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.

Latest

Techweek: The mixed bag that is our fledgling gig economy
91500 2018-05-25 14:12:09Z Tech

Techweek: The mixed bag that is our fledgling gig …

by Peter Griffin

The gig economy isn’t yet proving a viable alternative for most people dreaming of being their own boss.

Read more
Be like Mike: Lessons the National Party could learn from Hosking
91478 2018-05-25 07:42:51Z Politics

Be like Mike: Lessons the National Party could lea…

by Graham Adams

Leaders of the National Party come and go, but Mike Hosking endures. Simon Bridges could learn from him.

Read more
M bovis will cost $1 billion - no matter what the solution is
91474 2018-05-25 07:03:24Z Environment

M bovis will cost $1 billion - no matter what the …

by Eric Frykberg

Wrangling over what to do about the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis is going down to the wire but whatever the solution, it's expected to cost $1b.

Read more
Ireland's abortion referendum:  what you need to know
91404 2018-05-25 00:00:00Z World

Ireland's abortion referendum: what you need to k…

by Claire Pierson

Ireland is holding a referendum later today that could dramatically change its stance on abortion. Here’s a rundown of what's happening and why.

Read more
The royal wedding proves there's 'nothing essentially white about Britishness'
91409 2018-05-25 00:00:00Z Television

The royal wedding proves there's 'nothing essentia…

by Diana Wichtel

There was pomp. There was circumstance. But the union of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was never going to be a royal wedding as usual.

Read more
How influential artist Michael Parekōwhai is transforming Te Papa
90618 2018-05-25 00:00:00Z Arts

How influential artist Michael Parekōwhai is trans…

by Anthony Byrt

In a rare interview, Michael Parekōwhai opens up about his work, the trauma of loss, and his new installation at Te Papa.

Read more
Top syrah wine picks from New Zealand and abroad
91336 2018-05-25 00:00:00Z Wine

Top syrah wine picks from New Zealand and abroad

by Michael Cooper

Syrah, one of the great grapes of the Rhône Valley, is at home Downunder and these wines prove it.

Read more
Paula Bennett kicked out of House as tempers flare between Speaker and National
91466 2018-05-24 16:32:18Z Politics

Paula Bennett kicked out of House as tempers flare…

by RNZ

There have been testy scenes at Parliament this afternoon during Question Time, with National's deputy leader thrown out of the House.

Read more