These Childhood Risk Factors Can Have Life-Long Consequences

Life’s not always easy, especially for parents.

We juggle many responsibilities while trying to navigate the journey of raising kids, and sometimes we can feel anxious or depressed.

Now studies are showing who may be more at risk for these feelings – and why childhood is so important in prevention.

Anxiety comes in many forms, and we all experience it at one time or another.  Being stressed out due to hectic schedules, worrying about our kids when they are away, or being tense about trying to pay the bills are all normal.

But many of us experience chronic anxiety, a disease rooted in the complexities of our brains, which we are not always able to control without medical help.

Constant worrying about irrational things, feelings of danger or panic, fatigue, rapid pulse, and more are part of anxiety disorders, which affect a whopping 40 million Americans a year.

Having anxiety is frightening, especially for moms.  We are responsible for so many things – for being the captain of the ship – and we don’t want our children to see that we feel out of control.

Other than genetics, which does increase risk factors for developing anxiety disorders, environment plays a major part.

This is significant because it can help us to examine why we may be struggling with an anxiety disorder and makes us aware of how our symptoms are affecting our children – or whether they are experiencing anything within their environment now that will increase their risk later.

In this modern age where we see the breakdown of the traditional family, increased bullying – especially online – and work and financial stressors, it’s no wonder anxiety disorder is on the rise each year.

Romper.com recently reported on the major environmental risk factors for children to develop an anxiety disorder as an adult.

One factor is our own level of anxiety as parents.  Your own childhood may be behind your struggles with anxiety, and this can affect our children, and theirs, in a vicious cycle.

The Child Mind Institute reported:

Witnessing a parent in a state of anxiety can be more than just momentarily unsettling for children. Kids look to their parents for information about how to interpret ambiguous situations; if a parent seems consistently anxious and fearful, the child will determine that a variety of scenarios are unsafe. And there is evidence that children of anxious parents are more likely to exhibit anxiety themselves, a probable combination of genetic risk factors and learned behaviors.

This is why it is so important to recognize how our anxiety affects our kids.  Are we irritable with them?  Are we detached from their needs because we are struggling to function?  Do we express unhealthy fears to our children that they are beginning to pick up themselves?

All of these reasons make it all the more important to seek medical help for anxiety that has become chronic or is affecting our parenting.

Being bullied as a child is also an obvious factor in the development of anxiety.  Bullying breaks down trust, causes fear, and destroys self-esteem.

Were you bullied as a child – or worse – abused by a family member?  Or do you see signs that your child is being bullied in school or online?

Fear of taking chances or trying new things, or wanting to isolate themselves at home are a few of the signs.  It is vital we maintain open communication with our children and let them know they can trust us in everything.

When parents have an anxiety disorder or experienced a traumatic event as a child, it obviously affects how we parent.  This can also cause a breakdown in feelings of trust and security for our children.  They see our anxiety and don’t feel we can “handle” theirs, in a vicious cycle that must be recognized and addressed.

Children who are bullied may withdraw and be afraid to take risks, and being afraid to take risks (or being prevented from taking them by an anxious parent) can lower confidence and increase anxiety.

When a child is not allowed some ability to take risks, it makes it difficult for them to process solutions to problems or work their way out of potentially dangerous situations.

They may not feel we trust their judgment or may adopt our fears of the “worst-case scenario,” which makes them fearful and anxious, repeating the cycle.

Perhaps the most notable childhood risk factor that can increase risk of adult anxiety is a lack of nurturing.

This seems like a no-brainer, but if a child is raised in a home without a lot of affection or attention, they may grow up not knowing how to nurture another person – even their own child.

There used to be the old-fashioned idea of stoic parenting, especially between fathers and sons, where there weren’t a lot of hugs or “I love yous.”  But being raised in a loving and attentive home builds a strong foundation for a child’s self-worth, confidence, and ability to relate to others.

Were you raised in a home where affection was rarely shown?  This is the time to end the cycle by creating a nurturing and secure environment for your own kids.

Psych Central emphasizes the most important ways to nurture children to become emotionally healthy adults:

Responsiveness to a [child’s] needs, constant physical presence with plenty of affectionate touch; extensive breastfeeding; playful interactions with caregivers and friends; a community of affectionate, mindful caregivers.

Acceptance, understanding, security, trust, physical touch – these are the components of a safe and happy childhood.

But if a parent was not raised in a home where these necessities were given to them, they can fall short in nurturing their own children.

Anxiety is a vicious cycle.  It may be too late to change how we were raised, but it is never too late to lower our children’s risk for developing an anxiety disorder later on in life.

The old debate about nature versus nurture doesn’t need to be argued here.  Experts agree that genetic factors aside, the majority of anxiety disorders that are diagnosed today come from childhood trauma or a stressful home environment in the early years of life.

It is never too late for us to become better parents.  It is never too late to recognize we need help to address our own fears and doubts.

If you suffer from an anxiety disorder that you think stems from your childhood, get help from a medical professional.

Even if you don’t notice it affecting your family, it probably is.

Family counselors, pastors, and other professionals are there to help you be the best you that you can be.  And being a healthy and strong parent is the best gift we can give our children.

Mommy Underground knows how tough parenting can be and we’re here to help with topics that help you take care of yourself and the kids!

Do you suffer from anxiety disorder?  Do you feel it stems from your childhood?  How does your family work together to end the cycle?  Leave us your thoughts.

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