Studies show that pre-teens, teens, and kids are reporting higher levels of anxiety than in past years. I don’t think we need studies to tell us this. As parents, we can see it by looking at the young people in our lives. And as parents, helping our kids with anxiety becomes a priority, but we’re not always sure how to do it.
Anxiety first made a showing in our family when our oldest daughter was in fourth grade. All children display and act out their anxiety differently and our oldest daughter pulled out her hair. It was a confusing time for us as parents where we felt powerless to help her. She is now a young adult and while, like so many of us, she still suffers from occasional bouts of anxiety, she has learned ways to cope and is doing well in college.
The tips below are NOT medical advice. I am NOT a medical professional. I’m merely a mom who has struggled to help my own children through anxiety and I offer a few suggestions to you of things that helped us help our kids with anxiety.
8 Tips on Helping Kids with Anxiety
1. Examine how you model stress – Many times, our kids see us as their first example of how to handle difficult moments. It is tough to be honest with yourself about how you model stress in front of your children and I know from experience that my daughter’s anxiety opened my eyes to how I needed to acknowledge and better handle my own stress levels.
2. Offer Understanding – Help your child understand that everyone feels anxious, overwhelmed, or stressed out sometimes. You may think this is obvious and they already know it, but children and teens can be naïve and self-absorbed. They don’t always realize adults and their peers have similar issues. Discuss how you or another respected adult deals with feeling overwhelmed.
3. Get Exercise – Exercise helps a person feel better, puts them in a better mood and can take their mind off things that make them anxious. It doesn’t need to be strenuous or planned exercise, but simply playing outside, riding a bike or going for a walk. Exercise in the way of a team practice or PE class doesn’t really count in this way. It should be exercise that is fun and/or relaxing, not something with pressure or expectation.
4. Be Positive – Give them positive words / images/ thoughts – Leave them notes or encouraging words in their room, lunch box, or wherever they might see it. Many times, I’ll text my daughter a motivational/inspirational quotes and scriptures with picture that I find online. Also, there is so much negativity in the world, try not to let it infiltrate your time together. Leave those talks about the issues in the news or difficulties in the community for later when they are better equipped to process it.
5. Reassure your child – Let them know you hear them, that you “get” it. They are not crazy and not alone. Try to help them put their anxiety into perspective. What is the worst that could happen? What’s the best thing that could happen? What’s the most likely to happen? Remind them of your unconditional love and support as you help them get through this.
6. Help them find quiet time – It is beneficial to find something quiet or peaceful for them to do or to look forward to when feeling overwhelmed. My own daughter prefers brushing a horse or riding, adoration, going for a walk, drawing, listening to music, reading a book, or working on a puzzle. And now that we have a dog, a good doggie cuddle works wonders. Maybe suggest taking a short digital break from time to time to enjoy one of the things above, or quiet time with the family.
7. Pray for guidance, patience, and healing – When your child struggles, it can be a very difficult time for a parent. We want to fix it immediately and cannot always relate to their perspective. To us, what they are fixated on may not seem “that bad,” but to your teen, it may seem like “everything.” Talk with a trusted friend. You might be surprised to find other friends who are going through the same thing or have gone through it previously and can offer you support.
8. Find a professional to talk with your child – Sometimes your child needs a non-parent to trust and talk with about what they are experiencing. A non-parent to listen, reassure them, and give them guidance of how to deal with those feelings when they arise. You know your child best, so trust your instinct about finding them professional help.
As a mom who has faced the problem of anxiety through raising my teenagers, I want to encourage you to consider applying these tips for yourself. Raising teens is stressful and we need to be mindful of our own level of anxiety. Helping my daughters work through their anxiety, with the help of mental health professionals, has really opened my eyes to the work I needed to do in my own struggle with anxiety.
I am NOT a health professional, and I am NOT giving any medical advice. These are just a few things I’ve done with my own daughters as we struggled through their pre-teen and teen years of anxiety. These tips do NOT replace working with a medical professional. We have been blessed to work with some helpful therapists and mental health professionals over the last decade.
If you are seeing signs of depression or suicidal thoughts in your child or teen, I encourage you to reach out to a mental health professional immediately.
If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 the suicide and crisis lifeline 24/7.
A few books I’ve found helpful in parenting kids and teens with anxiety include:
- Helping Teens with Stress, Anxiety, and Depression: A Field Guide for Catholic Parents, Pastors, and Youth Leaders by Roy Petitfils