My toddler started school last week. A few days before, her school sent an email encouraging parents to make the drop off quick and light to minimize anxiety. One sentence in the email stood out to me:
The energy of the person dropping off, and his/her thoughts, tone, body language, and confidence will set the tone for how a child feels about being dropped off.
There’s so much wisdom in such an obvious sentence. If a parent is anxious and clingy, a kid will believe there’s something to fear. But if a parent can act like school is manageable, then that calmness is equally contagious.
After a successful drop off, I had a simple question for myself. What if I treated every day like it was the first day of school?
In other words, what could happen if brought that same level of observation and intention to all of my relationships?
I think I would:
- Be more observant of my anxiety level.
- Calm myself instead of calming others.
- Treat people like they were capable.
- Treat challenges like they were manageable.
These ideas sound so simple. But when we’re rushed and exhausted, we do the exact opposite. I’m likely to:
- Ignore my anxiety level.
- Work on calming others instead of calming myself.
- Treat people like they aren’t capable.
- Treat challenges like they are catastrophes.
Expressing your own maturity and calmness within a relationship is infinitely more productive than trying to manage the distress of others. But this ability is not our default setting. If you are not paying attention, you will always shift back to managing others instead of self. You’ll be searching for signs of distress in other people’s faces, instead of monitoring and managing your own reactivity.
This week I challenge you to think about what it would take to bring the same level of observation to your daily life that you brought to a significant “first day.” This could look like:
- Keeping an observation journal about your anxiety and relationship patterns.
- Checking in with a therapist or coach to work on observing and managing anxiety.
- Defining guiding principles for managing yourself in challenging relationships.
- Keeping these principles within eyesight every day.
My challenge wasn’t to keep it together on the first day of school. My challenge will be to not rush through the 10th day, or the 100th day, and ignore how my own distress affects my daughter, a friend, or a therapy client. There is no better gift to a child (or anyone) than having someone in their life who treats them like they are capable, and treats life’s challenges like they are navigable. And I hope I can be that person more days than not.
News from Kathleen
Read my latest essay at Medium’s Forge – “Burnout Is Now Our Default State”
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Want me to speak to your group? I’ve been doing a lot of presentations on managing anxiety during the pandemic. Contact me for rates and presentation options.
Get a free Anxiety Journal – Calming Down & Growing Up: A 30-Day Anxiety Journal includes thirty daily prompts to help you reflect on and respond to your anxious behaviors. To receive a copy, submit a copy of your receipt for my book at the Hachette page. Or you can email me.
Check out my website for past newsletters about anxiety and relationships. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, or email me if you have questions about my therapy practice in Washington, DC. Visit the Bowen Center’s website to learn more about Bowen theory, as well their conferences and training programs.