Our youngest daughter has anxiety. She’s 13 now but has had anxiety since she was around 5 or 6 years old. We have no idea why she started having anxiety attacks. We have just learned to help her manage them.
Living with a young person with anxiety can have its challenges, but it can also be quite rewarding. The one crucial thing that we had to learn was that she didn’t need to be fixed. She wasn’t broken. Once we accepted that, life became a bit less stressful.
Table of Contents
Challenges of Living with a Teen with Anxiety
One of the biggest challenges I faced was seeing my baby girl panicking and upset and not knowing why she was panicking and not fixing it. As a parent, we want to help our children, if they have a problem we want to fix it. For me, this was the most complex challenge that I had ever faced.
I need to fix this!
No, I don’t need to fix this; she’s not broken. I had to change my mindset to help her. I did some research on children with anxiety and how to help them. There is so much out there to help people now.
In the old days, they were labeled as ‘worriers’ or ‘suffered with their nerves’ and given pills to take. Or worse, told to ‘snap out of it’, ‘shake it off there’s nothing to worry about’ and left to struggle on their own.
Thankfully, after a lot of research, I found some techniques for us to do together to help her manage her anxiety.
8 Useful Techniques To Help Your Child Cope with Anxiety
- It is upsetting seeing your child having an anxiety/panic attack – but you need to stay calm and try to get them to focus on you!
- For younger children, it often helps them to visualize the amygdala as a character and name it. My daughter had a warrior princess, and she used to tell her that ‘she’s got this you can back off’.
- Breathing techniques – breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth slowly and gently. Count from 1 to 5 breathing in and then count 1 to 5 breathing out. Don’t worry if you can’t get to 5 on the inhale or exhale. This will take practice. Practice doing this technique every day for around 5 minutes.
- Grounding technique – 5-4-3-2-1 This is where you ask the person to name 5 things that they can see, then 4 things that they can touch, 3 things that they can hear, then 2 things that they can smell, lastly 1 thing that they can taste—all the while taking slow, deep breaths.
- Muscle relaxing exercises. This is helpful if they are struggling to sleep. Lay beside them or near them and get them to lie on their back. Ask them to close their eyes and scrunch their toes up, get them to hold this for a count of 3, and release. Then ask them to tense their calf muscles for the count of 3 and release. Then the thigh muscles and work your way up the major muscle groups to their head. Include the jaw, cheek muscles, eyebrows, forehead, then ending with the scalp. These should all be done with the eyes closed and slow, calm breathing.
- Ask what they are thinking about or what they were thinking about. Then ask if they have dealt with a similar situation to this in the past. Ask them how they dealt with it. Then remind them that they survived this situation. Then ask them how they plan to deal with the upcoming stressful situation.
- Let your child know your plans, especially if it’s going on an outing or trip. Help them make a checklist of what will be needed, then work through the checklist with them. It reduces anxiety if they know what’s coming and they know that they are prepared for it.
- Meditation / mindfulness. There are many meditation and mindfulness apps out there for use, and lots of them are free. It’s important to set aside some quiet time.
Benefits of Living with a Teen with Anxiety
Living with someone with anxiety isn’t all stress. There are some real benefits too.
Being super organized
As we are used to making checklists for days out or holidays, it is now an ingrained habit. She has a checklist for things she has to do, pretty much daily. This means that she is super organized! And she can even help me remember things that I have to do.
She gets herself pre-organized for school every day. I may have to do a vocal checklist before she leaves for school in the morning, but that’s more for her reassurance than the risk of her forgetting something.
A lot of people don’t realize that her excellent organizational skills are part of her anxiety. She worries about not having everything she needs and getting into trouble or letting someone down. Not having the right equipment could result in a panic attack.
Being very tidy
Being surrounded by mess or untidiness really stresses her out. She needs to know where things are and have them quickly available.
She rarely loses her things and tends to know where everything is. Unless her older sister has decided to use or take something without asking her – unfortunately, this does happen more than she would like! But that’s older sisters for you!
Real quality time
This is a bit of a double-edged sword. I wish that she didn’t have to deal with her anxiety, but I have had to spend a lot of one-on-one time with her. Working with her to manage her anxiety, we have developed a lovely deep bond and enjoy being in each other’s company.
I also got my eldest daughter involved too. I wanted her to spend some quality time with us and give my youngest another person to help her. This had the bonus of giving my eldest a bit of responsibility, feeling important and not feeling left out.
Her anxiety causes her to work really hard at school. Her work has to be of a high standard, or she isn’t happy with it. She will work conscientiously and is quite detail orientated. Her teachers love her because they know that if they set her a task, she will give 100% with no fuss, then look for more work!
This one also has a downside, though. I have to make sure that she doesn’t burn herself out. I have to make sure that she takes breaks, goes outside, makes time for friends. I also remind her that no-one is perfect. You cannot give 100% effort 100% of the time, you’re only human. Her best is good enough for us and we are never disappointed in her work.
She is such a caring and considerate person. I don’t think I have ever met someone so young who is so thoughtful and empathic. She has always been like that. I have a sneaky suspicion that her anxiety stems from being so caring. She worries about everyone and everything because she cares about everyone and everything.
She always thinks about how her actions or words will affect others. And will quite often give up what she wants to do to make her sister or friends happy by doing what they want. This sometimes means that she’s left a bit disappointed because she hasn’t done what she wants, but at the same time is happy that her sister/friends are so glad.
This can cause her some upset because most young people don’t have her level of empathy yet. So they don’t consider her feelings or wants the way that she considers theirs. We have had many tears over this kind of thing. And I have to remind her that they are just not ‘there’ yet emotionally the way she is.
Like any parent, I worry about the future of my girls. I worry about them getting in with the ‘wrong crowd’. I worry that they are going to leave home sooner than I am ready for them to. I worry about them doing well at school and finding a career that they are passionate about. But one thing I don’t worry about too much is my youngest’s anxiety.
She has learned some excellent coping strategies. She knows how to reduce the chances of having an anxiety attack. She has developed some excellent habits to reduce her anxiety.
She is also used to talking her worries through with me, so she will come to me when she has a problem. So I hope that she will continue to do this. And my eldest has picked up some of these habits too.
I honestly wouldn’t change anything about her. She is such a caring, smart, talented young girl. Her anxiety is part of her and has contributed to the person that she is and is becoming.
I hope this article has helped you to realize that your child having anxiety is not necessarily the worst thing that can happen. There is a lot of help out there available to you. Anxiety does not have the stigma it used to, and schools often have counselors to help your child. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
For more help and support go to the National Institute of Mental Health.