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  • Writer's pictureAmy Dougley

Some Tips for Helping Your Teen Manage Anxiety

Educate Yourself and Your Teen about Anxiety

There are many websites and videos available that do a good job of explaining what anxiety is, how it shows up, and why it is so common among human beings. Fundamentally, anxiety is part of every human being- it can never be eradicated entirely, as it is an important part of our brain and body’s alarm system. Learning how anxiety works is another way to reduce its power over our behaviour. Seek out ways to share and discuss this information with your teenager.

Be Aware of How Your Emotions Impact Them

How we feel about our child’s struggles have a direct impact on how we respond to them, and in turn, how they respond to us. Keeping our own emotions in check when talking with our teenagers helps to keep the focus on supporting them vs our own feelings and makes it more likely your teen will talk with you about things. Our own reactions, or overreactions to what they share with us are usually the biggest obstacles in closing down communication with our teenagers.

Help them Set Consistent Routines and Take Care of Themselves

Model good self care and help your teen with establishing habits for their own physical and

mental health. Getting enough sleep, exercising, eating well, managing time and balancing

priorities are all important life skills for your teen. Also, normalize asking for help and needing

support as something that every person needs in life, and that managing anxiety, stress and

anger are all part of life.

Find things that your teenager enjoys doing and help them build in leisure, recreation, and fun into their lives.

Recognize How Anxiety Shows Up

Help you child become familiar with their own patterns of thinking and feeling, and where the

feeling shows up in their body. Encourage them to calm their body through deep breaths,

exercise, or movement (if they need to release energy), mindfulness (e.g.: focus on something you see, smell, hear, taste, touch). Remind them that anxiety is a normal part of life, and when intense, can make us feel overwhelmed. Model confidence in them that they can learn to live with anxiety and ways to lower its intensity and control it has in their lives.

Help Your Teen Challenge and Change Worried Thoughts

Encourage your child to reflect on their own thinking and how that impacts their mood and

behaviour. For example, encourage them to ask themselves, “is this thought helpful or hurtful to me?” and to ask, “Do I have evidence to believe this is true, or is it just a worried thought?” “Are these facts, or just feelings?”

When we have strong emotions, we often believe they must be true, because they feel so

intense. Gently challenge negative thoughts your teen may have about themselves or situations, recognizing that they are the ones that need to shift their own thinking in order to change the feelings. Encourage your child to care more about what they think vs. what others think of them.

Help them to put energy into thinking about their own identity, needs and goals and things they like about themselves and are proud of. Encourage positive self talk that reinforces your teen’s resilience.

Talk through things while they are happening to help override fear.

“My worry is not in control of me, I’m safe even though the worry makes me feel afraid”

Help Your Child Develop Flexible Thinking

Being anxious often leads to “all or nothing” thinking, which feeds the cycle of anxiety. Help your child to recognize that life is unpredictable and uncertain, and that we are not in control of many things around us. Build confidence in your teen’s capacity to learn to be more flexible, face their fears and get used to the feeling of anxiety. An example is getting into a cold pool- it takes some getting used to, but it does happen. Model flexibility in your own life so that they see how you respond in those situations.

“I can do this- I know that it will be worth it, and it will help me move toward what I want in the


“I’m willing to be uncomfortable and not know what will happen, because I know I’m safe”

Supporting Them in Developing Problem Solving Skills

Ask questions that encourage your teen to problem solve and seek the resources around them to figure out how to work through a situation or dilemma. These questions are communicating a strong message that you are not going to be doing the problem solving or brainstorming for them, that you believe that your teen can solve the problem and that you will be present and supportive. Ask questions like:

  • “What do you think you want to do?

  • “Have you ever been in a situation like this before?”

  • “How do you think he/she will respond?”

  • “Is there something else you can do?”

  • “What are your options in this situation?

  • “What can I help you with?”

It is so easy to tell our children what to do and how to handle a problem, but unless they go

through the experience, that skill won’t develop. It is like a muscle, you need to give it resistance to build its strength.

Validate Their Experiences

Parents often have a natural tendency to want to make things better, to fix things, and to give

teens positive feedback they need to feel better. Building the skills of resilience and managing difficult situations are life skills they will need to solve their own problems and ride the wave of anxiety that is part of living. Validating their experience while showing empathy conveys a message that we understand something may be hard for them, but we also believe in their capacity to manage hard things.

  • "I’m sorry. That sounds like that was a really rough day."

  • "That sounds like that was tough to handle."

  • "It sounds like you handled that situation well."

  • "I like the way you chose to handle that situation."

Build Confidence Through Genuine and Specific Feedback

Tell them how you feel about their efforts and be specific. For example, say things like:

  • "I can see how hard you are studying in advance for your math test. Do you feel like it

helped you to achieve your grade?”

  • “You must feel good about the friendship”

  • “I’m happy to see that you’ve been making time to complete your homework each night this week.”

  • “Your paper has a good number of supporting details and higher-level vocabulary. Nice writing.”

Share Your Positive Feelings and Love

Our teens, although they are moving toward young adulthood, also need to be validated as

people and as our children. Let them know how you feel by telling them:

  • “You are important to me.”

  • “I care about you.”

  • “You are loved/I love you.”

  • “You are enough.”

  • “You are creative.”

  • “You are funny.”

Encourage Self Acceptance and Identity Formulation

Help your teen accept themselves for who they are and help them reframe how they see anxiety as a part of them, but not their identity. For example, reframe anxiety as having a “sensitive internal alarm system” vs. a diagnosis. Explore who they are, what they love and what they enjoy doing. Teenagers with anxiety often feel different than their peers, and this has an impact on their self-esteem and well-being. Let your teen know that anxiety is common, and many successful people have it and have learned to manage it. If your child’s anxiety is impacting their functioning, help them to explore the benefits of counselling, medication, and other approaches with the support of the medical practitioner or counsellor that you are working with.

Getting help for our teens can be a double-edged sword: while seeking support can be helpful, your child may also code it as “something’s wrong with me.” Ensure that your teenager’s voice is part of the assessment and treatment process.

Christine Bibby, MSW, RSW Social Worker

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