Hi and welcome! This post is for parents and caregivers of teens struggling with anxiety, who know they need extra help, and are looking into starting therapy. First of all, congratulations for taking that first step, making the call, and/or getting your teen into therapy. Hard part over right? No! Of course not, that would be too easy. The therapist will guide your teen and explore their anxiety and go over strategies to cope, however in my experience, that only goes as far as the parents can support. Parents’ participation in supporting their anxious teen is an important part of their long term success- something we can all agree is the main goal for getting your anxious teen some help. Once you get your teen to therapy, what are the things you as the parent need to know? While your child is the “Client,” their therapist will be open to helping you learn how to better connect and support your anxious teen. Here I go over 5 important questions to ask your child’s therapist about, so that you can best assist your teen in overcoming their anxiety and start living their best life.
- What is teen anxiety?
We have to start by really understanding what it is they are going through. Have your teen’s therapist clarify what anxiety is, if you’re unfamiliar. Your child’s therapist can explain the difference between general anxiety, social anxiety, and panic attacks so that you can better understand your child’s specific diagnosis. You can participate by filling the therapist in on what you have noticed, what seems to make it worse, what you have already tried, and how the anxiety is affecting your child.
- What in the world is going on in their brain?
Life was so much easier when parenting was all about cuddles and bedtime stories… Well these days, things are far from simple. Your teen’s therapist can help you understand developmental changes your child is experiencing, as well as explaining how anxiety affects their thought processes. This can help you practice some patience and understanding. Be aware that confidentiality is a big deal in therapy, so unless your child is at risk for some kind of harm, their therapist will keep their specific thoughts private. They can’t tell you your teens’ specific worries (without their permission), but they CAN help you understand how worried thoughts pop up and take over.
- What do I do with all the emotions??
Teens can be all over the place, and when you add anxiety to the wild ride of stress and hormones, it can get intense. Emotions play a significant role in teen anxiety, and therapists can work with your child on identifying their emotions in detail, and learning healthy ways to express them. Your teen’s therapist can let you know how to support them in this unique process. It could look like active listening, asking them to name their emotions, or buying a journal for them to use therapeutically. You might be encouraged to hang an “emotional wheel” in the house, or practice naming your own emotions and being thoughtful and intentional in how you respond to your own feelings.
- How do I help them deal?
Anxious thoughts are like ants coming in to spoil a picnic. Your teens therapist will teach them ways to squash them! They may learn a variety of strategies, like breathing exercises, meditation, or embracing hobbies like surfing or painting. YOur child may learn how to redirect their attention to more helpful thoughts- therapists have a whole arsenal of tools to show your teen how to conquer their anxiety. How can you participate? Ask your child’s therapist about the coping strategies they are currently working on so that you can encourage them to use them at home. Don’t try to coach them, just remind them of the specific tools they have in their toolbox. You can also try to practice them yourself so that your child can see what it looks like in action!
- How do I talk to them when they don’t listen??
Life with a teen is often full of yelling or awkward silences, and it can be so hard to figure out how to turn that into meaningful conversation. Your teen’s therapist is a pro, and will know all about effective communication strategies- it’s one of the first things I always go over in sessions! The therapist can teach you healthy communication skills to try using with your teen. That will help you to connect with them, and will also help you support them when they are trying new communication strategies out themselves. The therapist can also go over active listening skills for you to try, which might encourage your child to open up a little more.
By asking these 5 questions, your teen will see how much you care about their well-being, and how hard you are trying to understand and support them, and you’ll learn a lot of great things too! Don’t feel limited to the 5 questions, you can always add your own, or ask for more information and skills so that you can better help your teen overcome their anxiety. As I mentioned above, please be aware that their therapist cannot break their confidence without permission, so as nice as it might sound to have insider information, the content of their sessions are private (unless there is a safety concern, or unless your teen agrees to talking about specific things). It may feel like learning to ride a unicycle while juggling flaming torches, but with the right therapist by your side, you’ll find great support. You’re already doing a great job, by recognizing that your child is struggling with anxiety and needs professional help. Therapy is an excellent way for your teen to address their anxiety, and with your support, they can take everything they are learning and incorporate it at home to decrease their overwhelming worries and increase their joy.
If you haven’t booked a session for your teen yet, come check us out at Outside the Norm Counseling in Temecula, California.