5 Ways Caring Parents Make Teen Anxiety Worse

5 Ways Caring Parents Make Teen Anxiety Worse

Your happy-go-lucky child has turned into an anxiety-ridden teen. It is a painful thing to watch. Activities that were once enjoyable are now avoided. Going to school is a daily miracle. Instead of driving to the mall, you are driving to the doctor with mysterious stomach issues.

Teen anxiety is not only debilitating for your teen, it is debilitating for the whole family.

So how do you make this nightmare go away? How do parents help with teen anxiety?

You can start off learning what not to do – and then go from there. Teen anxiety can look very similar among teens, but how parents deal with teen anxiety can look vastly different depending on the family’s parenting style.

Here are 5 common mistakes I see good parents making in my therapy practice:

  1. Accommodating their teen’s anxiety.

    Parents feel bad. They don’t want their kids to have teen anxiety. They want to make it all go away. And so they do just that.

    Their kids don’t want to go to school. They switch them to online schooling.

    Their kids don’t want to sleep alone. They give them a permanent spot in their bed. 

    Their kids are afraid to do new things. They never push them out of their comfort zone.

    Helping kids with teen anxiety is a balancing act. You don’t want to push your teens too hard, but you don’t want to not encourage them at all.

    Help your teen develop coping mechanisms and then encourage them to slowly fight back!

  2. Forcing Teens to Face Their Fears Too Soon

    The flip side of the issue above – are parents who are too overzealous when addressing teen anxiety. They hate to see their teens suffer, so they force them to face their fears.

    The intention is good, but the delivery is bad.

    These parents do not understand anxiety. They believe they can strong arm their teens to face their fears and that will “get them over it.”

    Unfortunately teen anxiety doesn’t work that way. Forcing teens to do things that they are not ready to do can backfire. Like I said before, handling teen anxiety is a balancing act.

    Accommodating their fears is not helpful, but too much pushing can have a similar effect. They can both stop any progress from occurring.

    Give your teen coping mechanisms and then let them face small challenges. Small challenges add up to big results.

  3. Putting too much pressure on fixing anxiety.

    Some parents get anxiety. They get it so much that they are ready to beat teen anxiety for their kids. They are the ones reading the books. They are the ones participating in therapy. They are the ones hand holding their kids through the battle of teen anxiety.

    I get it. It is frustrating to see your teen move at a slower pace than you would like. It is frustrating to understand the skills that they need to use, only to watch them not use them.

    Unfortunately this is a battle you cannot fight for them. When you fight teen anxiety harder than your teens you do two things. You make them hide their anxiety – which is the opposite of what you want to do. And second, you make them feel overwhelmed. When this happens, many teens just give up.

    This is your teen’s battle, not yours. Be a supportive passenger. You are not the driver.

  4. Believing their teen is manipulating them.

    I meet many parents who completely believe their teens are using anxiety as an excuse. I hear things like, “He is just lazy and doesn’t want to go to school” and “She is not scared at night, she just likes sleeping with us.”

    Most teens are embarrassed to have teen anxiety and would do anything to NOT have this problem.

    When you view your teen’s anxiety as manipulation you are going to parent it with discipline and annoyance – both of which will exacerbate the issue.

  5. Having misperceptions of anxiety.

    I often hear parents say things like, “I don’t understand why she is afraid of that – nothing bad has ever happened to her?” Parents rack their brains with questions like “Is he being bullied?” And “Did she go through a trauma we don’t know about?” Usually, the answer is – no.

    Anxiety has a strong genetic component and runs in families. Children are born with the predisposition to be anxious. That doesn’t mean they cannot learn skills to beat their anxiety, it just means you should stop trying to answer the question “But why?”

    Teen anxiety is often irrational and is not usually based on actual experiences.

So now that you know what not to do – what should you do? Arm your teen with coping mechanisms. Take them to a therapist that can help them build these skills. Have them read a teen self-help book that will teach them skills or watch a parenting video to learn how to teach those skills yourself. Whatever you do, give your teen support.

Help your teen with these three steps:

1. Identify anxiety themes and triggers
2. Teach them coping mechanisms to face their anxiety
3. Set up bite-size challenges to help them face their fears
4. Repeat

(This post first appeared on AnxiousToddlers.com and has been reprinted here with full permission.)


About the Author: Natasha Daniels

Natasha Daniels is a child therapist and author of Anxiety Sucks! A Teen Survival Guide and How to Parent Your Anxious Toddler. She is the creator of AnxiousToddlers.com and has a Psychcentral blog Parenting Anxious Kids. Her work has been featured on various sites including Huffington PostScary Mommy and The Mighty. She can be found on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Pinterest or making parenting videos for Curious.com.

One Comment

Lianne

Hi, thank you for this. Is there a pre-teen book or work booklet you can recommend. My son will be 12 in Nov.

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One of our rituals was in the week before Christmas, we’d go shopping and each kiddo would choose a keepsake decoration for the tree. This would forever be their decoration. To make sure we’d remember who owned what (a year is a long time!) I wrote their name and year on the box. The idea is that when they leave home, they’ll have a collection of special decorations for their own tree, plump with throwbacks (‘Oh I remember when we bought this!).

Then of course there was Christmas morning. Santa would leave a note on the table and bootprints on the front path, which smelled remarkably like talcum powder. So magical the way the snow was under the boot and never melted, even in an Australian summer! But that’s the magic of Christmas, right?!

We often put so much pressure on ourselves to make Christmas magical. Rituals can make this easier. They get the special memories, you get to make the ‘magic’ without having to come up with something new and different each year.

It’s very likely that there will already be Christmas rituals happening in your family, even if you don’t realise it. Ask them what they remember most, or what they loved most about last Christmas, aside from the presents.

They might surprise you with things you’d completely forgotten about, or which at the time didn’t seem to be a biggie. It can be the simplest things. Maybe they loved the way they were allowed to have ice-cream with pancakes at breakfast last Christmas. (Ice-cream at breakfast?! Told you Christmas was magical!!). 

If it’s what they remember, and if it lights them up, let it become a ‘thing’. Maybe they loved the magic ‘neverending carrot’ sprinkles you put on the scrawny carrot you found in the vege drawer (remembering reindeer groceries can be so hard sometimes!)

You’d be surprised what they find special. It doesn’t have to be big to feel magical.

What are your Christmas rituals? Let’s share ideas in the comments.♥️
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Because sales are the best, and Christmas is the best, and helping kiddos find their brave is the very best of all! So, to celebrate the end of the year (because truly, it's been a year hasn't it), and to help you settle brave hearts for next year, or night times, or separations, or, you know, all the things, we're taking 25% off books and plushies in the Hey Sigmund shop.

There's no need to enter a code. The books and bundles are already marked with their special sale prices. You'll find them all there - plushies, books, bundles - doing shopping cartwheels, beside themselves excited about helping your young ones feel bigger than anxiety, and shimmy on to brave. 
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It can feel as though the only way to strengthen them against their anxiety is to make sure they have nothing to worry about, but when their worries are real this might not happen quickly. 

Instead, we need to focus on helping them know that even though those worries are there, they will be okay. ‘Not worrying’ isn’t the antidote to anxiety, trust is. This will start with trust in you and your belief that they will be okay, and trust in your reaction if things don’t go to plan. Eventually, as they grow this will expand into trust in themselves and their own capacity to find their way through challenges to a place of hope and strength. 
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#parenting #parentinglife #parenting #parent #parents #mindfulparent
Strong steady breathing will reverse the fight or flight physiology that causes nausea, butterflies, or sick or sore tummies during anxiety. BUT telling an anxious brain to take a strong steady breath will potentially make anxiety worse unless strong steady breathing feels familiar. Practising during calm times will make it familiar. 

During anxiety we’re dealing with their amygdala, and it wants short shallow breathing to conserve oxygen. It doesn’t want strong steady breathing and will work hard to resist this. 

An anxious brain is a busy brain and it will be less able to do anything unfamiliar. A few minutes of strong steady breathing each day will set up a strong neural pathway to make strong breathing more automatic and accessible during anxiety. 

In the meantime though, you can do it for them. This is the magic of co-regulation. When you do strong steady breathing during their anxiety, it will calm your nervous system which will eventually calm theirs. You will catch their anxiety, and this will feed into their anxiety. Your strong steady breathing is the circuit breaker. They will catch your anxiety, but they will also catch your calm. Don’t worry if this takes a few minutes (and maybe a few more after that). Anxious brains are strong, powerful, beautiful brains working hard to protect. Breathe and be with. This will open the way for that distressed young nervous system to find its way home. And you don’t need to do more than that.♥️
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#heywarrior #parenting #bravekids #anxietyinkids #kidsanxiety #parent #parenthood
Needs and behaviour can get tangled up and treated as one. When you can, separate the need from the behaviour. Give voice to the need - let it find a way to breathe - and redirect the behaviour. 

The need might always be clear, especially if it’s being smothered by angry shouting words. If we stifle the behaviour without acknowledging the need, the need stays hungry. Help usher it into the light by making it clear that you’re ready to receive it. Then wait. Wait for the big behaviour to ease, for bodies to calm, and angry voices to soften - but keep the way to you open. ‘You’re a great kid and I know you know that behaviour wasn’t okay. Talk to me about what’s happening for you.’

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