Whether it’s over an upcoming test or a baseball tournament, watching your tween display anxiety over something out of your control can be heartbreaking. The world is moving faster than ever before, and kids growing up today are exposed to a barrage of stressful situations previous generations never were. Throw in growth and hormones, and anxiety is a predictable side effect. That doesn’t mean anxiety has to be a negative experience. While anxiety has gotten a bad rap, it’s perfectly natural to have bouts of nervousness and worry. Tweens aren’t robots, after all—as the grocery bill reflects—and it is our job to help them work through their anxiety, instead of encouraging them to ignore or suppress it. Here are five simple tips to help your teen through anxiety.
1. Remind Them They Are Not Alone
One of the most important messages we can get across to our anxious littles is that they are not weird or a freak or alone in their thoughts. While many of their peers may appear confident and free of worry, underneath the layer they show to the world is a complex individual filled with their own hopes, emotions, and fears. A great way to ease your child’s anxiety about being anxious in itself is to remind them they are not alone. Reading comics such as Big Nate, Phoebe and Her Unicorn, and Sarah’s Scribbles is a fun, easily digestible way to feel like someone else knows what it’s like to be you. Books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and those written by Raina Telgemeier remind our own child that we’re all a little neurotic. Heck, being a little neurotic can even be cool.
Some tweens feel anxious when they aren’t doing anything, and they fill that downtime with even more anxiety-inducing activities such as Snapchat and overstimulating, rapid-fire YouTube videos. In today’s overscheduled and busy world, downtime can be difficult to settle into. Help your child feel productive in their downtime by encouraging them to listen to podcasts, go for a walk, or listen to music and zone out. Directing their downtime activities away from YouTube and other social media will help quiet their minds, focusing their thoughts into something productive as opposed to the constant barrage of content and messaging often found in their favorite entertainment sources.
3. Acknowledge Their Feelings
As adults, it’s easy to dismiss our children’s anxiety, because childhood seems easy compared to adulthood. There are no bills to pay, relationships to balance, and meals to cook. That doesn’t mean your child’s anxiety is any less real than yours, just like your anxiety isn’t any less real than someone who may be in a difficult situation you are not. If your child is expressing anxiety over an upcoming event, resist the urge to brush off their confession with an easy, surface-level encouragement such as, “Oh, I’m sure you’ll do fine.” Take a minute to sit down with them, or schedule a minute to sit down with them when you have some time, and let them be anxious in your presence. Don’t try to cure their anxiety. Share a story or two about a similar time you were anxious. Let them know a little bit of anxiety is normal and okay. More than anything, allow them to be heard. Feeling understood can often ease a child’s anxiety better than any other “anxiety cure” can.
4. Begin To Teach Self-Care
Self-care has become a big buzzword lately, and for a good reason. Many adults are just now learning about the importance of scheduling healthy rituals for balance in their lives. Encourage your children to experiment with things that help them relax. Buy some fun bath bombs and run them a bath. Take them to the store to pick out their very own box of tea and teach them how to brew it. Invite them to stare out a window with you, passively taking in the scene and enjoying the world unfolding on the other side. Self-care takes practice and experimentation, and the better they get at it as children, the less they’ll flounder as adults.
5. Know When To Call In The Experts
While most kids will experience instances and phases of mild anxiety, it’s important to seek professional help if you worry your child might have an anxiety disorder. Signs of anxiety disorder include:
- Unexplained or uncontrollable crying
- Fear of attending school or attempts to skip school
- Unexplained headaches or stomach aches
- Trouble sleeping and/or nightmares
- Decrease in appetite
- Other physical symptoms with no underlying cause
Your school’s guidance counselor and primary care provider can help you assess whether it’s time to bring in an expert and help you with a referral.
In today’s fast-paced, modern world, there is a lot to be anxious about. Some anxiety is okay, necessary even, and it is our job as parents to help our children navigate this new world with a toolbox of healthy practices. With our love, guidance, and support, mild bouts of anxiety won’t turn into bigger, more difficult-to-treat issues later on.