How To Raise The Best Version Of Your Child — By Forgetting What You Know About Parenting

Photo:  kate_sept2004 | Canv 
Parents letting go of their anxiety and playing a game of soccer with their kids

With the growing rates of anxiety in children, it's no wonder many moms and dads worry about passing their anxiety onto their kids. While genetics play a role in whether or not anxiety affects your children, your parenting style does, too.

If you want to raise stress-free kids, some parenting experts suggest using "free-range parenting" techniques — a parenting style where you intentionally let your kid make mistakes so he can learn from his experiences.

If you're set on being the perfect parent, this approach probably goes against every bone in your body, but it can help anxious parents raise resilient, easy-going kids.

RELATED: The Best Way To Raise An Emotionally Resilient Kid (That Will Become A Strong Adult)

How forgetting what you know about parenting can help you raise a happy, healthy child 

1. It all starts with how you think about parenting.

In 1953, the British child psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott coined the term "Good-enough mother." His concept is that not only are all mothers (and parents) imperfect, but a mother’s imperfection is helpful to the baby’s development.

When you hold your newborn baby in your arms and look down at that little face, you want this child to have the best of everything in life. You get blown away by their potential. They could do anything or be anything! And it’s your job to guarantee they get the best of everything.

That’s a monumental task for an anxious parent. You could find yourself worrying about any small hurt. You could catastrophize what could happen in the future.

And if you're the parent of a teenager, it's not easier. For example, when your child is approaching the end of high school, you’re faced not only with the idea that your baby is becoming an adult (a dismaying experience!) but also with the fact that, as an adult, they’re going to have to make their way in the world.

You worry their future could be spoiled if they don't get into the school of their dreams, which is why a lot of energy and anxiety get put into grade-point averages and SATs. But, as a result, you might be teaching your child to adopt those fears.

No matter your child's age, it's only natural to want to keep them close and safe.

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2. There is such a thing as keeping your kid too close and safe.

Recently, there’s a growing interest in " free-range parenting" in reaction to the "helicopter parenting" — where worried parents hover over their kids — of a few years ago.

With free-range parenting, you give your child the freedom to test themselves and maybe even get hurt to build their resilience and help them learn how to deal with stress.

All parents, especially anxious ones, are aware of the dangers the world may have for their kids. This is made worse by the constant barrage of terrifying news going at you all the time, from the television to your phone to your computer. The knowledge of what could happen haunts you.

It’s bad enough to picture your child falling off the monkey bars or into a swimming pool. Now, you also have indelible images of little children fleeing from a shooter in school, and many of your "entertainment" programs include stories of child molestation and trafficking.

Never mind that the "bad guys" get their comeuppance by the end of the hour; the image is already implanted. It’s enough to make you want to keep your child at home and never let them out of your sight.

3. Stop parenting from fear

"Helicopter" parenting is understandable. But, now you’re being told it’s wrong, and children need to push the envelope. They need to take risks, and they need to learn how to lose with equanimity.

"OK," you say, "but how am I going to be able to stand that?! It hurts me when he skins his knee — what if he breaks his leg? What if he's riding his bike and gets hit by a car?"

​Nobody’s helping you with your emotions. And when your emotions are mostly fear-based, you’re likely to pass them on to your child as an unwanted, unconscious legacy. After all, your child learns from watching you, right?

The paradoxical answer to how to deal with your fear as a parent is to take better care of yourself.

Think of every flight you've taken. Before it takes off, the flight attendant goes through a long list of "what-ifs." Such as how to fasten your seatbelt and behave if there’s a water landing. They also instruct you to put on your oxygen mask before helping others.

You have to be at your own best to be helpful to others. You may know what to do but not how to do it when your mind is full of fear.

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4. Don't micromanage your kids, manage yourself

To parent a "free-range child," you must learn to manage yourself. And that means paying attention to your habits and ways of thinking.

Although worry may feel like good preparation for disaster, it doesn't work that way. Worry is predicting the worst for your child. This is different from being prepared.

Being prepared is teaching your kid to fasten his seatbelt every time he’s in the car, getting him in the habit of wearing a helmet while riding his bike, or looking both ways before crossing the street.

Worrying doesn't do anything for them except instill fear.

Fear for your children makes their anxiety much worse, regardless of the words you say. If anything, unspoken anxiety comes across more powerfully than when put into words. That anxiety often leads to worse, rather than better, performance.

So, when you are caught up in worry and anxiety, try to be aware that you’re just making yourself miserable. Try instead to picture happy outcomes for your kid.

As a species, we are storytellers. And when you worry, you’re telling yourself scary stories.

But you have the choice to change the narrative in your mind. Soothe yourself. Tell yourself comforting stories, not scary ones.

I used to repeat, "She’ll find her way," when I worried about my daughter. It quieted my fearful brain and helped me to believe in my child’s abilities. That makes you relax, and it helps your child develop a desirable "growth mindset."

5. Allow mistakes for yourself

Not only is it okay to make mistakes as a parent and a person, but it's healthier for your kid!

So, you can stop trying to be the overly perfect parent who caters to their child’s every need. The "good-enough" parent fails their child regularly, in small ways.

But the good news is those failures help your child learn they can do things for themselves. So don't stress out because you think you're not good enough at parenting or protecting your child, and try more of a "free range-parenting" approach.

Focus instead on all of the ways you're actually succeeding and setting them up for success later on in life, and know that giving them what they need is a far better task than trying to worry about everything you can't do for them.

RELATED: Why Trying To Overcome Your Anxiety Only Makes It Worse

Cheryl Gerson is a couples counselor, an individual psychotherapist, and a group therapy leader. She's licensed in Clinical Social Work, has a Board Certified Diplomate, and has an Institute certificate in psychoanalytic psychotherapy.