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Helping Your Teen Cope with an Anxiety Disorder

written by: Janelle Martel • edited by: Tania Cowling • updated: 8/2/2012

An anxiety disorder is categorized by an unusual amount of fear and worry. Many teens that suffer with anxiety also have physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomach aches. Luckily, anxiety is a treatable disorder and there are many ways to help your teen.

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    Understanding a Child's Feelings

    An anxiety disorder can bring up a number of emotions, including anger and depression. It is important for a parent to research anxiety disorders and to try and help understand where their child is coming from. Remember that for teens that suffer from anxiety, confronting something that makes them anxious is like conquering their worst fear. Allow your child to voice their concerns to you - remember to keep in mind that anxiety is irrational, which can make your child's feelings sound irrational. You may also encourage your child to keep a journal with their thoughts and feelings. Simply writing things down and acknowledging feelings can help relieve anxiety.

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    Maintain Routine

    People with anxiety disorders are often very sensitive to routine; a change in routine or a spur of the moment decision can bring up anxiety. Keeping a normal routine can help to stabilize anxious feelings. For example, keep meals on time, leave for school at the same time everyday and keep a window of time open for homework. Keeping meals on a regular schedule is important because not eating can cause lower blood sugar, which can create anxious feelings. If your teenager knows what to expect on a daily basis, then they will feel more prepared when facing the day. Also make sure to create a bedtime routine with your teen. People with anxiety often have a hard time unwinding before bed and falling asleep and a nightly routine can help to ease this.

    Assigning some responsibilities to your teen in which you are confident they will be successful can also help to boost their self-confidence on a regular basis. Taking care of the family pet or volunteering are examples.

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    Staying Calm

    As a parent, it is important to stay calm during your child's anxious moments. Your anxious teenager may constantly seek reassurance from you and ask questions to double and triple check. They may also need a parent to come with them to events that their peers may be fine at alone. As a parent of an anxious child, remaining calm when they are panicking and reassuring them when they ask for it may seem like a daily activity but it is vital because your child is relying on you as being a calm and rational figure. Eventually, as your child moves throughout treatment, this behavior may become less and less, however as the parent remaining calm is so important. Understandably, this can be difficult to achieve. It is important for parents of children with anxiety to take time to relax for themselves. Communicating with other parents who are experiencing the same thing can also be helpful.

    It is also important not to over-reassure. You want to help your child learn how to think things through on his/her own. When they look to you for reassurance, model your thinking pattern. With time, your teen should learn how to reassure themselves.

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    Reward Accomplishments

    A teen with anxiety may have trouble recognizing their accomplishments. This is because they often see themselves as different and may attribute a success for themselves to normal teenage behavior. However, it is clear that fighting anxiety and winning is a huge accomplishment. Help your child to recognize when they have been successful and celebrate successes, no matter how small they may seem. A reward can be as simple as spending time with parents or receiving encouraging words and a pat on the back! By recognizing your child's successes, this will help them feel proud of themselves and maintain motivation for fighting their fears.

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    Don't Punish Setbacks

    Setbacks are common in anxiety disorders, where successes are often achieved by taking two steps forward and one step back. It is important not to punish your child for these. They are probably beating themselves up over it anyways. Reassure them that setbacks are normal and take a look at their accomplishments. Encourage them to keep trying.

    This being said, don't avoid punishing your anxious teen when they have done something wrong. Make sure that your household rules - and the appropriate consequences - are clear. Having this structure is important in any family, and especially in one with an anxious teenager.

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    Modify Expectations

    Parenting a teen with anxiety can be a bit different from parenting a confident teen. For example, if your teenager doesn't do their homework, you may tell them that if they don't do it then they won't go to college. A teenager without anxiety may let this roll of their back or use it as motivation to do their homework, but for a child with anxiety this statement may cause stress and worry about whether they are smart enough to go to school. Therefore, it is necessary to adapt your approach to parenting your anxious teenager. Try to keep things on a more positive tone and adjust things when needed. If it is difficult for your child to go to school in the morning, then you may need to make sure they are up earlier and have more time to get prepared or plan things out the night before. It may take a bit of trial and error, but you will soon discover what works best for your child.