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How to Help Your Anxious Child or Teen

As a therapist who primarily works with children and teens I often see issues of stress and anxiety. One of the things that I love about being a therapist is being able to assist my young clients with identifying their symptoms and learning ways to cope and also being able to work with parents on how to identify warning signs in their children and teach them ways to best assist their child. This article will provide some brief insight into what anxiety can look like for children and teens and how as a parent you can be helpful.

What is anxiety? A simple way of explaining anxiety is that it is your body’s response to having too many worries.

  • Things to remember about anxiety:
    • Everyone experiences anxiety
    • It is a necessary feeling or emotion as is fear
    • Anxiety can assist us in being productive but it also can be intrusive and overwhelming which tends to lead to impairments
    • Anxiety can lead to physical, emotional and cognitive responses

Again, it is normal to feel anxiety. For example, If your child is about to take the SATs anxiety is bound to be present or if they are preparing for their first day of high school or college.

So how can you tell if your child is struggling with anxiety?

  • Sleep issues- children and teens tend to struggle with falling asleep or staying asleep due to anxiety. This could be due to feeling preoccupied with their worries or having racing thoughts. Lack of sleep could also be due to them having excessive schoolwork which does tend to be a main source of stress.
  • Irritability- often parents will bring in children expressing concern regarding outbursts, attitudes or a change in their behavior and the most typical underlying issue is anxiety. As adults we tend to become short, cranky or moody when we are overwhelmed and kids do too but typically have a much harder time managing it.
  • Avoidant or isolating behaviors- Children and teens might begin to pass on social activities or tend to stay to themselves more often.

What should you do as a parent?

  • Don’t ask your child a million questions- they will most likely become defensive and shut down.
    • Express that you are concerned and that you have noticed that they seem anxious or worried.
  • Validate their feelings and do not judge them:
    • Often I hear children and teens feel that their stress or worries are being minimized by adults and it leads them feeling discouraged to talk.
  • Utilize examples from your own life:
    • ‘I know school can be overwhelming and remember feeling pulled in many directions in high school and I am concerned cause you seem really worried and stressed about school work’
    • ‘I remember that being a teen was not easy and I notice you have seemed a bit irritable and have not been sleeping good… do you want to talk about it?’
    • ‘I can’t imagine how stressful it would be to be a teen now and I see you shutting us out… I am here if you want to talk’.
  • Advocate for them as needed:
    • If the anxiety and stress are coming from school offer to assist in making a plan and contact their school if needed
    • Talk to them about therapy services and get them connected if needed

About the Author

Lauren Fontana, LCSW is a therapist and the Clinical Director at our Edison Park location. Lauren works with children, teens, families, adults. Lauren’s specialties include trauma, relationships, DBT, anxiety, behavioral issues, school issues, and mood disorders. If you are interested in working with Lauren, send an email today!