Let me tell you a tale about anxiety in a young lady called Jane.
Jane was having a bit of a stressful day (let’s call this Young Person Jane, they could be George or Thomas or Penelope, but I am kind of in a Jane day. So let Jane be my character in today’s life coaching for children session). Anyhow, as I was saying, Jane was experiencing some tricky times. Feelings of shyness, unease, irritability, worry or nervousness, all common signs of anxiety in teens; were always at the front of her mind.
In the beginning, her parents commented about it with curiosity. As time evolved, Jane became much better at deflecting, hiding or pretending nothing was happening. Well, this is why parenting classes should be made compulsory for every parent. Just kidding.
You might have noticed I haven’t said how old Jane was. It doesn’t really matter because what her experience will most likely apply to almost every child and young adult. what I want to do is use her experience to show how to help kids with anxiety.
Her parents were busy with their day’s activities. Work, managing other two kids, after school activities, homework and in between trying to have a bit of social life and some rest time.
Jane herself wasn’t sure what she was experiencing. She didn’t know why she was feeling this way, and she didn’t know what to do about it. So, she opted to ignore those feelings and pretend they didn’t exist.
Her parents started noticing something funny. She would become very animated and other days very shy and quiet, annoyed at small things. Her sleep was more or less okay. However, she was not sleeping as much as she used to. Jane’s parents were noticing the signs of anxiety in teens, such as irritability, lack of social interaction and sleeplessness. Unfortunately, they didn’t recognize this as anxiety but still wanted to help their daughter. Allow me to deviate a little. As a professional life coach for kids, I always tell parents never to play down any strange observation in their children.
So, conscious something might be going on, and they talked to her in this way:
· How are you doing?
Did you have fun in school today?
· How are things with Christina (her best friend?)
How are you getting on with your homework?
· Are you sure you are okay?
Jane’s parents were doing their best to communicate with their daughter
Communication is a critical parenting skill to have. Thankfully you can learn them from parenting classes. However, the most important skill to have is knowing how to help a child with anxiety.
Also, as is usually the case, Jane was doing her best to answer those questions. However, what she really wanted was to be left alone. She didn’t know what was going on with her and she clearly couldn’t express it. Every question was placing more responsibility on her. She didn’t know what’s going on. If everybody was asking, it means she should know. However, she didn’t, and that caused additional stress for her.
As things evolved, Jane became closed off and less open about her feelings. Her parents started getting upset and frustrated. Why wasn’t she talking to them? Clearly, something was going on. Was it exam nerves? friendships? Had she been in trouble? As you can imagine, the more upset and frustrated her parents became, the more Jane retreated into herself. I’ve previously spoken about this frustration loop when discussing good parenting skills.
As in my previous articles on life coaching for children, my goal is to provide a double-take on this approach. On one side, I have also brought my ten years of experience as a life coach for kids to share how I go about it.
Secondly, but most importantly, I have noticed how all the advice we can look online is about what we say to the children. However, there is nothing about what we, as parents, need to do about ourselves to help them.
It’s important to work on good parenting skills to help your child with anxiety.
And for that reason, I am going to answer the questions on how to help an anxious child in reverse order.
As a professional life coach for kids and a parent, I have this quote always present
“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or dehumanized.” (Haim Guinott)
Okay, I hear you. What do we do to help a child with anxiety, Javier?
You first build yourself as a foundation. You are the most important thing to help your child after all. The purpose of this article is to share with you my principles and ideas as a professional life coach for kids to help you be in the right frame of mind, so you can help your child. I call this, give yourself permission:
Permission to Chill out. you are doing okay! most parents that I see in parenting classes are taking things way too seriously. They are concerned with their children’s performance, happiness, social interactions…, everything. Let’s face it, if you are reading this article, you probably have your children’s best interest at heart, and you are doing, by and large, a good job (if you still have any doubt, please read my article on good parenting skills). I am aware this sounds simplistic, right? However, the more relaxed you are, the more comfortable your child will be.
Permission to give yourself a timeout. Rest, socialize, look after yourself. Yes, you heard me right: look after yourself. Most parents make their job a full-time dedication and forget to give themselves free time. Of course, I talk about exercising, going for a coffee or anything you can think about. But what I really mean is: give yourself time. Walk a couple of bus stops, take 10 minutes without your phone. Enjoy doing nothing and connect with yourself. This will provide you with a sense of grounding that will translate into calm when talking with your children. In this state, you will act as a better life coach for kids.
Permission to get it wrong. And you will get it wrong…. and it is okay. My parents got things wrong, and I think I turned out okay. I am getting things wrong, and I think my daughters are turning out okay. In fact, as a professional life coach for children, I know I will never get everything right, I will make mistakes, and that’s okay. The secret is to learn from them.
Permission to not know everything. Well, as with the point above, you don’t need to know everything. But, you can be an example of curiosity and learning towards your children. This is especially important when helping children deal with anxieties, you don’t need to know the answers or solutions, but you can work them out together. As a side point, today I have been educated in who Tom Holland is, the latest song from Shan Mendez and how makeup is not makeup but mascara… who knew?
Permission to raise my hand and ask for help and permission to ignore the advice. I am sure you are all thinking, “I do this already, and I am sure many of you do”. However, if you are not doing it, do it. There is a lot of great advice online, loads of great professionals and loads of caring friends and family. Also, don’t feel obliged to take what they say—unless, maybe they are helping you to discover more signs of anxiety in teens. If it makes sense and you feel you can do it, then great. If not, just thank them for their opinion and keep looking.
Permission to change. This is probably the hardest in my experience when it comes to how to help kids with anxiety. From time to time, we have to admit to ourselves that whatever we are doing, is not working. It is okay, as mentioned above, we don’t know everything, and it’s okay to get things wrong. Now it is time to change what we are doing. Change is good, imposing and unknown, but good. The moment you accept change, you embrace learning, the moment you embrace learning, you embrace solutions. I guess you know where this takes you: yes, eventually you will find whatever works for you and your child.
And now that you understand the importance of looking after yourself, you can start helping your Jane who is showing signs of anxiety in teens.
How do you help a child with anxieties?
Firstly, never brush those worries under the carpet. If something happens sporadically, just keep it in your mind. What you are looking for are patterns, signs of anxiety in teens. If they don’t happen again, park those insinuations in your mind. If you see a pattern of these common signs of anxiety, (disruption of sleep, less talkative, volatile behaviour avoiding situations, people or activities) then there is something going on.
Secondly, remember this behaviour is only a representation of what is happening inside their minds and hearts. No child wants to be aggressive, but they don’t know how to deal with stress—one of the first things I learned during my professional life coaching for children. If you judge the behaviour you are ignoring the emotion. We pass the behaviour and aim to connect with the emotions.
Thirdly, create the opportunities, as many as needed. Be conscious of your schedule and time and place. Aim to create moments of connection — just you and him/her with no rush. Maybe driving on the car, going for coffee, or sitting down on the bed. A lot of parents are busy, and the evening is not ideal because of tiredness. Weekends are a good choice. Those moments rarely happen by themselves, make them happen. Here, I suggest some parents need to take their parenting classes seriously.
Fourth, when you create those moments, listen more than talk. As a good friend says: we have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion. Many children will be afraid of sharing their feelings. This is because 1) they can’t articulate them 2) they don’t know what they are 3) they are afraid you might think less of them. Be confident of being silent, avoid proposing solutions. The main goal of this conversation is simply to allow them to express whatever is in their mind. If you fill-up the time, they will let you do so, and you’ll miss the opportunity. Considerate listening is a tremendous tool—especially for anyone that wants to act as life coach for kids in some capacity.
Fifth, never ever judge them in any way. Things like “don’t be silly” or “it’s not that important” won’t help. In fact, it might make them feel a bit worse as it is important to them. Whatever they share with you, respect it and honour it.
Sixth: how is that making you feel? This is the end goal, to eventually allow them to express the emotions they are holding back. If you are wondering how to help a child with anxiety, this is where you want to be. The fears such as I will fail, everybody will know I am thick, I won’t have a school to go, you might love me less, is what you will likely hear. In my experience, once we get to this point, we create the hardest part of the job.
Take this moment slowly. Allow time for tears, if they come. Let them express those emotions and release them. This stage is critical and only move to stage seven when you think they have expressed everything they need and are ready to start doing something about it.
Seventh: And now, what? Having a plan is having a possible solution. It doesn’t matter if it’s great, good, average or just okay. We can always change it. What is important is that they come with their own solutions. Younger kids will need more suggestions, but the key part is that they decide what they want to do. Taking ownership of the next steps is hugely empowering, which in turns massively helps the outcome.
I can imagine how many of you are thinking: I cannot do this, or it is too time-consuming. How do I know if I am on the right track? Maybe I will sleep on it for a bit. Perhaps your own anxiety is getting the better of you, and you feel discouraged.
Stay with me here! Take a few minutes and think about a meaningful conversation you had with your partner, great friend, or loving relative. Either talking about your worries, or theirs. Remember those conversations that left you feeling better. I am sure a lot of those seven steps I talked about above were present.
So, what I am saying is that this is nothing new for you. You have done it and, most likely, several times. Doing it to help a child with anxiety shouldn’t feel any different.
Suggested further reading.