Anxiety in Children and Teens
“Do you wonder why your child or teen seems on edge, unduly nervous, or restless at times—maybe all the time? Are you uncertain if and when you should be worried? Are you so busy that sometimes you dismiss these thoughts but later reconsider them? You may be noticing that you have an anxious child or teen.” (excerpt from The Busy Parent’s Guide to Managing Anxiety in Children and Teens: The Parental Intelligence Way)
Recognizing When Your Child or Teen is Trying to Tell About Signs of Anxiety
- Your child seems to have racing thoughts as they are talking very quickly.
- Your child complains of their heart beating fast and they are trembling.
- Your child describes an uneasy feeling that just won’t go away.
- Your child openly says how something triggered nervousness.
- Your child is indecisive, has trouble focusing, and seems very disorganized.
- Your child is easily irritated, snaps unexpectedly at you or others, and generally seems agitated.
- Your child complains she doesn’t feel like herself but instead feels kind of disoriented and dizzy and can’t control her feelings of rising panic.
These are just some of the expressions of anxiety that children and adolescents reveal. But many times they cannot articulate their experience and instead act out in unusual ways for them. They may be chattering endlessly in a way that isn’t an ordinary speech pattern. They may be triggered to anger too easily. They may sound adamant about something that seems inconsequential. These types of actions betray the anxiety that is underneath.
How Parents Can Help Kids Cope with Anxiety
- It is imperative for the parent to remain calm.
- Speak in a quiet controlled voice to relax your child.
- Tell your child that they seem nervous but that talking about whatever is troubling them will help and you won’t blame or criticize them.
- If they are panicking, tell them to breathe slowly and evenly and that the feeling will pass.
- Some kids like to be held when they are anxious others need space.
- Suggest that you and your child take a walk. Movement lowers anxiety.
Once the onset of anxiety has eased, take your time to talk to your child or teen about their experience in their body. Putting words to the bodily feelings helps control them. Then slowly, patiently, ask about their day looking for triggers to their anxious mood. Nonjudgmentally explore their reasons for being upset. Do not interrupt except to slow down their speech.
When your youngster seems to have come upon what is upsetting them, ask them to tell you even more about it before you jump in with quick solutions. When a child feels heard, they feel less alone, and that relieves some anxiety. Then ask them for options to solve their problem rather than rushing in with your solutions. When they seem up to it you can offer options for coping with a situation, always keeping in mind that you want them to find their own solutions with your guidance.
These suggestions not only lower anxiety but build the parent-child/teen relationship so that when anxiety raises its head again, you have a partnership of trust to depend on.
Seeking Professional Help
If the pattern of anxiety is persistent, then it’s time to seek professional help. Share with your youngster that they seem to get anxious too often and you would like them to speak to a psychotherapist about these feelings. Explore together how they feel about speaking to a kind stranger who is an expert on anxiety. Plan together to call the therapist and arrange a consultation.
Discuss with the therapist how to prepare your child or teen for their first visit. Decide if you and your spouse should speak to the therapist alone at a first meeting. Ask the therapist if you should come in to the consulting room with your child or teen or prepare them to talk to the therapist on their own.
Careful preparation on the phone with the therapist helps ensure your child or teen will be comfortable and their first consultation will be relieving and optimistic about relieving their anxiety over time.
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst and author of The Busy Parent’s Guide to Managing Anxiety in Children and Teens to be released August 1st and Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior available on Amazon and wherever books are sold. Visit her website for more guidance: lauriehollmanphd.com.