My teen is having major anxiety around school. I feel like whatever I try just makes it worse. What can I do to help?

- User Submitted

Hi, this is Jenna with the Atlanta Center for Relational Healing and thank you for sending in this question about anxiety that is getting to be a debilitating. It can be so hard to know how to help our children when they are struggling in this way. And, know that you are not alone. Our kiddos have lots of anxiety producing experiences in their lives. Right now they’re in the middle of a pandemic, global warming, natural catastrophes, the election, schooling at home and schooling via Zoom. Our children are under tremendous stress and debilitating anxiety is unfortunately not uncommon.

As parents it can be so hard to know how to respond wisely. The good news is you have successfully discovered one thing that does not work-when you push against your child's anxiety it escalates. You have one terrific piece of insight there.

Pushing against it causes it to increase. And, if our desire is to get the anxiety to decrease then there's a couple of things that we can do. First of all we can do the reverse. Instead of pushing against it, we can actually welcome it. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but the anxiety is serving a function. Our best attempt to work with the anxiety to help it feel more relaxed is to actually get to know it. Really, being curious about when did this anxiety for start? What is the anxiety trying to tell you? What does the anxiety want you to know? Where did it first begin? And, what does it need from you right now?

These are terrific questions to begin to explore the anxiety that is a part of, but not all of, your child. And, to become curious about it. Developing that openness and that curiosity toward the anxiety rather than the push against and the almost sort of panicky concern about it, actually helps the anxiety to deescalate, and to feel acknowledged. Now, many of our young people when their anxiety becomes this debilitating are going to need some professional support. So, finding a therapist who works with adolescents, that's important, and specializes in anxiety disorders will also be important because your youngster probably is going to need some professional support. Perhaps, some psychiatric medication and anti-anxiety medication could be helpful, but that's certainly not a must.

The biggest concern is helping the child to feel loved and seen, even when the anxiety is present, even when the anxiety is shutting down the school work and understanding the function of the anxiety. Being an ally with your child, as opposed to against your child, with your child becoming curious about the anxiety. This is a wonderful way to maintain the relationship while focusing together as a team on the concern.

So, that's a beautiful shift that we can make as parents, rather than being polarized with our child and their symptoms becoming a team together with them, exploring with curiosity the symptom that is outside of the two of you as a team and working together to become curious about how you might be able to help it calm down. And, what are some other ways to achieve the same goals. Those types of conversations can be enormously productive.

So, I wish you well in that it's a challenging journey for sure know that you are not alone.

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Dr. Kevin Skinner