Supporting Your Highly Anxious Child/Teen
One of the most common struggles I hear is "How do I help my child/teen when they are overwhelmed?" Sometimes it's hard to know what to say or do in those situations for fear of making it worse. Here are a few tips for handling future stressful events with your child/teen.
1) Minimize Reassurance. I know it's easy to say everything will be alright, and you often feel you are helping when you say this, but in saying this you are doing two very harmful things unintentionally. The first is that you are invalidating your child/teen's feelings making them feel like they are wrong for worrying. It is a natural reaction to worry, and you don't actually know if things will be okay. What you do know is that you will be there to help support them through this issue no matter what. The second is you are teaching them that it's not okay to worry. It really is okay to worry. It's only an issue when it's interfearing with everyday functioning.
2) Teach Helpful Stress. Helpful Stress - Is that a thing?? Yes, it is a thing. Not all stress is bad. Stress can motivate us to get things done. It can help us be productive. There is a line that it can cross when it becomes unproductive. Helping them become aware of what each type of stress looks like can be beneficial in helping them manage all kinds of stress.
3) Model Good Coping Skills. Kids are spounges. They see everything you do and observe. If your child/teen can see how you handle stress, they will be able to learn healthy ways of managing stress faster/easier. Make sure you are practicing your own self care.
4) Teach Problem Solving Skills. Encourage your child/teen to figure difficult situations out on their own, with your guidance. I know it's nice to be able to help by telling them what to do, but when you solve problems for them, they will be less likely to figure things out on their own in the future. It's okay to give suggestions, just try to minimize telling them exactly how to fix the problem.
5) Help Create A Plan. If you can help them create a plan on how to move foward, it becomes less stressful because they know what to expect. Make sure to always create a back up plan as well just in case the first plan doesn't work the way you both anticipated.
6) Be Calm Yourself. I know this is easier said than done, but they look to you. If you are stressed out and/or panicking, they most likely will be too.
7) Less Is More. Sometimes kids/teens don't want you to fix the issue - they just want you to listen. Make sure you hear what they are saying, and validate why they feel the way they do. Don't help unless they ask you for it.
Above all, please make sure that you are taking care of yourself. If you're in a spot where you have lost your patience, you aren't going to handle the situation as best as you would have liked to. Take time for yourself to break away from the situation and think it through if you need to. It's okay to take a break.