As an LMFT school clients, parents, and teens are always asking me about ways to help teens come with childhood anxiety. Here is the deal… The teen years can be a difficult time for even the most well-adjusted child, and when school, dating, and pressure to get good grades, fit in, or even abuse substances becomes overwhelming, it can lead to stress, anxiety, or depression. These feelings can affect your child’s performance at school, their mood, and the way they interact with others, which could leave you at a loss as to how to help them.
Fortunately, there are many ways you can help your child cope with anxiety. Being armed with a plan will allow you to be prepared when these feelings arise and will help your loved one feel in control of the situation, which is often the very reason the anxiety has developed in the first place.
Here are some of the best ways to help your child learn to combat feelings of worry and anxiety:
Respect the Fear
Everyone reacts to stimuli in different ways. It may seem silly to you, but your teen’s fears that he’ll be laughed at if he wears certain clothing to school or has to get up in front of the class are very real. The first thing to understand is that his feelings need to be validated. Let him know that you empathize with how he feels, but emphasize that he can’t ignore the problem. Facing his worries head-on–rather than avoiding them or the things that trigger them–is an important part of battling anxiety.
The second important part of listening to your teen’s fears is keeping his expectations realistic. Instead of saying, “That’s not going to happen”, help your child come up with a plan of action to use in the event that his worries do come to life. How will he handle it? Being prepared can go a long way toward feeling a measure of control in a scary situation.
Talk About the “What Ifs”
Anxiety often strikes in the form of “what if?” For many teens, those questions most often occur at school and in their relationships with peers, and in someone with a healthy imagination, those questions can go from hypothetical to very real in a matter of minutes. If your child finds himself worrying about those questions to the point that they affect his sleep, his eating habits, or his physical health–jitters, nausea, or headaches–it’s time to talk to him about how to manage those feelings. One of the best ways to stop worrying about what might happen in the future is to think about what is happening in the present. Learning about mindfulness can help your teen focus on the moment and can be achieved through deep breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga, for starters.
One of the most stressful times for teens is also one of the most exciting: learning to drive and getting a driver’s license. If your teen seems nervous about learning to drive or expresses anxiety about driving after she learns how, make sure she gets more practice time with you or another experienced driver, and encourage her to drive especially carefully and even a little slower than the speed limit (which means leaving the house sooner to be on time). Be sure your teen has a dependable cell phone and a phone charger to keep the device juiced. This way your teen always has a way to reach you should she need you because knowing she has a lifeline at all times will help reduce stress.
Learn About Self-Care
Because anxiety can affect so many aspects of a person’s life, it’s important to talk to your child about what he may be experiencing and find ways to alleviate some of the stress surrounding those feelings. Self-care can encompass many things, so finding one that works specifically for your teen is important. You might suggest that he try meditating before bed, or have him turn off the phone, computer, and television at least an hour before bedtime, as screen time can have a negative effect on sleep. Eating well-balanced meals, getting in daily exercise, and spending a little time every day doing something he loves are also great ways to practice self-care.
Childhood anxiety can seem overwhelming at times, for both you and your child, but with a little preparation and some planning, you can help your teen get a handle on his or her feelings and learn how to cope in healthy ways.
For news, tips, and more information on encouraging healthy young people, connect with Teen Truth, we are happy to help!
JC Pohl, LMFT
President & CEO, TEEN TRUTH