Being an award-winning anxiety coach, as well as a qualified secondary school teacher, anxiety and teenagers have gone hand in hand in my career for the past 10 years.
Putting the two of these expertise together, I wanted to provide the parents some support as to how best support their child.
Anxiety in children shows up in very different ways than anxiety would for an adult, for many reasons;
The first thing to remember is that where your child is right now, is as bad as it can get for them.
Reminding them of how much this scenario won’t matter when they leave school, get older, have to pay bills – won’t make them feel any better in this instance and if anything, will just exacerbate the anxiety further.
So meet your child where they are at. Get to their level and ask questions.
Find out and do your best to get inside their mindset and why this situation has caused such anxiety for them.
Remember – reassurance by disregarding or diluting their problem, won’t reassure them at all.
Children need reminding. Children and teenagers get lost in the moment. They can become caught up in the dramas and chaos of the ‘problem.’ With this in mind, don’t feed that thinking and allow them to think of the worst. Focus on reminding them of how they have got through things like this before.
If it is exam stress, remind them of when they did Mock exams or end of unit tests and got through them.
If it is about a friendship and arguments, remind them that they have other friends and how they have made friends again and things worked out.
Make an effort to remind your child of all of the times they have worked through the things that seem impossible and how they have overcome what seems too difficult.
It can be so easy to become emotional with your child when they feel anxious and distressed. Of course, this is a natural reaction when your child isn’t happy.
But from a coach perspective, as well as a teacher, the best way to support your child is to remain emotional strong and offer them support, without feeding the emotions even more.
For instance, if your child is crying or unhappy, crying with them because you know how much they are hurting, just makes the unhappiness grow. It allows your child to continue to focus on the tears and crying, because now you are crying too.
The best thing to do is ask questions. Questions allow the child the chance to regain control and also find their own answers.
Answering questions gives your child power again and that is something that anxiety takes away.
What can we do to change your thinking?
How can I help right now?
Is there anything else that is adding to the anxiety?
Where did it first trigger today?
These might seem like you ae forcing them to focus more on the anxiety, but in fact it will allow your child to start to rationalise and understand what they actually need and want to find solutions, and this will be a great strategy that your child will begin to build up as they mature.
Avoid saying ‘when I was your age’ or ‘when this happened to me’ because in their anxious state they could just become frustrated and retaliate with ‘it’s different now’ or ‘you don’t understand.’
Unless they directly ask you about your experiences, try to avoid bringing your own experiences into the mix. Focus on them and their current situation and try your best to keep your focus there. This will also give your child the reassurance that your attention and energy are 100% with them and fully involved in their emotional needs.
This may sound obvious, but the judgement can be just as hard for your child to worry about. Worrying about how you may react or what you may think of them is a huge worry for a child and teenager and sometimes, the reason they don’t open up.
When they share something with you – no matter how difficult it can be to hear, focus on getting them back to happy and calm. Don’t focus on your instinct of ‘why were you doing that?’ ‘how did you get there in the first place’ etc (all valid questions) but in that moment and when anxiety is playing a part, your priority is to make sure your child can feel stable and comfortable to come to you for support. When they feel that, you will also feel more connected with your child and much more a part of their life and experiences. Be as open as you can and listen without placing judgement as much as you can.
Anxiety can cause your child to catastrophise and generalise. Things can’t get any worse. This is the worst thing to happen. Ever. I’ll never get over this.
When this happens, focus on using the 5 steps as often as you can. This is a natural reaction for someone who feels anxious and these are the techniques that I believe will have the best outcome and longevity to changing their mindset.
There is more to follow on this in my recent book and Facebook group – I hope to connect with you there soon.