What type of animal are you? Identify your parenting style..
When dealing with an anxious child there is a family dynamic that goes along with it. Your child is expressing anxiety, but how do you react to them as a parent?
Every parent always wants to do their absolute best for their child and will be trying to do what they feel is right to help their child with their anxiousness. In fact, one of the common questions I get asked by parents is “Did I cause this?” Is this a question you might have asked yourself?
Our instinctive behaviour, in a situation where we are concerned about an anxious child, can be driven by our natural response to stress or part of our natural temperament. Sometimes things work, but sometimes our well-meant behaviour can make things worse.
Awareness is the first step in knowing how to change things for the best. So, when I work with parents, I get them to identify what their parenting style is and to do this I have a tool that uses animals to describe parenting style. This can be a fun and lighthearted way of identifying some of your instinctive behaviors. Have a read and see which animal resonates for you and potentially your co-parent.
The emotional animals
These parents show lots of emotions from distress, anxiety or anger and in doing so lose some control. They find it hard to regulate their feelings and to tolerate their child’s. It means they can get entrenched in the anxiety that they can become over-emotional.
Positives with this style - sharing emotions can be helpful at times.
Cautions with this style - if the parent gets very over-emotional about the anxiety it can heighten the intensity of feelings in the family.
This is the emotional avoider, who buries their head in the sand. They find it difficult to cope with emotions, so conceal them. They might turn a blind eye or say things like “It’s a phase and they will grow out of it”. This parent puts all their emotions into supporting the family practically e.g. financially.
Positives with this style - sometimes not making a big issue out of a situation can be helpful.
Cautions with this style – can look like they don’t care and sometimes it can be problematic as it is not dealing with the issue.
The behavioral animals
This parent works hard and tries to make everything right. They are very protective and are ready to pop their child back into their protective pouch at the first sign of distress. They treat their child with kid gloves and make great efforts to help them avoid any upset or stress.
Positives with this style – it is lovely to be caring and protective, especially when your child is small.
Cautions with this style - being overprotective means your child can become dependent on you. It doesn’t help the child develop their own coping skills with life.
These parents tend to use a logical and almost businesslike approach to help their child with their anxieties. They often are frustrated and stressed so attempt to persuade and convince others to see their perspective. This logical view point also tends to use a lot of confrontation. For example you might say, “You don’t have to be anxious about that. It will be ok”
Positives with this style – it is great to take an interest and show solutions to problems to your anxious child. This can help them learn problem-solving skills.
Cautions with this style – telling your child what to do might sound like you are not listening or being dismissive. It also means children do not get the experience to work stuff out on their own.
The ankle biter - this parent is persistent and will try to cajole their child, with a tendency towards micro-management. They may be more prone to nagging and over-control. This tends to wear out not only you but also your children, so often they don’t listen anymore.
- Positives with this style – you put a lot of effort into supporting your child and trying to do your best for them
Cautions with this style – you might exhaust yourself with all this effort. This style can seem like nagging, so eventually the child will zone out, not listen and not ask for help. They may lose morale and it might increase their stress.
The emotionally regulated inspirational animal
These are the types of animals we would Ideally want to channel, the dolphin or the St Bernard. These two parenting styles focus on compassion and warmth. They are working alongside the child, nudging them rather than forcing change. These animals instill hope of change, and support and guidance when warranted.
Who doesn’t want to be a lovely smiley dolphin? This parent provides the right balance of care and control. Just like a young one swimming with the pod, if they stray the dolphin parent will gently nudge them back into the safety of the pod. Sometimes they might swim ahead and lead by example. At other times they swim alongside giving encouragement. Eventually, they can swim quietly behind, watching so they don’t lose their way.
This loyal animal is known for being reliable and caring. It carries a casket around its neck, a symbolic self-care toolbox. They display compassion, warmth, consistency, kindness gentleness hope and are attuned to those that are lost. As parents, they are able to ask for help, are able to take a break and make sure life is not all about the child with anxiety.
Parenting styles are not always fixed and you may apply several styles depending on the situation. When looking at what to do with your anxious child there are some simple questions to ask about your current style.
If it is working carry on doing it
If it stops working think about making some changes
The good news is the one person you can change is yourself
If you are interested in learning more about shape-shifting into a Dolphin or St Bernard then read my next article on Parenting Tips for Managing Anxiety.
About the Author
Dr Victoria Thompson is a registered clinical psychologist. Victoria currently works in private practice in Auckland, specializing in several different areas including eating disorders and couples’ therapy. She is particularly passionate about helping people to build self-esteem and develop self-compassion. She has a keen interest in forensic psychology, dating and attachment styles, obsessive compulsive disorder and disordered eating and body image.