A Child’s Anxiety May Be Caused By What You’re Saying

A Child’s Anxiety May Be Caused By What You’re Saying

“As a mom, I could feed my child’s anxiety, or I could feed their peace. We set the temperature for our kids.” – Beth Moore, President of Living Proof Ministries.

This weekend, my wife and I attended a live sporting event near our home, and after its unclimactic conclusion, I found myself somewhat surprised by what I’d just witnessed.

My wife and I don’t frequent live sporting events, so we’re not aware of or accustomed to enthusiastic fans’ over-the-top behaviors as they encircle players from the sidelines with a chorus of harsh and negative comments that are hard to ignore.

While I understand playing sports requires incredible concentration and the ability to dismiss a chorus of negative comments thrown at you by eager spectators, I’m unsure how players successfully accomplish this. 

As I sat there listening to one negative comment after another being hurled at players, I felt incredibly uncomfortable, trying to understand why fans thought it was appropriate or beneficial to the players, not to mention why they believed it was acceptable behavior for themselves in a public setting. 

But as I said, my wife and I do not frequent such events, so perhaps this is normal, and I’m one of the few who finds such behaviors extremely damaging to a player’s mental health.

What was most disturbing about the live sporting event we attended was that it wasn’t a professional, college, or even a high school team we were watching. 

It was a bunch of eight-year-old girls playing soccer. Eight. Years. Old. 

The enthusiastic fans in this circumstance were actually parents, and much like the chorus of harsh and negative comments one might expect at a professional sporting event, the same was sadly true here.

Parents were screaming at their children (and that’s not an exaggeration) to “be more aggressive” to “wake up” that “if you don’t put in the effort, don’t expect any rewards” or, my personal favorite, “exactly what position are you playing…get it together.” 

Rarely did I hear chanting of support or encouragement from the sidelines, just judgments and criticisms continuously directed at eight-year-old girls whose psyches were not sophisticated enough to understand why their parents were essentially bullying them over a soccer game they just wanted to have fun playing.

A Child’s Anxiety Can Stem from Parents

A thought crossed my mind as I endured a woman sitting next to me, who most clearly had a very high opinion of herself, repeatedly screaming at her daughter. If another child or parent were directing such judgments and criticisms at her child, she would have been furious and immediately gone on the defensive for her youngster.

Yet surprisingly, she saw nothing wrong with displaying the same negative behavior towards her child. What kind of conflicting message does that send to children? How are they supposed to reconcile the reality that individuals who are genuinely supposed to love and accept them unconditionally actually have conditions in the relationship? 

But I’m sure most parents don’t see things that way. They believe they’re providing their children with the necessary tools to navigate the challenges of their future lives. 

Parents believe they’re helping their children succeed in life by filling their heads with such phrases as “Always be competitive,” “It’s important to be number one,” “Aggressiveness is how you become a success,” and “No one wants to be on the losing team.”

Children will inevitably gain an understanding of such phrases all on their own as they journey through a society where life’s hard lessons are unavoidable and learned through experience. 

However, many parents fail to understand the impact of their negative narrative and competitive push. The byproduct, if you will, of their sideline judgments and criticisms is an increase in their child’s anxiety levels.

In an article on PsychCentral titled How Too Much Parental Pressure Can Affect Kids’ Mental Health, they write, “Parental pressure often starts with good intentions. Of course, you want your child to be successful, have friends, and do well in school. But sometimes, you might not realize that you’re pressuring your kids excessively.”

The results of such parental pressures are a series of mental health issues that range from depression, anxiety, and negative self-talk to eating disorders and anger management issues for not only teens but also children under the age of 13.

The article says, “Criticism drawing attention to your child’s mistakes or behaviors that bother you can cause your child’s defenses to go up, perpetuating what originally sparked the criticism.”

The point is that your child is their own person, and they need to learn that it’s okay to be who they are, even if that means not knowing what position they’re playing on a soccer field when they’re eight.

We need to stop measuring a child’s successes by lofty accomplishments and a drive to always be the best, which often aids parents in feeling better about themselves.

Parents need to avoid the judgment, criticism, and disappointment they exhibit when their children don’t measure up to the unspoken standards parents create in their minds, leading to increases in a child’s anxiety. 

Life is a series of successes and failures, which are unavoidable as we make our way through various stages of life. To expect that our children will always be a success is naïve and destructive to their overall mental health.

The only thing your child needs to know is that you are always there for them unconditionally, with unwavering love and support. That is how they will succeed, knowing that they are fully accepted and cherished regardless of circumstance or situation.

As for parental pressure, why not use it to encourage your children to be compassionate, charitable, humble, unique, and kind individuals in society instead of teaching them that you’re only successful in life when you win

Be an incredible example for your kids to mimic as they grow from children, teens, young adults, and beyond by shouting inspiring and encouraging words from the sidelines of their next game, celebrating their “wins” whether they win the game or not.

As I mentioned above, children will inevitably gain an understanding of life’s hard lessons. But parents need to ask some difficult questions of themselves – am I adding to or causing my child’s anxiety?

The Cleveland Clinic estimates that “1 in 5 kids will develop what healthcare providers consider anxiety disorders.”  

Parental pressure often starts with good intentions. But it’s a parent’s responsibility to be critical of themselves and their actions so they can recognize when their so-called good intentions turn into something more serious.