With the excitement of back to school come and gone, it’s time for reality to set in. For many teens, this means anxiety is starting to creep back into their everyday lives. We, as parents want to help our children as much as we can, but it’s often tricky to know what to say and how to handle a teen struggling with anxiety. Inspired by an article written by Dr. Marjory Phillips, here are a few tips to help tackle this task:
1. Listen before you try to solve their problems.
Sometimes, all your child needs is to have their voice heard. Give them the opportunity to say what they need to say, uninterrupted. Once they’ve had their chance to speak their mind, then you can offer your advice and try to walk them through solving their problems. If this is something you struggle with, perhaps have a notepad handy if you know the discussion is coming to jot down any thoughts you have as they are speaking.
2. Take them seriously.
Even if their concerns don’t seem like a big deal to you, it’s very real to them. Emotions run high in the teenage years, so it’s important to approach your child’s problems with encouragement and kindness. Be open with them when discussing their emotional strengths and ensure they know that you want to help.
3. Be prepared for your entire family to be affected.
Anxiety doesn’t just affect the individual struggling with it; it affects the whole family. There may be days that you have plans but anxiety is preventing your child from leaving the house. It takes time to guide them through overcoming these days, but patience is key.
4. Be there to listen.
Busy schedules are often rather hectic; between school drop off, work, groceries, school pick up, dance class, dinner, homework help and night time routines, it’s sometimes difficult to find time to sit down and talk with your children. When you have a child that is struggling with anxiety, it’s important to either make the time to spend with them 1-on-1, or find another way to keep the lines of communication open (texting, phone calls, video chats) and listen to what they are dealing with and how they are doing.
5. Offer your support.
When speaking with your child, remain calm and make sure you communicate with them that you understand they are struggling, and that you will do anything you need to to help them get better. Having a parent’s support is huge for a teenager dealing with anxiety. Keep your child’s problems on your mind, and make sure you check in with them on a regular basis.
6. Work with them to figure out their triggers.
Take time with your child to reflect on the times when anxiety is not affecting them. Are there any notable changes in friends they are spending time with recently? Shows they are watching? Amount of time spent with family? If any environmental changes have triggered their anxiety, try to make an effort to revert back to when things were more “normal” for them.
7. Resist the urge to pry for reasons.
Anxiety is a tricky feeling to explain. Sometimes it hits you for seemingly no reason at all. Teens will most likely struggle to answer the question “Why is xyz giving you anxiety now? It never used to.” Asking too many questions may lead to your teen feeling more anxious, so I would suggest trying to keep this type of question to a minimum.
8. Be Patient with them.
Even with the help of a therapist, it can take years for some individuals to overcome the overwhelming feelings of anxiety. Being patient and calm with your teen is extremely important to maintaining a positive, healthy relationship. They can’t prevent the feelings from coming, and pressure from their loved ones in their time of need is not going to help any situation.
9. Normalize it.
With the surge in social media usage among teens lately, it’s no secret that anxiety is an extremely normal thing for teens to deal with, and (in some cases) are open to share with strangers. Make sure your child knows that they are not alone in their struggle. Perhaps try to find local support groups for teens in your community if they are more social.
10. Enjoy some outdoor cell-phone free time.
These days, it’s rare to see a teen without a smart phone in their hands 24/7. The constant notifications with real-time views on how many people “like” their appearance or thoughts can be overwhelming on its own. Try to get your teen involved in a cell-phone free activity outdoors to clear their head of the social media avalanche that they deal with every day. After all, studies have shown links to sunlight lowering levels of anxiety as well as depression.
At the end of the day, there are no sure answers to how we can help our children overcome anxiety, but with these tips, you should be on your way to getting your teen the support that they need. If the anxiety is becoming too severe for your child to handle, seeing a psychotherapist, social worker, or psychologist is always a great option- an outside non-biased voice is extremely helpful for children, teens, and adults.
Dr. Diana Garcia
Dr. Diana Garcia has over 20 years of experience in the field of psychology. She has provided psychological and counseling services in Ontario, and the states of Pennsylvania, and Florida