The Anxiety/Autonomy Connection

Deep down, I think many kids are looking for something more meaningful 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 overprotected, disempowered, and anxious because of it.

I know some adults can relate. When we feel capable we feel more confident and empowered. This leads to feeling better about ourselves and more in control of our own lives. In the end, this is the antidote to anxiety.

Other than feeling loved and accepted, the feeling of being capable and in control of your life has to be the most important thing I know of. 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 helping our kids out seems natural, helping them 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.

When kids try things out, especially for the first time, it might result in 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, 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 is nervous for the child and can sense when their parents don’t believe in them.

It might seem counterintuitive, but do your children a favour… believe in them, then let them struggle.

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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