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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Adolescence is all about the transition from childhood to adulthood. It can be a confusing time for everyone - not just for our teens but also for the adults who love them. 

Too often, the line between childhood and adulthood can be a blurry one. The expectations of adulthood can come charging at them, but without the freedoms, confidence, or capabilities that adulthood brings. They can feel with such depth and intensity, but without the adult wisdom or experience to make sense of those feelings. 

They’ll be okay, but it might feel wobbly for a while. In the meantime they will look to us for signs of safety and certainty. This doesn’t mean certainty that everything will always be okay - it won’t be - but certainty that they’ll get through, certainty that they are extraordinary, and needed, and that their will be a space and a place in the world that only they can fill.

We might not always feel that certainty. Some days we might ache, and wish we could make their world feel softer for a while. In those times, it will be less about what you do and more about who you are - being the one who can be with them without needing them to be different, the one who can handle any of their hurts or heartaches with gentle, certain hands, the one who can block out the world for a while by letting them rest in our care without needing them to be, or do, or give anything back in return.♥️
For our children, we start building the foundations for adolescence in their earliest years - the relationship we’ll have with them, who they are going to be, how they are going to be. One of the things we’ll want to build is their capacity to know their own minds and be brave enough to use it. This isn’t easy, even for adults, so the more practice we give them, the more they’ll be able to access their strong, brave, beautiful minds when they need to - when we aren’t there.

This means letting them have a say when we can, asking their opinions, and letting them disagree.

When kids and teens argue, they’re communicating. We need to listen, but the need won’t always be obvious. When littles argue because it’s spaghetti for dinner and ‘I hate spaghetti so much’ (even though last week and the 5 years before last week, spaghetti was their favourite), they might be expressing a need for sleep, power and influence, or independence. All are valid. When your teen argues because they want to do something you’ve said no to, the need might be to preserve their felt sense of inclusion with their tribe, or independence from you. Again, all valid. 

Of course, a valid need doesn’t mean it will always be met. Sometimes our needs might need to take priority to theirs, such as our need to keep them safe, or for them to learn that they can still be okay if everything doesn’t go their way, or that sometimes people will have conflicting needs that need to take priority. What’s important is letting them know we hear them and we get it.

It’s going to take time for kids to learn how to argue and express themselves respectfully. In the meantime, the words might be clumsy, loud, angry. This is when we need to hold on to ourselves, meet them where they are, let them know we hear them, and step into our leadership presence. We might give them what they need because it makes sense and because there isn’t enough reason not to. Sometimes, after giving them space to be heard we’ll need to stand our ground. Other times we might solve the problem collaboratively: This is what you want. This is what I want. Let’s talk about how we can we both get what we need.♥️
Anxiety will always tilt our focus to the risks, often at the expense of the very real rewards. It does this to keep us safe. We’re more likely to run into trouble if we miss the potential risks than if we miss the potential gains. 

This means that anxiety will swell just as much in reaction to a real life-threat, as it will to the things that might cause heartache (feels awful, but not life-threatening), but which will more likely come with great rewards. Wholehearted living means actively shifting our awareness to what we have to gain by taking a safe risk. 

Sometimes staying safe will be the exactly right thing to do, but sometimes we need to fight for that important or meaningful thing by hushing the noise of anxiety and moving bravely forward. 

When children or teens are on the edge of brave, but anxiety is pushing them back, ask, ‘But what would it be like if you could?’ ♥️

#parenting #parent #mindfulparenting #childanxiety #positiveparenting #heywarrior #heyawesome
Except I don’t do hungry me or tired me or intolerant me, as, you know … intolerably. Most of the time. Sometimes.
Growth doesn’t always announce itself in ways that feel safe or invited. Often, it can leave us exhausted and confused and with dirt in our pores from the fury of the battle. It is this way for all of us, our children too. 

The truth of it all is that we are all born with a profound and immense capacity to rise through challenges, changes and heartache. There is something else we are born with too, and it is the capacity to add softness, strength, and safety for each other when the movement towards growth feels too big. Not always by finding the answer, but by being it - just by being - safe, warm, vulnerable, real. As it turns out, sometimes, this is the richest source of growth for all of us.

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