Authors : AMÉLIE SEIDAH PH. D. AND ISABELLE GENINET PH. D, PSYCHOLOGISTS
As parents, seeing our children struggle with anxiety can be troubling. We may feel powerless or helpless at times, and although we may have the best intentions, some of our reactions can be ineffective or even worsen our teens’ emotional discomfort.
On the other hand, some young people engage in behaviours caused by anxiety without being aware that they are experiencing it, such as social withdrawal (social anxiety), academic failure (performance anxiety) or alcohol or drug use (self-medication). So, how can you support your teen during such a time? Here are a few tips that will help you react well.
Listen and validate their emotions
Rather than lecturing your teen or proposing solutions, listen to them. Sometimes, the source of your teen’s anxiety may seem excessive or irrational to you, but remember that in any situation, it’s important to validate painful emotions or uncomfortable physical sensations.
“Yeah, it does feel bad to be overwhelmed and have butterflies in your stomach.”
Here, we aren’t validating the teen’s fears or catastrophic thoughts, but rather the emotional discomfort that they feel. By not judging what they are experiencing, you increase the chances that they will open up to you and be more caring towards themselves.
Ask your teen about ways to deal with their anxiety
It’s easy to offer solutions. However, helping your teen find their own recipe for feeling better will be much more useful in their life. This way, they’ll get to know themselves better and become more independent in managing emotional discomfort.
Ask them questions, such as:
- What could you do to improve things for the moment?
- This probably isn’t the first time you’ve experienced anxiety; what have you done in the past to get through a crisis?
- What did you tell yourself to help yourself feel better?
- What actions did you take?
- What was helpful?
Be a role model for tolerating uncertainty
Uncertainty is present in all aspects of our lives: relationships, health, work, the future… Living in expectation and not knowing the outcomes of things can cause anxiety. As parents, we can show our teens that it’s possible to deal with uncertainty by verbalizing the fact that we are experiencing anxiety while demonstrating healthy management of our discomfort. Here are some examples:
- Dealing with a situation that scares us instead of avoiding it.
- Waiting before taking action rather than acting impulsively.
- Verbalizing the presence of a challenge in an undesirable situation instead of pointing out what could go wrong.
This way, your teen will be able to draw inspiration from your actions to develop a less anxious relationship with uncertainty.
Listen to your own discomfort
What emotions do we experience when our child has an anxious episode? Anxiety, helplessness, guilt, confusion or exasperation?
It’s important to remember that anxiety is a difficult and obtrusive emotion, but it is not permanent or deadly. If we tend to want to control our anxiety ourselves, we will be tempted to do the same with those close to us; in the same way, if we panic easily when faced with problems, we will tend to overreact to the situation.
Let’s look at the example of planes: it’s recommended to always put on your own oxygen mask before helping your child. This analogy can also be applied to anxiety: helping your teen in distress requires a lot of energy, and it can really drain your batteries.
That’s why you shouldn’t hesitate to take care of yourself and your own health before supporting your teen.
There’s nothing selfish or indulgent about taking care of yourself as a parent—on the contrary! Taking a moment to think about your own reaction before acting, and recharging your batteries if necessary, will allow you to be more flexible in your interventions.
If you’re contaminated by your own anxiety, it’s sometimes easy to give in to the impulse to go into problem-solving mode too quickly. In addition, if you are experiencing emotional discomfort yourself, you may have the reflex to withdraw from this “heavy” situation or try to make your teen see reason by explaining a rational or logical point of view to them. Or you may even make them feel like their emotion is exaggerated in relation to the situation, which will invalidate it…
Dealing with anxiety is a skill that is learned and honed all throughout our lives. However, by establishing supportive attitudes such as listening, validation, non-judgment and autonomy, we allow our teens to develop a healthier relationship with their anxiety and to better cope with it.
Your teen is entering high school
Listen to our video on the subject!
First Year of High School: A Real Challenge!
Entering high school brings its share of changes: new organization of classes, new environment, pressure on results, entry into adolescence, empowerment, issues of socialization, and more. How to help your teenagers to go through this stage more calmly? We give you our concrete tools!
Are you worried about your child but he or she has difficulty opening up to you?
See what advice we have to offer, and learn how you can support your teen in times of psychological distress.
You can also suggest that your teenager read our tips on how to better manage his or her anxiety.Discover our advice
LEARN ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS’ BOOK
TOUT SAVOIR POUR COMPOSER AVEC LES TURBULENCES À L’ADOLESCENCE – ISABELLE GENINET & AMÉLIE SEIDAH PH. D PSYCHOLOGISTS
This practical guide aims to help teens get to know themselves better, develop better critical thinking and improve their self-observation skills. Using concrete strategies and helpful advice, teens will learn how to cultivate a positive attitude (e.g. openness, curiosity, flexibility) and, above all, understand the importance of taking action. And this, in turn, will help them feel better equipped to deal with life’s ups and downs… and cope with the emotional turbulence of adolescence!BUY THE BOOK ↗