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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When our kids or teens are struggling, it can be hard to know what they need. It can also be hard for them to say. It can be this way for all of us - we don't always know what we need from the people around us. It might be space, or distraction, or silence, or maybe acknowledging and being there is enough. Sometimes we might need to know that the people we love aren't taking our need for space, or our confusion or anger or sadness personally, and that they are still there within reach.
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What can be easier is thinking about what other people might need. Asking this when they are calm can invite a different perspective and can give you some insight into what they need to hear when they are going through similar. Don't worry if you just get a shrug, or a disheartened, 'I don't know'. They don't need to know, and neither do we. The question in itself might be enough to open a new way through any sense of 'stuckness' or helplessness they might be feeling.
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#parenthood #parenting #positiveparenting #parentingtips #childdevelopment #parentingadvice #parentingtip #mindfulparenting #positiveparentingtips #neurodevelopment #parentingteens
Give them space to talk but you don’t need to fix anything. You’ll want to, but the answers are in them, not us. Sometimes the answer will be to feel it out, or push for change, or feel the futility of it all so the feeling can let go, knowing it’s done it’s job - it’s recruited support, or raised awareness that something isn’t right.

Sometimes the feelings might be seismic but the words might be gone for a while. That’s okay too. Do they want to start with whatever words are there? Or talk about something else? Or go for a walk with you? Watch a movie with you? Or do a spontaneous, unnecessary drive thru with you just because you can - no words, no need to explain - just you and them and car music for the next 20 minutes. 

The more you can validate what they’re feeling (maybe, ‘Today was big for you wasn’t it’) and give them space to feel, the more they can feel the feeling, understand the need that’s fuelling it, and experiment with ways to deal with it. Sometimes, ‘dealing with it’ might mean acknowledging that there is something that feels big or important and a little out of reach right now, and feeling the fullness and futility of that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days are rubbish, and that sometimes those days last for longer than they should, but we get through. First we feel floored, then we feel stuck, then we shift because the only choices we have we have are to stay down or move, even when moving hurts. Then, eventually we adjust - either ourselves, the problem, or to a new ‘is’. But the learning comes from experience.

I wish our kids never felt pain, but we don’t get to decide that. We don’t get to decide how our children grow, but we do get to decide how much space and support we give them for this growth. We can love them through it but we can’t love them out of it. I wish we could but we can’t.

So instead of feeling the need to silence their pain, make space for it. In the end we have no choice. Sometimes all the love in the world won’t be enough to put the wrong things right, but it can help them feel held while they move through the pain enough to find their out breath, and the strength that comes with that.♥️
Speaking to the courage that is coming to life inside them helps to bring it close enough for them to touch, and to imagine, and to step into, even if doesn’t feel real for them yet. It will become them soon enough but until then, we can help them see what we see - a brave, strong, flight-ready child who just might not realise it yet. ‘I know how brave you are.’ ‘I love that you make hard decisions sometimes, even when it would be easier to do the other thing.’ ‘You might not feel brave, but I know what it means to you to be doing this. Trust me – you are one of the bravest people I know.’
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 #neurodevelopment #positiveparenting #parenting #parenthood #neuronurtured #parentingtip #childdevelopment #braindevelopment #mindfulparenting #parentingtips #parentingadvice
So often, our children will look to us for signs of whether they are brave enough, strong enough, good enough. Let your belief in them be so big, that it spills out of you and over to them and forms the path between them and their mountain. And then, let them know that the outcome doesn't matter. What matters is that they believe in themselves enough to try. 

Their belief in themselves might take time to grow, and that's okay. In the meantime, let them know you believe in them enough for both of you. Try, ‘I know this feels big and I know you can do it. What is one small step you can take? I’m right here with you.’♥️
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 #neurodevelopment #positiveparenting #parenting #parenthood #neuronurtured #parentingtip #childdevelopment #braindevelopment #mindfulparenting
Anxiety will tell our kiddos a deficiency story. It will focus them on what they can't do and turn them away from what they can. We know they are braver, stronger, and more powerful than they could ever think they are. We know that for certain because we’ve seen it before. We’ve seen them so held by anxiety, and we’ve seen them move through - not every time but enough times to know that they can. Even when those steps through are small and awkward and uncertain, they are brave. Because that’s how courage works. It’s fragile and strong, uncertain and powerful. We know that that about courage and we know that about them. 

Our job as their important adults is to give them the experiences that will help them know it too. This doesn't have to happen in big leaps. Little steps are enough, as long as they are forward. 

When their anxiety has them focused on what they can't do, focus them on what they can. By doing this, we are aligning with their capacity for brave, and bringing it into the light. 

Anxiety will have them believing that there are only two options - all or nothing; to do or not to do. So let's introduce a third. Let's invite them into the grey. This is where brave, bold beautiful things are built, one tiny step at a time. So what does this look like? It looks like one tiny step at a time. The steps can be so small at first - it doesn't matter how big they are, as long as they are forward. 
If they can't stay for the whole of camp, how much can they stay for?
If they can't do the whole swimming lesson on their own, how much can they do?
If they can't sleep all night in their own bed, how long can they sleep there for?
If they can't do the exam on their own, what can they do?
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When we do this, we align with their brave, and gently help it rise, little bit, by little bit. We give them the experiences they need to know that even when they feel anxious, they can do brave, and even when they feel fragile they are powerful.

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