No-one disputes new fatherhood is an amazing, life-changing time, when you spend the majority simply staring at this mostly helpless little thing you 50 per cent created, experiencing the incredible emotional pull of dependence. What fathers are less prepared for is when the blob gets a little bit older and first begins to experience emotions we all deal with in life, such as worry or anxiety in children.
Fathers, in particular, need some skills and techniques in this area because most will tend to the “toughen up” approach when faced with anxiety in children. Usually, it will be because that’s exactly what they were told as children.
Modern-day parenting is, thankfully, a little more enlightened when it comes to this specific issue.
In particular, contemporary techniques seek to recognise that anxiety and worry are a part of life and therefore a father needs to help his child cope, manage and be resilient in the face of these feelings, rather than avoid or “get over” them.
Anxiety in children can be about predictable things – dogs, water, other kids – or less discernible concerns, but the strategies are all similar. The well-known Australian organisation for dealing with depression, Beyond Blue, offers a number of thoughts on this subject. Some of its suggestions include “making time to worry” – setting time aside each day for a child to draw or play out anything that may be bothering them; encouraging positive thinking and making a plan for the child on how to deal with something if it doesn’t go their way; modelling behaviour on how to overcome emotions and worry, i.e. “this looks scary but I’m going to give it a go”; being upfront and honest about scary things, be it terrorism or “big kids”; and checking your own behaviour to ensure you’re not being overprotective or shielding your child from new situations, which can likely heighten their anxiety.
Of course, a list of strategies is all very well. Using them effectively in real-life situations is harder, and some will work better for you than others. What’s clear, however, is that techniques which help empower the child and develop their own internal abilities to reason, cope and develop fortitude are demonstrably better than the ol’ “you’ll be right, kid, stop whinging” mentality many guys were brought up with.
Read more about anxiety in children here.