My teenage daughter is starting her GCSEs in September and she’s already quite distressed by it. She’s a good student and her friends are all conscientious but she’s worried about not doing well in exams two years from now. We do not put pressure on her at home and would never want her to feel she has to live up to an expectation. How can I calm her down sufficiently, so she enjoys her summer?
Anxiety is a challenging experience for anyone. Throw into the mix being in adolescence with the tornado of emotions that brings compounded by emerging from two plus years of a pandemic and lockdown and now facing the prospect of exams.
People who live with anxiety are among the bravest and strongest people you will ever meet. Anxiety and courage exist together. Courage doesn’t mean that you aren’t scared.
Anxiety happens when the brain thinks that there is danger. The brain doesn’t always get it right, though. Sometimes it thinks there is danger when there isn’t.
Anxiety can impact your thoughts, feelings, your physical self and your behaviour.
An anxious brain is a busy and strong brain meaning that anxious thoughts can take up a lot of space and time. Remember that thoughts are just that, they are not predictions.
Anxiety happens because part of your brain (the amygdala) thinks that it needs to protect you from something that might happen. Your brain floods your body with adrenaline and hormones to make you faster, stronger, more alert and powerful so that you can fight for your life or run away. This is called the fight or flight response (there’s also freeze and fawn responses as well).
It’s a normal response to danger. It’s healthy and everyone has it. For people with anxiety the response is just quicker to activate.
The amygdala wants you to be safe. The amygdala can’t tell the difference between something that will hurt you and something that won’t. If there’s no release for all those chemicals flooding your body, they will impact your breathing and your physical self.
There are a number of things that your daughter can do that will support her in stepping away from the fight or flight response when there is no need to experience it.
Mindfulness can change the brain the way that exercise can change our bodies. The science bit is the strengthening of the connections between the amygdala (main player in anxiety) and the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that can calm emotions). The stronger the connection the better equipped the prefrontal cortex is to calm things.
Mindfulness teaches the brain to stay in the present. Anxiety is propelled by a brain preoccupied by a frightening future.
Exercise is long proven to have a very positive and powerful impact on our mental health.
Breathe. Take a breath. Practice, practice, practice a breathing technique called 7 – 11 breathing.
Relate NI have a number of online resources which can help you with the above.
4 minute mindfulness meditation: https://www.relateni.org/golden-threads/
7-11 breathing guide: https://www.relateni.org/campaign/relieve-the-pressure-on-yourself/
Me and my husband differ about how to entertain our children over the summer. I want to give them what we didn’t have growing up and offer them experiences. But my husband wants them to stay more at home and learn how to enjoy themselves without all the extra stimulation. I’m sure we can meet in the middle but at the moment we can’t find common ground.
Different parenting styles can put a strain on a relationship. We hope that we will offer our children the best experience of childhood to prepare them for their life ahead.
We receive a blueprint from our parents. Sometimes we feel that our own experience worked very well and we want to recreate that with our own children. Sometimes we receive a very challenging template from our parents and we want to rewrite that completely.
If someone has a childhood with parents who were very authoritarian with lots of rules and regulations you might respond by being somewhat more permissive and relaxed. If you had parents who didn’t offer rules or limits then you might be tempted to tighten up on the guidance.
When you reflect on your own experiences of being parented and consider your husband’s as well it can help you both to understand that you are both responding to your own worldview.
The difference isn’t a criticism of you as a parent. It’s not meant to undermine you as a person or as a parent. Parenting children is not meant to be a competition where one style will ‘win’ over the other.
Variation in parenting is part of just about every couple relationship when children arrive. There’s nothing quite like children to throw into sharp focus the difference between two people because blending two different people, with different traditions who also possess their own quirks and traits together is going to make life interesting.
What is important for you and your husband is how you both work through these differences together and find ways to parent your children. You both will need to be open to change, to working together on your parenting and your relationship.
You can support each other by taking a step back and remembering that you are on the same team.
Continue to get to know each other. Talk about your experiences, your family histories, the beliefs and values that you inherited and those that you have chosen for yourselves.
Through knowing each other it may become easier to understand the different perspectives that you both hold so tightly. By gaining a deeper understanding of each other you both may be able to open up possibilities for each other and for the children that you have together.
If you are finding that working through the difficulties is creating challenges in your relationship together and in wider family life, Relate NI is available to you to provide a space to hold those conversations.
With support you will be able to find a way to parent together in a loving and nurturing way – the way the children deserve and need to be parented.
For more information on Relate NI, see www.relateni.org