Anxiety is normal, especially in adolescents who are dealing with new experiences. Additionally, the teenage brain is not yet fully developed, so they can be vulnerable to uncontrollable feelings of worry and doubt. About 25% of children ages 13-18 have anxiety. Anxiety can manifest itself in many forms, including generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and agoraphobia.
With an early diagnosis and healthy ways to cope, adolescents can lead happy lives while managing anxiety. Additionally, having a strong parental support system can have a tremendous impact. If you are a parent of a child with anxiety, here are five things you can do to be a source of comfort and support.
Respect Your Child’s Feelings
A child may have a panic attack due to an upcoming test. Parents should avoid saying things such as, “There is nothing to worry about. You will be fine.” This generally does nothing to calm fears. Instead, parents should empathize with their child and listen as they express their concerns.
Reassure That It’s Okay to be Anxious
Anxiety disorders won’t ever fully go away. Reassure your child that it’s okay to not be okay.
Additionally, make them cognizant of the things and situations that cause anxiety. This is known as developing a habituation curve. Rather than avoiding circumstances that induce anxiety, acknowledging them and developing coping mechanisms can help your child’s anxiety decrease over time.
Provide Realistic Affirmations
Again, it’s okay to feel anxious or be worried, but it’s important to give positive affirmations. This may open up your child to a new way of thinking. For example, if a child is worried about a test, then you do not want to say, “It will be fine. You will ace it.” Such language can come off as if you are disregarding their feelings of worry, and the anxious brain can’t comprehend that everything will be fine.
Instead, try to express confidence in your child by saying, “Failure does not mean that you are not smart, and one test does not define you.”
Model Healthy Coping Behaviors
As mentioned previously, having healthy coping behaviors is key to managing anxiety. You may not have an anxiety disorder yourself, but you definitely may feel stress from time to time. When these moments occur, it is critical your children see you handle it in a healthy way. If you feel frustrated, practice counting backwards from 10 or taking deep breaths. You could even look for things that you can do together to encourage positive reactions, like taking a yoga class together.
Create a Checklist
It may help to create a checklist for your child that he or she can follow any time a bout of anxiety comes on. This checklist should include items like slow breathing, followed by an evaluation of the situation to determine if it is worth worrying about. Finally, what actions can be taken to move past it? Having a checklist in hand can help a child feel in control and empowered as they go through steps to overcome anxiety.
When anxiety attacks first develop, you may be at a loss for how to help your child. Fortunately, with talk therapy and medication, anxiety disorders can be managed. Importantly, seek treatment for your child as soon as anxiety develops. Learn more about our teen outpatient mental health programs, where children can connect with professionals who can teach them healthy coping mechanisms.