By Noah Smith,
Chances are children and teens don’t recognize their anxiety for what it is, so it’s up to you to teach your child about anxiety and how to recognize it. Your child may display symptoms of nervousness, being worried, or feeling like they are out of control, but they may not know exactly how to express what it is or why they feel that way. Catching an anxiety disorder in its early stages can save them from a life of isolation, frustration, and even drug and alcohol abuse. Here are a few tips to help your child learn how to cope with and manage their anxiety so they may be able to lead a healthy and happy life.
Talk it out
Start by explaining to them that they are not alone when it comes to their anxiety. Your child may think that something is wrong with them, however, there are millions of children in the very same boat. As their parent and confidant, you must express optimism in their ability to face their worries and overcome them, one by one. Teach your child exactly how worry works so that they can develop the ability to challenge and outsmart it.
Chances are, your child already knows that worrying isn’t a great feeling, but they don’t know where it stems from or how to control it. Avoid the temptation to explain it away with comments like, “There’s nothing to worry about.” Although your intentions are good, it isn’t a magic cure and may leave your child feeling even more confused. If there is nothing to worry about then why do they feel this way? Explain to your child that everyone has a fight or flight survival response that is designed to help them deal with stressful or dangerous situations. Anxiety is a natural response, but sometimes their brain gets confused and mistakes a normal situation for a stressful one.
Introduce anti-anxiety tools
For younger children, it can be helpful to turn your child’s anxiety into something they can actively fight. Teach your child to label their fears as the “Worry Monster,” a bully that is responsible for making them think scary thoughts. The monster’s job is to keep them from having fun and he gets joy from picking on children and adults and making them feel anxious. Explain that the best way to beat the Worry Monster is to write down a list of everything your child worries about. Starting with the biggest fear, choose a fear from the list and break it down into baby steps so that they have a solid plan to vanquish the monster.
The Worry Monster is a great tool for small children, but older children and teens might feel a little too mature for this technique. Introduce other coping strategies such as calm breathing exercises or yoga. Most teens have a smartphone in hand, and if not, they have some form of access to technology whether it is a tablet or a laptop. While you may have exhausted every method possible to unglue them from their phone, turn it into something positive by introducing them to anxiety apps. They are already plugged in, so why not show them how to get a handle on their anxiety while they are at it?
If you or your partner also struggles with anxiety, make sure your child knows it’s never OK to take any medication you’ve been prescribed. Explain that prescription medications are much stronger, and that yours was prescribed only after your doctor considered your specific situation carefully. Talk to them about the dangers of using another person’s prescription—not only is it hazardous to their own health, it could land you in serious legal trouble. Finally, explain that prescription medications have a higher chance of leading to addiction, and even you must be mindful of their powerful effects.
Learning to manage adolescent anxiety will be challenging for you and your child. However, it will be rewarding as you see your child begin to adapt and flourish in situations that used to make them anxious. Progress won’t happen overnight, but with the right toolkit, you’ll start to see positive changes.