Adolescence is a stressful time for most people, and some teens can let that stress overwhelm them and evolve into a full-on anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are not illnesses or diseases, and there’s nothing wrong with your child. Anxiety springs from our behavior and responses to stressful situations – whether real or perceived – and can be managed. It’s vital that as a parent, you make your home as supportive of an environment as possible. Dealing with anxiety begins with a safe space, and that space must be the home.
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Encourage your teen to talk about their anxiety
One sure way to exacerbate your adolescent’s anxiety is to play it down, attempt to delegitimize it, or pretend it doesn’t exist. Whether you find your child’s fears to be real or rational, you can be assured that they are real to them. If you act as though it’s “no big deal” or just “kids stuff” your teen will think that ignoring the problem is an effective coping mechanism. It’s not.
You should encourage your child to talk about their anxiety. Let them know that there is never a problem too trivial to discuss with you and your spouse.
Talking is good, but empowering fears is not
Though you always want your home to be a place where your teen can talk about their anxiety, you don’t want to make it a place where everything they say or do is validated. You don’t want to legitimize irrational fears by enabling your child to hide from them. If your daughter is suffering from some form of social anxiety, for instance, you don’t want to encourage her to hide from the world. Talk to her about her anxiety, of course, but don’t help her hide from her fears.
“You don’t want to belittle her fears, but you also don’t want to amplify them. You want to listen and be empathetic, help her understand what she’s anxious about, and encourage her to feel that she can face her fears. The message you want to send is, ‘I know you’re scared, and that’s okay, and I’m here, and I’m going to help you get through this,’” says ChildMind.org.
Make the environment one of solutions, not just empathy
You must begin from a place of empathy – listening to your teen and understanding why they feel the way that they do. But it can’t end there. As a parent, you must help your teen figure out solutions to their anxiety. For example, if poor school performance is a focal point of your teen’s anxiety, offer solutions like tutoring or extra study time. If your teen is anxious about social interactions, suggest inviting friends over for a more controlled experience.
Teach your child the importance of relaxation exercises
Overcoming anxiety takes time, and your teen isn’t just going to be able to “snap out of it” overnight. This means that there will be times where the anxiety is too much and your teen feels overwhelmed. It’s crucial that you, as a parent, know how to lead various relaxation exercises to help your child cope with their anxiety in the moment.
One such technique is mindfulness meditation, which teaches you to focus on the moment (as opposed to the past or future causes of anxiety). This involves “sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing, and bringing your mind’s attention to the present moment without drifting into concerns about the past or the future. This form of meditation has enjoyed increasing popularity in recent years. Research suggests it may be helpful for people with anxiety, depression, and pain.”
Another technique is simple focused breathing, in which one inhales and exhales very slowly, usually counting between breaths.
Overcoming anxiety starts at the home, and as a parent you must know how to create an environment where your teen will feel safe in not only talking about their anxiety, but managing it and focusing on changing it as well.