The Anxiety/Autonomy Connection

Deep down, I think many kids are looking for something more meaningful, real, and challenging than what they are experiencing. I think they are looking for a real sense of competence and ownership over their own lives. But they are growing up overmanaged, oversupported, and anxious because of it.

I know adults can relate. How do you feel when you don’t have autonomy and freedom?  For example, think about working for a micromanager, who is constantly correcting you, giving advice, fixing things, and not giving you choice or freedom.  Ugh! It feels disconnecting and demotivating.

It’s no different for children. As they grow, they need to feel more and more in control of their own lives and responsible for themselves. We can do this be stepping back. Talking less and getting them to think for themselves more.

Let’s get something straight though, the Number 1 most important thing that children need is to feel loved and accepted. Stepping back to empower your child is not an act of removing love. It is an act OF love.

We can love and support our child at the same time as empowering them. Doing things for your child does not necessarily equate to love. Sometimes the doing of things for the child is more about the parent trying to meet her own need for significance than it is about the child.

Feeling empowered and connected to yourself and your own life is so important. Feeling out of control, incapable and not secure is at the root of many of our problems. I’m not alone in thinking this.

A recent study found that Youth with higher levels of anxiety tend to report being granted less autonomy by their mothers.

So, although guiding our kids seems natural, helping them make their own choices and build their own skills to help themselves is ultimately what they are craving and is how we need to help them. If you really want to help, this is how.

We must help our kids by stepping back when the time is right and by facilitating their independence. Independence is healthy. It contributes to the development of self-esteem, identity and wellbeing. When we do something for ourselves we get rewarded with a powerful sense of achievement. When children (and adults) have opportunities to make choices, to do tasks themselves, and to take on increasing responsibilities, self esteem grows.

However when kids have not been given control, they might not be used to it. Their first attempts might result in hesitation and failure. This is okay. I know this is hard. Seeing your child struggle is hard. We want to protect. But challenge is a good thing. Trust me. It means they are learning and growing. We want our kids to grow. To know that you can fail, and in the end, be okay and accepted, is a huge life lesson in resilience.

Too often, adults do things for children because it’s easier that way, safer, quicker, and less of a struggle. But the message we inadvertently send is that you are incapable of making decisions or doing a task…or that the world is not a safe place. This can be a serious blow to self esteem and feelings of security. Kids pick up on parent’s energy. They can sense when the parent doesn’t believe in them.

It might seem counterintuitive, but do your children a favour… believe in them, then let them struggle. Love them through it with phrases like these:

“I believe in you” “You tried really hard” “You did it”

If you want to help, then comfort them when they fail, then help them reflect on lessons learned and help them make their own decisions and game plans for the future (not yours). Practicing this skill is the only way they’re going to become good at it.

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