genetic? If the parents are anxious people, are the genes responsible for the child’s anxiety?

Anxiety disorders are often inherited. If the mother or father has anxiety problems, the child is likely to have anxiety-related problems as well. In addition to the familial transition, the overprotective attitude of family members towards each other gives the message that the world is dangerous and unreliable, and reinforces existing fears. Parents unintentionally reflect their own way of thinking, values, approach to events, fears and anxieties to their children. Children become more like their parents over time. For these reasons, it is very important to consider the family in the treatment.

How are anxiety disorders in children treated?

Anxiety disorders in childhood can be effectively treated with individually applied cognitive behavioral therapy and family education. If the mother or father also has anxiety problems, they should also get individual help for themselves. In anxiety disorders that cause intense and significant dysfunction and cannot be resolved with appropriate therapeutic approaches, drug therapy can also be assisted.

As a result, anxiety disorders are very common and treatable disorders. Today, one in ten children struggles with one or more anxiety disorders. Therefore, another important issue to be considered is the prevention of anxiety disorders. Prevention is much easier than trying to treat after it has occurred. Children who have an anxiety disorder in their family and who are anxious in temperament are candidates for developing an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. If these children are handled appropriately, it is possible to reduce the risk of developing an anxiety disorder. If families are made aware of this issue, they can apply to us and get information about what they can do before mental disorders occur.

What can families do to prevent anxiety disorders?

What can be done to prevent the functional anxiety that we all have from turning into an anxiety disorder that limits the person’s life and disrupts daily functions can be grouped under two main headings. The first is the regulations to be made in daily life and the second is the concept of durability.

Arrangements that can be made in daily life:

  • Doing relaxation, meditation, mindfulness exercises.

  • Doing regular exercise.

  • Regular and adequate sleep.

  • Balanced diet.

  • Being in closer contact with nature.

Today, people use social media posts or substances such as alcohol and cigarettes to relax in front of the TV at the end of the day in order to relax in a busy, hectic and stressful life. However, although these seem to reduce the negative effects of stress for the moment, they do little in the long run. To cope with stress effectively, it is necessary to activate the body’s natural relaxation response. This can be accomplished with relaxation, breathing, mindfulness exercises or regular walking-like exercises. Regularly incorporating these 20-30 minutes of daily exercise into your life helps you stay stronger, more energetic and more positive while fighting stress.

Mindfulness exercises, which are a way of establishing a different relationship with stressful situations in our lives, have become more and more widely used for this purpose. There are many resources you can use to learn more about mindfulness and even learn the exercises.

Mindfulness exercises are not only for parents, but also for children. Now we can teach children mindfulness exercises and improve their ability to cope with stress and anxiety.

Another main topic necessary for the prevention of anxiety disorders was the concept of resilience. What is stamina? Does resilience prevent possible anxiety disorders?

Resilience (used as resilience in English, resilience in Turkish) is the ability to stand up and fight against difficulties, and to return to one’s former self when adverse conditions disappear. In a sense, it is the immune system of the soul. If there is one truth that we must accept now, it is that we live in an age full of traumas. Wars, terrorist incidents, accidents are always with us. If we cannot prevent trauma, the most important skill we can teach a child is resilience. People with resilience may see difficult life events as an opportunity, a stepping stone, to develop themselves and gain new skills. Individuals who are genetically prone to anxiety and who do not have resilience develop anxiety levels and anxiety disorders as a result of various difficult life events. Therefore, resilience is a very important concept in the prevention of anxiety disorders, especially in individuals with genetic risk.

So, the final question: How can we raise more resilient children?

This is the crux of the matter. In fact, this issue is too comprehensive to be briefly summarized here, and it is an issue that every parent should think about and work on. It is directly related to how we raise our children in general. Let me first critically state your observations. Today, we offer more opportunities to children than ever before, but we spend much less time communicating with them. We are overly indulgent in discipline when we try to boost our children’s self-esteem with praise. We give very little responsibility. While trying to build a happy, fairy-tale world for them, we cannot teach that stress and difficulties are a part of human life. By removing every obstacle in front of them, we deprive them of the chance to learn the skills to deal with disappointments and cope with difficulties. Unfortunately, children who grow up with this approach cannot be resilient individuals.

  • To teach how to get along with both the pleasant and challenging aspects of life. For example, when the child is bored, he must learn to endure or cope with it on his own. It should not be offered immediately to entertain or distract him. In fact, the child should be left for times when he will be bored. Instead of consoling sentences such as “It’s not worth crying for, we’ll buy a new one, we’ll fix it” to the child crying because his toy is broken, “You’re right to be upset, a person gets upset when something is damaged.” He should be allowed to cry for a while, without suggesting any solution. If the child asks later, a solution can be produced together.

  • Not producing immediate solutions to the problems faced by children. When parents step back in the face of a problem and give the child time to identify and solve the problem, the child has the opportunity to learn important skills such as empathy, problem solving, creativity, perseverance, perseverance, and patience. What can you do to solve this problem?” and then ask, “What have you tried so far? Which one worked and which one didn’t? questions may come. This approach creates an environment for children to reach solutions.

  • Being able to listen with interest but calmly and quietly when the child speaks of a difficult situation.The existence of a mother and father who can listen by trying to really understand him is one of the important factors in gaining resilience.

  • To be a model for realistic and positive thinking in the face of situations.

  • Not categorizing emotions as good or bad.Being a model for living and expressing all emotions such as fear, sadness, anger, joy.

  • To teach to take responsibility and fulfill responsibilities.It is important that they learn to take responsibility not only for their routine work in daily life, but also for their behavior and mistakes.

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