Anxious children may require a certain level of special attention and nurturing, yet parents of anxious children may inadvertently tend to take things a bit too far. Taking things too far involves doing, well, everything for your anxious child. This scenario can hold true regardless of your anxious child’s age, capabilities and tasks that need to be done.
Psychology Today contributor Meredith Resnick notes some refer to this habit as being addicted to your child, or addicted to helping your child whenever, wherever and however you can. Resnick’s handy 10-point list helps uncover such an addiction, outlining a number of ways parents justify their behavior. We’ve adapted several of them to apply to the anxious child.
The first part of each list entry is the justification, or what parents may tell themselves as they are helping their anxious children. The second part of each entry is what’s really going on beneath the surface.
- Justification: I do everything for my anxious child, because that’s what good parents do.
- Real issue: I’m afraid to let my anxious child grow up, to let him or her go.
- Justification: Family comes first, which is why I bend over backwards to do everything for my anxious child.
- Real issue: People will think I’m an inadequate parent if my anxious child struggles.
- Justification: I wish I could figure out how to motivate my anxious child.
- Real issue: I’m afraid if I push her too hard, she’ll suffer from increased anxiety.
- Justification: My anxious child is just a shade immature, which is why I _____. (The blank can be filled in with anything from doing his laundry to cleaning his room, completing her chores to doing her homework.)
- Real issue: My child is totally unmotivated, and if I don’t do things they won’t get done.
- Justification: My anxious child uses me, sometimes I feel like a doormat.
- Real issue: I’m afraid to say no.
- Justification: I simply can’t say no to my anxious child!
- Real issue: I hate when my child gets angry with me, so I try to keep him happy.
There’s a world of difference between being loving and being addicted to doing things for your child. The latter often stems from a parent’s own anxiety, or the thought of not being worthy. If performing all those tasks for your anxious child doesn’t result in changed behavior, or even gratitude, what you may tell yourself is love may actually be addiction.
Breaking this particular addiction involves addressing the real issues beneath the justifications. Each issue may have several strategies that can help resolve it, but the first step is always admitting what’s really going on.
Nothing says you have to totally turn the tables and make your anxious child suddenly do everything for him or herself, but it’s wise to at least be aware of why you’re doing what you do for your child. If it’s truly coming from a place of love, rather than a place of fear, anxiety or frustration, you’re likely to feel it deep in your heart.