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Helping my teen with anxiety

You can do a lot to help your anxious teenager. Anxious young people often have an anxious parent. If you also have anxiety, getting help for your own anxiety is a very important first step. It'll help you teach your teen to manage their anxiety in a healthy way.

It’s important to understand how your teen behaves when they're anxious and that different behaviours need different responses. If they seek constant reassurance or show avoidance behaviour, you need to manage them differently than if they are angry and irritable. Some teenagers will self-harm or even contemplate suicide. Whether they use drugs or alcohol can also change the approach needed.

Teaching your teenager coping strategies is very important. If your teenager seeks constant reassurance, they need to learn how to soothe and reassure themselves. The Anxiety Disorders Association of British Columbia (AnxietyBC) has many tools and plans to help teenagers develop their own ways to cope with anxiety.

Teenagers who become angry, defiant, or show difficult behaviours need a different response. They need kind and consistent discipline, support and understanding. This is to address the anxiety at the heart of this behaviour. Fair and consistent consequences and boundaries tell your teenager that the world is generally a predictable place that makes sense. Giving them a comforting sense of where they fit in will reduce their anxiety. The Australian Raising Children Network has tips and tools for behaviour management.

If you are concerned about alcohol or drugs as a complicating factor you can seek further advice about alcohol on this page, or drugs on this page.

Home balance

Getting the balance right at home is important for anxious teenagers. Some of the basics of life might be out of balance and need adjusting.

These areas of life are important for young people to thrive:

Possible causes of anxiety

Your teen may be anxious about specific problems or events, or they may worry about many things. You may know about these problems and be trying to help, or you may not know how much these problems are affecting your teen. It's common for parents to underestimate how anxious their teenager is.

Problems could include bullying, the death or illness of a family member or pet, not having many friends at school or a teacher who doesn't understand your teen well. Other problems could include learning difficulties, long-term health issues, relationship difficulties or stress.

Teenagers are still learning the range of skills needed for coping with difficulties. They may not know how to explain their problems or how to ask for help.

Unfortunately, some teenagers are exposed to violence, abuse or neglect. Anxiety can be the way they express their distress about this. If a teenager or young person might be at risk of harm or in danger, contact Oranga Tamariki (Ministry for Children) on 0508‑326‑459.

These resources may help you help your teenager with specific problems that could be making them anxious:

Mindfulness and relaxation

If your teenager is struggling with anxiety, you could try mindfulness or guided meditation. This internet-based programme can help teenagers with anxiety.

Helplines

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On the next page: Getting help for my teen with anxiety

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Page created December 2019.

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