If you have a teenager, or pre-teenager with anxiety, you know that it can be tough knowing what to do or say to help them. Our daughter went through a couple of years of anxiety which seemed to come out of the blue. A therapist friend of ours explained that this can happen when the abstract mind is developing. This makes sense now, and like our daughter, you will find that many times anxiety for your teen or pre-teen will pass, too. In the meantime, here are some important things to know.
First remember: Your teenager with anxiety is NORMAL!
Childhood and teenage anxiety are extremely common. Don’t feel that you have failed as a parent. They are learning about how to deal with adult life, and some anxiety is bound to be involved. In fact, I’d be worried if they had no anxiety about life and growing up.
However, some teenagers and pre-teens are likely to be more anxious than others. And that’s okay, too. We are all different people and cope with life in diverse ways. Our teenagers are the same. Some of us just experience more anxiety around certain situations than others.
So, don’t panic!
Although anxiety at this age is normal, there are some parenting strategies we can use to help our teenagers and pre-teens overcome and cope with anxiety. These strategies will equip them with life skills that they will go on to use in adulthood in order to cope with the world.
Anxious Teenager Tip One:
Do not tell them not to worry. Instead, help them work out if they should be worried (or as worried as they are) about something.
It’s all too easy to tell your child ‘Trust me, you don’t need to worry’. But at some point, you must remember that they will feel anxiety and you will not be there to say, ‘trust me’. This tip will prove valuable especially when they enter adulthood.
When your teenager is worried, sit them down. Have a discussion with them. Use these questions to help them conclude about how much anxiety is needed in any situation by themselves.
-What feelings are you experiencing?
-What about this experience is making you feel that way?
-What are the possible outcomes and how likely are each?
-Do you need as much fear as you are holding for this experience at present? And why?
-How could we look at this situation with a positive realistic viewpoint?
Try to help them come up with some positive self-talk they can use while they are in the situation. For example: ’I am nervous about going to the party tomorrow, but I have an opportunity to make some friends. If they don’t like me it’s ok. It’ not the end of the word. I will try again with some different people another time.’
Gradually, your child will learn to ask themselves similar questions and self-regulate their own anxiety.
Anxious Teenager Tip Two:
Don’t avoid subjecting your teenager to every situation that causes them anxiety. If you do, how can you expect them to learn to manage their anxiety? I am not suggesting that you let your teenager become overwhelmed with anxiety-provoking situations. Instead, I am suggesting that you tailor how many anxiety-provoking experiences they experience with what they can cope with and a very tiny amount extra that provides an achievable challenger for them to overcome. This allows your teenager to experience a sense of achievement, grow in confidence, and feel able to progress a little bit more with each experience.
For example, your teenager may be invited to a birthday party they are anxious about. You could say “Ok, I know you’re anxious. Shall we go for half an hour and then leave?” The following time you could suggest that again you will go for half an hour then leave, but this time they must say hello to at least 1 person there.
Anxious Teenager Tip Three:
Don’t tell them what they are doing. Propose ideas and ask them if they want to do something. Anxiety is so debilitating because you feel trapped and out of control of the situation you are in. By asking them what they want to do and giving them a choice, you allow them to feel some control over the situation. This should help to ease their anxiety.
For example, ‘Would you like to go to the park this afternoon?’. Listen to not only their words but their body language. If they look like they are saying ‘yes’ when they want to say ’no’, give them another opportunity to give their opinion. You could say “You don’t look very keen on going to the park, is there something you’d rather do with me this afternoon instead?”
Anxious Teenager Tip Three:
If your teen or pre-teen is in the midst of a real anxiety attack, using the senses can help to calm them. First, have your child find one thing that they can see and focus in on that. Next, find one thing to focus on which they can smell, touch, taste. . . you see where I’m going with this, right? This trick is incredibly helpful in reigning in a full-blown panic attack.
Hopefully, these tips will help your loved one learn how to cope with their anxiety now and in the future. Remember, some anxiety is short-lived. If you think it has become a problem, and you’ve noticed personality changes in your teen and/or a change in sleep patterns or and lack of interest in things that they used to enjoy doing, please seek out a professional counselor.
Have you tried any of these tips with your teenager? How did it go? Do you have any of your own tips you like to share? Let us know!