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.

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow Hey Sigmund on Instagram

The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️
For our kids and teens, the new year will bring new adults into their orbit. With this, comes new opportunities to be brave and grow their courage - but it will also bring anxiety. For some kiddos, this anxiety will feel so big, but we can help them feel bigger.

The antidote to a felt sense of threat is a felt sense of safety. As long as they are actually safe, we can facilitate this by nurturing their relationship with the important adults who will be caring for them, whether that’s a co-parent, a stepparent, a teacher, a coach. 

There are a number of ways we can facilitate this:

- Use the name of their other adult (such as a teacher) regularly, and let it sound loving and playful on your voice.
- Let them see that you have an open, willing heart in relation to the other adult.
- Show them you trust the other adult to care for them (‘I know Mrs Smith is going to take such good care of you.’)
- Facilitate familiarity. As much as you can, hand your child to the same person when you drop them off.

It’s about helping expand their village of loving adults. The wider this village, the bigger their world in which they can feel brave enough. 

For centuries before us, it was the village that raised children. Parenting was never meant to be done by one or two adults on their own, yet our modern world means that this is how it is for so many of us. 

We can bring the village back though - and we must - by helping our kiddos feel safe, known, and held by the adults around them. We need this for each other too.

The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains that block our way.♥️

That power of felt safety matters for all relationships - parent and child; other adult and child; parent and other adult. It all matters. 

A teacher, or any important adult in the life of a child, can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child (and their parent) so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, I care about you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
Approval, independence, autonomy, are valid needs for all of us. When a need is hungry enough we will be driven to meet it however we can. For our children, this might look like turning away from us and towards others who might be more ready to meet the need, or just taking.

If they don’t feel they can rest in our love, leadership, approval, they will seek this more from peers. There is no problem with this, but we don’t want them solely reliant on peers for these. It can make them vulnerable to making bad decisions, so as not to lose the approval or ‘everythingness’ of those peers.

If we don’t give enough freedom, they might take that freedom through defiance, secrecy, the forbidden. If we control them, they might seek more to control others, or to let others make the decisions that should be theirs.

All kids will mess up, take risks, keep secrets, and do things that baffle us sometimes. What’s important is, ‘Do they turn to us when they need to, enough?’ The ‘turning to’ starts with trusting that we are interested in supporting all their needs, not just the ones that suit us. Of course this doesn’t mean we will meet every need. It means we’ve shown them that their needs are important to us too, even though sometimes ours will be bigger (such as our need to keep them safe).

They will learn safe and healthy ways to meet their needs, by first having them met by us. This doesn’t mean granting full independence, full freedom, and full approval. What it means is holding them safely while also letting them feel enough of our approval, our willingness to support their independence, freedom, autonomy, and be heard on things that matter to them.

There’s no clear line with this. Some days they’ll want independence. Some days they won’t. Some days they’ll seek our approval. Some days they won’t care for it at all, especially if it means compromising the approval of peers. The challenge for us is knowing when to hold them closer and when to give space, when to hold the boundary and when to release it a little, when to collide and when to step out of the way. If we watch and listen, they will show us. And just like them, we won’t need to get it right all the time.♥️

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This