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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Supporting a young person with anxiety

Te āwhina i tāku rangatahi mānawanawa

You can do a lot to help your anxious rangatahi (young person). Anxious rangatahi often have an anxious parent. If you also have anxiety, getting help for your own anxiety is a very important first step. It will help you teach your rangatahi to manage their anxiety in a healthy way.

It is important to understand how your rangatahi behaves when they are anxious. This is because different behaviours need different responses. Some rangatahi seek constant reassurance or show avoidance behaviour. You need to manage this differently than if they are angry and irritable. Some rangatahi will self-harm or even contemplate suicide. Whether they use drugs or alcohol can also change the approach needed.

Your rangatahi 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 rangatahi. It is common for parents to underestimate how anxious their rangatahi is.

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

Rangatahi 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.

Teaching your rangatahi coping strategies is very important. If your rangatahi 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. These can help rangatahi develop their own ways to cope with anxiety.

Rangatahi 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. They need fair and consistent consequences and boundaries. These tell your rangatahi 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. There is advice about alcohol on this page and drugs on this page.

Home balance

Getting the balance right at home is important for anxious rangatahi. 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:

Things that might make anxiety worse

Unfortunately, some rangatahi are exposed to violence, abuse or neglect. Anxiety can be the way they express their distress about this. If a rangatahi 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 rangatahi with specific problems:

Mindfulness and relaxation

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

Your rangatahi could also try box breathing to reduce anxiety.

Getting help for your rangatahi with anxiety

Talk to your general practice team first. Reassure your rangatahi that it is confidential, and they can go with you or on their own if they prefer. If necessary, your general practice team can arrange more specialised assessment and treatment.

There are many options for young people with anxiety, depression or other mental health concerns. These include online, app-based and in-person counselling support. See Getting help with mental health in teens & young adults.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed May 2023. Last updated January 2024.


Page reference: 643669

Review key: HIAXY-53690