Overcoming Parental Anxiety

Whitney Walsh, Board Trustee
a Primary student uses a skeleton to study anatomy

ANXIETY. If only it would limit its appearance to Halloween, arriving dressed up in its frightening attire and with a predictable knock on our front door. Instead, anxiety seems to be playing a starring role in both kids’ and parents’ lives. At The Post Oak School’s Board of Trustee’s retreat in August, we learned from Dr. Marc Frankel, senior consultant at Triangle Associates, that anxiety is now the primary factor driving decision-making by parents in independent school systems nationwide. Anxiety waits under our beds at night, causing us to do our internet school searches after midnight when we awaken to our fears that “maybe this school is not working for my child.” Anxiety whispers to us on the sidelines of sporting events causing us to doubt our child’s performance and wonder if our opponent has a better deal. Anxiety reaches a full crescendo in the years approaching high school when we second-guess every decision we have ever made and consider trying to cut in line or pry open doors to ensure future collegiate “success.”

Behind the scary mask and plastic costume, anxiety is pretty easy to recognize. Without the smoke machine and menacing soundtrack, we are really grappling with:

  • trying to control the uncontrollable;
  • competition due to constant comparison;
  • not realizing our child’s unique worth or true value;
  • measuring the wrong things;
  • imagining the worst-case scenario;
  • buying into the very system that is feeding the fear.

Once we turn on the light, each of these common and irrational fears is merely a shadow, not the big hairy deal we let terrorize us. Who benefits from parent anxiety? Testing centers, specialists, self-help books, elite colleges and universities. They sell “temporary relief from anxiety.” If you have this test score, sweatshirt, bumper sticker, or degree, you will be stress and fear-free! Does it really work like that? Does wearing a number or label make you immune to fear? Doesn’t it just exacerbate it? After all, there is always someone with a higher test score, bigger scholarship, or more degrees. Is only the top 1% of our population enjoying peace of mind and restful sleep at night?

I believe that Montessori education is a cure for anxiety in both parents and students. Montessori starts with the fundamental philosophy of “follow the child.” Do not try to push or pull. Just follow. Anyone who is trying to push or pull is likely experiencing the anxiety demon wearing the “trying to control the uncontrollable” cape.

Montessori values the unique advancement, talent, and character of a child. It does not assign grades of comparison, that ghoulish goal which distracts us from the joy of learning by enforcing an arbitrary timeline for mastery. Montessori kids enjoy the freedom of learning for the pure pleasure of understanding fueled by genuine curiosity, not gold stars. They are encouraged to work together rather than compete against each other, fostering creativity rather than an environment of hierarchy, judgment, and insecurity.

Montessori education specializes in inspiring creative, out of the box thinkers. This entrepreneurial mindset allows kids to be natural risk-takers and explore their individual interests. They can ask “why” without slowing down the curriculum and explore more deeply without the lockstep monster march of traditional education and test scores. The supposed “lack of structure” that is often scary to parents results in the very skills that most employers are unsuccessfully searching to find: self-motivated, self-directed, independent thinkers who are solution-minded and team players. A Montessori educated employee is one who will be impactful and indispensable.

What are we really afraid of? What is a legitimate fear? Our children will get into the right college for them, especially if we let the process be about them and not about us. College has never been more expensive. Instead of standing in line “trick or treating” the USA Today 125 “best” colleges with every other costumed kid, what if we dare to look for the right fit…and even a scholarship or two? What if we entertain the idea that our child has value to a university that is looking for an extraordinary kid who has well-defined interests and experiences? What if instead of cramming them into a box, we let them be interesting. By choosing a Montessori education, you have proven you are brave and able to march to your own drum. Keep marching, and don’t seek “security” under a sheet of financial burden.

Finally, in our current system, we are being tricked into giving away our peace of mind and confident parenting. The very idea that somehow your child will not be good enough and it is your fault for not making the right school choices, starting sports at age three, hiring the right tutor, taking the right prep class, and ultimately going to the right university plays into the biggest, grizzliest, gassiest, growling monster of all…and we literally buy into this mindset.

When my son was five, he used to be convinced that a monster lived in his closet. He heard the noises and imagined the terror that lurked just inches from his bed. He would call for us, and we would stumble in bleary-eyed and desperate to put his fears aside. It became a nightly struggle, and no one could sleep peacefully. I was sharing our saga with a fellow Montessori parent who had a solution: moon water. She came over and presented a spray bottle filled with “sacred moon water” from a bucket she had put out on a full moonlit night. My son was in awe. She told him that the moon water was his to use; simply spray it in the direction of his fear, close his eyes, and take 10 deep breaths. Voila. No more monsters ever again. Our pleading and begging did not make his fears go away; empowering him to believe in his own abilities to overcome fear and find his own peace of mind calmed us all down.

Just like ruby slippers, magic feathers, and moon water, freedom from anxiety is about believing in something more powerful than fear…Peace. Equipped with natural curiosity, inspired creativity, and fierce independence, our children will be invaluable to the world awaiting them. Post Oak Montessori is about peace, at every age and stage. It is about seeing the world as full of possibility and promise, not being haunted about what you are not, but capitalizing on what you can be. Calm your own fears, forgo the masks and masquerade and enjoy the peace that comes from watching your child become exactly who they want to be and who the world needs now.  


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