Written by: Dr. Cathy Moser
In past September editions, I have written about the ‘back to school blues’ and anxieties that are sometimes aroused by the thought of going to school. This year, I thought that maybe it is time to look at the issue from a different angle. Instead of looking at children’s worries, I thought that it would be helpful to look at parental worry. After all, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and if we can get a handle on our own worrying, maybe we can help our children.
We start worrying the day they are born - and often, even before that: will they have five fingers and five toes? will they be healthy? Then we worry about everything else under the sun: are they sick, and should I take them to the hospital; will they get the chicken pox before we are suppose to go on holiday; are they too fat, too thin, too short, too (__fill in the blank)? will they ever outgrow hitting their friends in playgroup? will they have the right type of friends? And then, there’s the September worries: should I keep them back a year before starting Kindergarten? Should I put them ahead a year? will they succeed at school; will they get a good teacher? will they be in the same class as their friends? ….will they even have friends? If you can identify with any of these worries – don’t worry – you are not alone. Worrying is inherited (you get it from your kids!). Actually, there is a genetic component to anxiety and worry, and you can probably identify relatives that you know as real worriers. So don’t start feeling guilty about worrying!
The way I treat worrying is similar for adults and children. The therapeutic approach is called Cognitive BehaviourTherapy (CBT), and it is known as one of the more effective approaches to the treatment of Anxiety and Depression. In my version of CBT, I start off teaching the serenity prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference. The minute that our children appear on this earth, many of us somehow come to believe that we can, and should, control everything. We think that if we make sure that they eat this type of food, and get this amount of sleep, and this amount of exposure to television, etc., - they will be alright. We try and make sure that they aren’t exposed to germs. We try to figure out which activities will be best for them, which teacher is the best teacher, and what amount of homework will ensure that they will get the gold medal in Grade 12. These kinds of thoughts, in themselves, are good to have. They guide us in the direction of our family values and goals. The danger, however, becomes when these thoughts transform from goals to ‘this has to happen for my child to be healthy, succeed, etc.’; and, ‘I am the one who has to ensure that it happens this way’. That is the point where we start to worry – did I do enough to make sure this happens? what else should I do? (quit SHOULDING on yourself) what is going to interfere and how I can prevent that from happening?
To have serenity, we must accept that there is actually a power that is higher than us, and, we cannot control everything. For example - we don’t want our children to get germs, so we don’t let them play at so and so’s house because someone might have a cold there. But do we really know that it’s not good to be exposed to germs when they are young? Maybe exposure to mild forms of germs immunizes them against getting sick in later life. Maybe eating butter is healthier than margarine. Maybe encouraging them to do the best they can in their sport results in unwanted knee or back injuries as adults. Remember how best practice in how to place your infant in the crib has changed – in my time, it was on the stomach; then it was on the side; then it was on the back. I’m not even sure what it is now – is it upside down?
We must accept that we are not perfect, all knowing, and that don’t know the whole story. If we do that, there are no worries. We read experts’ opinions, bearing in mind that every expert has a different opinion. We use common sense and do the best we can. Once we have done that – we have nothing to worry about, as there is nothing more that we can do. Remember – we don’t know everything, and neither do the experts. So, do some research and figure out what seems to be best practice. Implement your goals in moderation, as we can usually not be 100% certain that this is the right and the only way. Try to tell yourself that you are doing the best you can at this particular time. Be open to evaluating whether your approach seems to be getting you closer or farther away from your goals. Modify your approach accordingly. And once you have done that, accept whatever the outcome without worry. Keep in mind that we are not God, and we really can’t predict the future. As I tell my clients – if you don’t have your Clairvoyant’s license – quit trying to tell the future.