Psychology and Relationships

Parental anxiety is 'universal': Here are 4 ways to cope, from a therapist


Lots of "firsts" can be anxiety-inducing for kids: the first day of school, the first sleepover away from home, the first pool party.

However, some parents feel just as anxious, if not more, about these milestones as their child does.

"It is universal to have this kind of worst-case-scenario thread when it comes to the safety of your kids," says Pamela Larkin a therapist who specializes in anxiety and depression.

Parental anxiety refers to any worry, fear, or stress related to being a caregiver.

And if that anxiety becomes unwieldly or all-consuming, it might be time to take some steps to alleviate it.  

"Are you ruminating on your thoughts," Larkin says. "Are you staying up at night Googling how to keep your child safe?"

If so, there are ways to cope so you and your child can have fulfilling experiences without being smothered by anxious thoughts.

4 tips for coping with parental anxiety

1. Let in the worry

Give yourself a limited amount of time, away from your children, to worry, says Irina Gorelik, a psychologist at Williamsburg Therapy Group who works with children and families.

"As silly as it sounds, by giving the anxiety some space and permission to exist, it might feel like less of an enemy and have less power over you," she says.

After all, anxiety does have a function and pushing it away can make coping with it harder.

"There is a lot of pressure to ensure your child's wellbeing and it may be counterintuitive for your nervous system to listen to a message like, 'just stop worrying,'" she says.

"Recognize the fear is there for a reason and it has a role to play in helping to protect yourself & your loved ones from danger."

2. Use mantras and breathing exercises

Come up with your own mantra that communicates that you know how to keep your child safe, Gorelik says.

You can also trying breathing exercises.

"Breathing exercises are helpful because they inform your nervous system that you are safe, and prevents over activation," she says. "This could look like breathing in for four seconds, holding the breath for 7 seconds, and exhaling for 8 seconds."

3. Talk to other parents

Share your concerns with other parents, Larkin says. They'll likely be able to empathize and even give some constructive feedback.

"Get some emotional support but also do some reality checking with them," she says. "Ask, 'Does this worry make sense? Am I a little bit off-kilter with that?' Being able to talk to somebody else and checking in on that can be helpful."

Do something that will distract you and help consume your thoughts
Pamela Larkin

4. Teach your kids basic safety

Practicing common sense safety can put your mind at ease, too.

For example, if you're worried about your child getting hit by a car, practice looking both ways before crossing the street with them.

If you're worried about them catching an illness in school, create a ritual where you wash your hands every time you enter you house.

Making sure they know who to trust and who not to trust can also help you sleep better at night, Larkin says.

"Teach your kid what is appropriate and inappropriate touching so that they can speak up for themselves," she says. "Teach them which people are safe."

Kids of any age, she adds, should know your phone number and address so they know how to get in contact with you.

'Kids are resilient'

Anxiety means you are taking your role as a caregiver seriously, Larkin says. And that's a good thing.

"You care about the wellbeing of your child," she says. "You recognize there is brokenness and unsafety in this world, and you are trying to protect your kids from it."

 Remember, though, kids can also handle a lot.

 "Children are pretty resilient," she says. "Harm can occur but they are resilient. Both are true."

Sign up now: Get smarter about your money and career with our weekly newsletter

Don't miss:

These are the top 10 safest countries for solo female travelers—and the U.S. didn't make the list

These are the 10 best U.S. cities for Gen Zers based on affordability, internet speed and more