As a parent we do all we can to protect our children and ease their pain. Anxiety is a serious issue for both younger children and teens. And for parents it is truly miserable and even frustrating to see your anxious teen worry over situations and show true fear when taken out of their comfort zone. But research shows there are ways of helping them cope and below we outline 5 Things Parents of an Anxious Teen Should Try.
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Anxiety is a normal part of our human make up. It enables us to access situations and protect ourselves from danger. It is when the anxiety takes hold and we can’t see a way out that we need to ask for help. If your child or teen has tried but cannot overcome their anxiety, you really should seek medical assistance.
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Tips for Parents of an Anxious Teen
#1. Write Fears Down
Your teen would like nothing more than to overcome their fears. But it is not that simple. If you can encourage them to write down their fears and anxieties and share those with you, together you can talk through the situations that cause anxiety and create solutions to overcome the fear.
If they would prefer not to share those with you, having a worry box where they can place those worries can help or encouraging them to talk to their peers or another adult can also be beneficial.
Writing in itself can be cathartic, it helps you see in black and white what is bothering you and can help rationalise what your feeling. It is good to set time limits for how much time you spend on this activity as you don’t want your teen getting too overwhelmed by the detail either.
#2. Taking Up Activities
Who your teen surrounds themselves with can be truly life changing. Talk to your anxious teen about activities or interests they may enjoy and search out clubs or classes where they can join in with like minded individuals and learn new skills that they not only have fun doing but, that improves their confidence as they see they are capable of achieving the goals set.
Achieving goals and getting praise from their peers can increase their confidence and self esteem and turn your anxious teen’s life around.
Classes in the arts for example, drama, have been shown to have a positive effect in reducing anxiety. Research by the ESRI showed the positive effects of engaging with the arts, among the findings of the research was evidence that attending classes in music, dance or drama can lead to more confidence, higher levels of happiness and reduced anxiety.
#3. Face up to the Fears
By this I mean getting your teen to break the fear down into smaller chunks and learn to cope and rationalise each fear to help overcome it. It will be less overwhelming than trying to deal with everything all at once.
A good example would be if your teen fears giving their opinion in class. To help break down the fear they could really study up on a particular topic they know the class may be quizzed on to enable them to have the confidence to raise their hand. As they grow in confidence they could start slowly to enter more into group discussions where the spotlight is not just on them.
Do also talk to their teacher or year head confidentially. Explain their fear and see if they have any suggestions or methods to help. Maybe the teacher could suggest they go onto the debating or public speaking team.
This may seem like an overwhelming task for your teen but if the teacher asks them to try, it can be the boost they need to feel that teacher thinks they are capable.
Also most debate or public speaking topics are decided in advance so your teen has the opportunity to get to know the subject in advance of having to speak about it.
#4. Praise Them
Just as you would with their siblings, let your anxious teen know you are proud of their achievements and acknowledge when they face a situation that you know they find uncomfortable.
You don’t have to offer over the top praise, even a quick hug or pat on the back to show that you understand that was difficult and you are proud of them can help.
Finding something they love which they are also good at is the ideal way to build up their self esteem and confidence.
#5. Treat them the Same
If your anxious teen has siblings that don’t suffer in the same way, ensure they realise you have the same expectations of them. Give them chores, the same as everyone else in the family. This shows they are contributing to family life in the same way as the rest of the family.
Have the same consequences for inappropriate behaviour and ensure that both you and your partner have agreed in advance what those consequences are and that you will both implement them.
This also stands for situations that cause your teen anxiety, you need to have agreed in advance with your partner or other caregiver how you will treat these situations so that your teen is not getting mixed messages i.e. If one parent will always make them do the thing they don’t want to but the other will let them off. It confuses them and erodes their confidence.
Never belittle or laugh at their fears, to them they are very real but do try to show your teen that finding humour in certain situations can help you get through life.
Finally we all have fears and anxieties, after all we are human. But do try not to pass fears you have onto your teen. Think before you speak.
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