Worry, however, is an ineffective state of anxiety where we repeatedly imagine all sorts of negative possibilities. Once our children are young adults and off to college or work, worry on our part degrades the quality of our lives rather than helps our children. While unfortunate things do happen, there is a point where worrying about our children doesn’t help and in fact sometimes can make things worse.
Too much warning
When you continually warn your adult children of all the dangers in the world, it often causes them to be less careful. Even with young children you should make sure not to be overly anxious or you will lose credibility with them. Moreover, you will annoy them by infantilizing them and implying that that they are not capable of thinking on their own.
Imagine being a child. If an adult is constantly warning you of danger, you don’t take on responsibility and accountability for looking for those dangers yourself. Moreover, you soon see the warnings as being exaggerated. So the reckless part of you wants to act out. The degree to which someone focuses on telling you to be careful is the degree to which you will either become overly fearful or overly reckless, and sometimes ironically both.
Learning to evaluate risk
The best way to learn to evaluate risk is by having many experiences of evaluating risk, and sometimes making mistakes and facing the consequences. When you know that you are accountable for yourself, you tend to put more effort into evaluating situations and making decisions.
Children need to be able to make mistakes, sometimes painful, within the context of a safe environment. Of course, small children need to be kept safe. Over time, however, parents should gradually allow their children more leeway to think about the choices they make. Certainly by the time their children become adults, parents are only cultivating codependence, resentment, and rebellion by inundating their children with lectures and warnings.
Thus, if you tend to worry and frequently give caution to your adult children or excessively give warning to your younger children, you need to take stock, gain some self-discipline and resist focusing on your children. If you rarely give advice, the advice you do give will be taken more seriously.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD