How to Deal with Your Anxious Tween or Teen
An exclusive feature from Bonnie Compton, family counselor*
Well it’s certainly true, kids sure grow up fast. One day they are toddlers, and a flash they are all grown. One thing is for sure, some of the most difficult years involve tween & teen years.
Here’s the good news…
You can do something to help them (but it’s probably different than what you’ve been doing).
Facts are, some kids are worriers…and some worry a lot more than others.
Do you have a worrier in your family (you too might be a worrier)? We all have moments of worry, however when worries begin to get in your tween/teen’s way, it’s time to do something about it. Being they are on the cusps of young adulthood; every part of their journey can be a challenge.
Perhaps the situation arises, and you see they don’t like to separate from you. Maybe they’d rather stay home (unlike typical teens) simply because they’re uncomfortable being away from home. Or they may ask you on a daily basis what the plans are and become upset if plans change! Or maybe there may be stress over test taking, worrying that they’re not prepared, even though they’ve spent hours studying!
Jus remember this simple fact, kids and teens do not like to worry, especially if it keeps them from doing something they really want to do!
I used to see a lot of anxious kids and teens in my therapy practice. And many had anxious parents and grandparents too! Here is the thing about anxiety…it’s contagious (not really) – however, we often feed off each other’s energy.
In my many years coaching both parents and grandparents how to help their anxious tween or teen, here is what I’ve discovered. As a result, many anxious teens became much less anxious. A recent research study revealed the science behind what I already knew. When children and teens are encouraged to face their fears, they become empowered and often their fears diminish greatly.
Think about it…when you’ve challenged your own fears, didn’t you feel more empowered? Kids do too!
Parents and grandparents want to protect their kids, and they do it out of love. But sometimes while trying to protect them, they inadvertently reinforce their fears. I know at times, I unconsciously did this as a mom, and you may have too.
Here is the good news!
It is possible for you to help your anxious child or teen.
Here are a few things to help you get started…
- Encourage your teen to face their challenges. Remind them it takes courage but when they do this, bit by bit they will become more confident. Ask them to think about a time they were afraid to do something, but did it anyway (riding a bike for the first time, public speaking, riding a roller coaster). Remind them how empowered they felt once they faced their challenge. This alone will help them to remember as anxious as they might be, they will feel so much better for trying! Help them create small practices to face their fear…baby steps!
- Be there to support your teen but do not try to “fix” their anxiety. I noticed in my therapy practice that the more invested parents and grandparents were in making the anxiety go away, the more pressure the teen felt. As if they were the problem. Be there to support and encourage but allow your teen to figure out coping skills to manage their own anxiety.
- Understand that there is not always an obvious reason why a teen is anxious. Although their fear of animals may be related to a negative experience, many anxious teens do not have an apparent reason to be anxious. There is a strong genetic component to anxiety, so chances are there are others who are anxious in your family.
- Although your teen may not outgrow or be cured of their anxiety, their symptoms will lessen as they learn to manage their worries. Remind them that anxiety is not a bad thing because it also plays an important role in their survival. (fear alerts them not to walk in front of a car or into a lions cage at the zoo)
And lastly focus on your relationship with them and acknowledge them each time they choose to face their fears!
*How to Deal With Your Anxious Tween or Teen, is an exclusive feature for grandparentslink.com by Bonnie Compton, APRN, BC, CPNP. Bonnie has worked with families for more than thirty years as a child and adolescent therapist, parent coach, and pediatric nurse practitioner and is passionate about making a difference in the lives of children and families. In doing so, Bonnie helps parents and grandparents create healthy boundaries and relationships. She is a writer, speaker, workshop and retreat facilitator, and hosts her own podcast radio program, Wholehearted Parenting Radio, which is available on iTunes, Web Talk Radio, Radioactive Broadcasting Network, and Stitcher Radio. Bonnie lives in Charleston, SC, with her husband. She is a mom of four adult children and believes that being a mother has been her most important job; and loves being Gramma to her three beautiful granddaughters. Bonnie is also the author of a new book, Mothering with Courage, Available here!, and also has an online course Mothering with Courage Daily OM