Keep Calm and Parent On: PA Hosts Expert on Managing Anxiety

Keep Calm and Parent On: PA Hosts Expert on Managing Anxiety


The Parents’ Association welcomed Dr. Michael Sweeney, Director of the Metropolitan Center for Cognitive Behavior Therapy, for its first meeting of 2018. Dr. Sweeney spoke with parents about managing anxiety, offering practical methods for self as well as for children.

The Parents’ Association’s monthly meeting, open to all current parents, frequently features a guest speaker who addresses important issues related to parenting and education.

Among the strategies and suggestions Dr. Sweeney offered:

Proximity: Ease anxiety about big events or anxiety-provoking experiences by seeking support from an important person. For adults, this might mean a friend or partner. For children, this often means a parent or trusted caregiver. The down side to this strategy, said Dr. Sweeney, is that proximity can be antithetical to developing independence, so this strategy must be employed thoughtfully.

Cheerleading: The use of positive language and thoughts when facing a source of anxiety can help reduce the emotional burden. “Conversations you have with yourself matter,” Dr. Sweeney said. “If a friend spoke to us the way we often speak to ourselves, we probably wouldn’t stay friends.”

Planning: This is possibly the most underused strategy for dealing with emotional stress, Dr. Sweeney said. We should approach complicated or stressful situations with a logistical plan as well as a plan for managing the emotions that will probably come. “Emotions are predictable,” he said. “If they surprise you, you’re not paying attention.

Cognitive Restructuring: While we can’t always replace a negative thought with a positive one, Dr. Sweeney said, “we can ‘add commas,’ or see situations in a more nuanced light.” By tempering our anxious thoughts about particular issues, we can lessen their ill effects.

Mindfulness: “Anxiety lives well in the future,” said Dr. Sweeney, “and depression thrives in the past.” By focusing on each given moment, rather than looking ahead or behind us, we can focus better on our immediate well-being.

Other important factors in combating anxiety include sleep, exercise, socialization, and involvement beyond oneself. “Nothing lessens the urgency of our own problems like perspective on the difficulties of others,” Dr. Sweeney said.

He also encouraged parents to view attributes like kindness, gratitude, empathy, and love as gifts for self as well as for others. “Love and connection to others is the only way to feel good about yourself and have a life filled with meaning and purpose,” he said.

Earlier this year, Libby Miles, the school’s math specialist, talked about math education and the growth mindset in the early childhood and elementary years. The PA also hosted Dr. Lisa Miller, a professor at nearby Columbia University, author of The Spiritual Child, about science and the power of spirituality.

St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s is an independent, Episcopal school for boys and girls, with early childhood, elementary, and middle school programs. Founded in 1950, the school endeavors to create and educate an inclusive and diverse community, preparing students to make meaningful contributions to our global society. St. Hilda's & St. Hugh's is located in Morningside Heights, on New York City's Upper West Side.