How to use your worry to help your child thrive

By Dan Donahoo, Senior Advisor, Alannah & Madeline Foundation

September 18th, 2019

I was recently at a launch of a research study where the lead researcher pointed to the fact that they had asked parents whether they were concerned about a wide range of issues from cyber bullying to video games, to violent movies. Overwhelmingly, to every question, parents’ response was consistently, “Yes”.

The lead researcher identified that to be a good parent is to be concerned and worried, so if someone asks you a research question, “Are you concerned about [insert any issue here]?” your duty as a parent is to answer, “Yes”. That same researcher has decided to stop asking that question. We don’t need to know if we are worried and concerned, what we need as parents is support and advice. Ultimately, we need to learn to trust ourselves a little bit more.

We are all concerned about our children. We want them to be safe, to be happy, to set them up for a life where they don’t have to struggle or do it tough like we may have. You are on this website, you are reading this article because you care about your children and are looking for some reassurance and some guidance to help you be a better parent.

To that, I say kudos. Well done. The very nature of wanting to do something, to searching and looking for some new strategies to help you build a stronger relationship with your child suggests to me – despite whatever ups and downs may come – that it is going to be ok.

You see, as parents the worry and the fear can overwhelm us.

Every day in the news, on our social media feeds, in conversations with friends, we are fed horrific stories and concerning data with click-bait headlines that make the world feel like it is a most dangerous place for children.

This can lead us to freeze or to stick our heads in the sand and ignore it. But, we shouldn’t. We should see some of the hype for what it is, be aware of the reality of our children’s world and take our roll seriously as parents.

What does that mean? It means that to keep them safe and to be able to guide them, we need to be able to talk, to share, to be good role models. It means setting boundaries and creating rules and helping them understand that those rules are there to help them as they grow and mature into capable young adults.

We can’t do any of this, if we don’t work on our relationship with our children. This can be so hard. Especially when our children often give us so little to work with.

“How was your day at school?” we ask.

“Good,” they say.

“How is your homework going?” we ask.

“Good,” they say.

“What would you like for dinner?” we ask.

“Whatever,” they say.

All that is fine. Your job is to be there when the conversation that happens in the car on the way to netball or footy training becomes more than just good. And, if they disclose or share something that is awkward or uncomfortable, don’t get angry, don’t shut it down because it feels hard – you go there.

Let your child know that you will support them and love them no matter what, that you will help solve the problem (even if they have done the wrong thing) and don’t get angry. Critically, don’t make threats that are hard to back up or make your child feel more disconnected (like taking away their phone).

Our children, to be the most protected they can be in this world, need to feel safe and able to come to you with any and all of their problems. If they think you will respond with anger, or punish them, they won’t come to you and that means you can’t help or support them. It limits your chance to be a parent.

So, don’t let your worry overwhelm you. Let it give you strength. And, let this website be one part of your armoury as you raise amazing young people to come amazing young adults.