Expert advice on how to help anxious teenagers

by The Listener / 08 February, 2018
Photo/Getty Images

Photo/Getty Images

Child psychologist Emma Woodward's tips for those wanting to help anxious teenagers. 

Brain education

Explain to your child that everyone has a thinking brain – the prefrontal cortex – and an emotional brain – the amygdala – that tries to take over when we’re under stress.

Emphasise to your child that they are in charge: they don’t have to panic, run away or lash out just because their emotional brain wants them to.

It’s really empowering. Suddenly, you see kids realise for the first time that they’re in control of their thoughts and emotions … For kids who have been anxious for a long time, that’s quite a big shift.

When you see your child spiralling, tell them it seems like their emotional brain is taking over, and they need to stop and take a few deep breaths to get their thinking brain back online.

Reality check

Ask your child, on a scale of one to 10, how big this problem is, compared with others. How much do they feel they have control over it, or that they are to blame? How long is it going to last?

When you’ve named it, you’ve changed it and you don’t feel so anxious about it any more.

Build on strengths

Explicitly focus on what your child does well, and help them build on those strengths. Talk about their qualities of character – there’s a scientifically robust list and a free survey here – and prompt them to use those.

When my young son was upset that his toy car had broken, I asked him whether he thought he could use his strength of perseverance to put it back together again.

It reminded him that he’s got perseverance and he can keep going forward, rather than being overwhelmed by the fact that it went wrong.

You find that anxious kids have really good strengths in humility, love, honesty, kindness and social intelligence, but they need to learn how to dial up their strengths in leadership and bravery, perspective and judgment and curiosity.

Make cards naming the strengths your child needs to work on, and get them to pick one at random each day.

Say, “Today’s a bravery day. I want to see if you can point out five times today where you use your strength of bravery.”

This article was first published in the February 3, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.


101413 2019-01-20 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

Searching Great Barrier Island for the meaning of…

by Joanna Wane

Joanna Wane goes to Great Barrier Island in search of the answer to life, the universe and everything.

Read more
Australian classic Storm Boy gets a modern remake
101340 2019-01-19 00:00:00Z Movies

Australian classic Storm Boy gets a modern remake

by James Robins

The biggest beak in Oz screen history returns in a remake of a 1970s favourite.

Read more
Go South: The NZ travel show with no narration or score
101364 2019-01-19 00:00:00Z Television

Go South: The NZ travel show with no narration or…

by Russell Brown

New Zealand jumps on the captivating, if time-consuming, bandwagon of televising cross-country journeys.

Read more
The downsides of tiny houses
101357 2019-01-19 00:00:00Z Property

The downsides of tiny houses

by Megan Carras

Tiny houses look marvellous but have a dark side. Here are three things they don’t tell you on marketing blurb.

Read more
Scientists reveal the secrets to a restorative sleep
100946 2019-01-19 00:00:00Z Health

Scientists reveal the secrets to a restorative sle…

by Mark Broatch

A third of New Zealanders don’t get enough sleep and it’s killing us. Mark Broatch asks sleep scientists what we can do to get a good night’s slumber.

Read more
10 tips for getting a better night's sleep
100957 2019-01-19 00:00:00Z Health

10 tips for getting a better night's sleep

by The Listener

Don’t use the snooze button on your alarm clock. Alarms spike blood pressure and heart rate, and snooze buttons just repeat the shock.

Read more
Gone in 60 seconds: The hard lessons from the Cryptopia heist
101395 2019-01-18 14:38:51Z Tech

Gone in 60 seconds: The hard lessons from the Cryp…

by Peter Griffin

Time is of the essence in a bank heist, and in the digital world, cryptocurrency tokens can be transferred in a flash and converted to US dollars.

Read more
Escape the hustle and bustle of Queen St at new Auckland central eatery NEO
101383 2019-01-18 09:28:19Z Auckland Eats

Escape the hustle and bustle of Queen St at new Au…

by Alex Blackwood

NEO is a new all-day eatery overlooking Queen St.

Read more