Paul: Vicki, we've had a lot of parents asking us how to help a teenager with anxiety. So, let's jump into that today. We've done a number of videos on our channel at Live On Purpose TV on YouTube about anxiety and what causes it. The short version, your brain loves you. It's true. Your brain does not want you to be in danger or to experience any kind of threat because well that wouldn't be good for your brain. So, it tries to take care of you. And the way that it does that is through the fight-or-flight response. This fight-or-flight response is what we subjectively experience as anxiety. It's where the feelings come from. This is a normal thing that your brain does. And it happens to everybody. Kids, teenagers, adults, everybody has this mechanism built-in. So, maybe the first thing is let's normalize the experience a little bit.
Vicki: Yeah. We need to open up the lines of communication with our teenager and help them see that this is pretty normal. There's a lot of people who are dealing with anxiety. A lot of the times people feel really isolated. I'm the only one that this is affecting”.
Vicki: Today, I had a 5th grader who was pulled out of school because of the anxiety has become too difficult to go to school right now.
Paul: You know, when they get to my office, usually mom or dad drags them in here, kicking and screaming. Anyway, when they get to my office, they feel weird. They feel a little crazy.
Vicki: And different than everybody else.
Paul: Everybody experiences anxiety.
Vicki: That's really key to help them understand that everybody has anxiety. They deal with it at some point or another. Now, the way that they may deal with it or may react to it is different. But help your teenagers see that it's normal to feel some anxiety at times.
Paul: There's a lot of things that you can do for self-care. In fact, we did a video about self-care for anxiety that you can find on the Parenting Playlist. We're trying to help normalize the experience but also I like to give people kind of the owner's manual to operate the equipment. We have this amazing brain that is functioning exactly as it's designed to do. When we understand how it works it puts us in a higher level of control and choice over that process.
Vicki: As I mentioned before, we really want to keep the lines of communication open with our teenagers. Remember, they really want to be heard. They are adults in blossom and they want to know that what they're going through and what they're thinking and feeling is validated and real. They want to know that you know it's real for them.
Paul: Vicki, what you're saying here is really key because developmentally speaking, this is a really important phase when teenagers are making a transition from childhood to adulthood. And they really want to be treated more like adults. You can facilitate this by keeping those lines of communication open and to have a high level conversation with them. I think for you to say, “Oh, yeah. I get it. Wow. So, that's what you're experiencing.” Show some empathy. Connect with them and then you'll be in a position where you can introduce some of these other resources.
Vicki: Sometimes you might have to introduce some new vocabulary to them to help them talk about what they're feeling. Talk about what's going on inside and help them put the words to it. If that's where they're at. If they're ready for that kind of coaching and helping.
Paul: You know, that's interesting that you mentioned that, Vicki. Because one of our friends John Skidmore is a psychologist who focuses on performance. He's just coming out with this new book which I'm excited to see. But John teaches that instead of the word “anxiety”… Now remember, this is in the context of performance anxiety. So, if your child is a dancer or in the band or performer of some kind, the word that he uses is “activated.”
Vicki: Okay. Explain that a little bit.
Paul: Yeah, isn't that interesting? Instead of labeling this feeling that I have as anxiety, which is a reason to not do something, I label it as activation which is the fuel to do something. And you'll feel this. Notice when you have something big coming up. Let's say that you have an interview at work or that you have to speak for a community group, or something's coming up, and you feel something, don't you? If you call that anxiety, you might be more likely to avoid that thing. What if we call it activation. So, your body is preparing you to do the thing that you're anticipating. As parents, we often want to give advice to our kids. With anxiety, there's a little bit of a dilemma here because they're already feeling activated. They're already feeling the energy and feelings that come with anxiety. And if you jump in and say, “Well honey, you really need to… Or you should..” What does that do to you when I say that? Do you notice that? It just gives you a little twinge of, “Argh! I'm behind I'm not doing what I should be doing. This person's trying to give me advice.”
Vicki: It increases that anxious feeling.
Paul: It can. So, we're going to caution you about giving advice unless it is specifically asked for. And you know what? This is a pretty good rule of parenting anyway because unsolicited advice is hardly ever heeded. So, let's just back up from the advice giving.
Vicki: Yeah. We're talking about opening communication and we're not going to advise. So, one of the things we're going to do is focus on the resilience of the child versus rescuing them or helping them get out of a situation. Find the places that they get stuck with something and point that out and maybe help them explore how they felt.
Paul: I love the way that you just put that. Resilience rather than rescuing. Look what rescuing does. Let's just chase that down the psychological rabbit hole for a minute, okay? When you rescue your child, what message are you sending?
Vicki: |I don't think you can handle it.”
Paul: “I don't think you can handle this.” Which is the core belief behind almost every fear. Dr. Susan Jeffers pointed this out in her book, “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.” I love that title. She also identified in the book this common belief that's at the root of every fear or anxiety. And that belief is “I can't handle it.”
Vicki: So, we don't want to be validating that idea in their heads. We want to talk about the resilience of the things that they have done either in the past or that they're doing even as they're going… You know, really there's just keeping going. There's going to be something in their day that they're doing that is resilient.
Paul: Yes. So, there's plenty of examples that you can build on. I love this topic because it's kind of a buzzword right now.
Vicki: Yeah. It is.
Paul: I apply for speaking engagements and things. A lot of times what they're looking for is helping their employees or their association members with resilience, because life is hard. Have you noticed? Even that begs a question. Hard compared to what? We're making a judgment about that. But really when hard things happen, one of the most adaptive skills that we can develop is resilience. The ability to just keep moving forward in the face of the challenges that are sure to come. Parenting is a challenge anyway. And when you add teenagers to the mix, that kind of changes the game, right?
We've got your back on this. We have put together this amazing group coaching program for parents. Where you want to start is in a discovery call. This is a free opportunity for you to have a breakthrough call with one of our certified coaches to explain the program to you. Go to www.drpauljenkins.com/breakthroughcall.