Everyone has fears and worries. That’s OK - they’re part of a normal human experience. Young people go through lots of changes as they grow, so it makes sense for them to feel this way sometimes.
If these worries begin to affect how they feel on a regular basis, they may need extra support. But there are some simple steps you can take to help. Start by building understanding: showing your child how to recognise anxious emotions, and how to manage them.
What causes anxious feelings?
Young people may feel anxious when there’s a big change or stressful event in their lives. Examples of this could be starting school, moving home, or exams.
There won’t always be a big event that triggers anxious feelings - how we feel is partly what happens and partly how we interpret situations. Our Blues Programme uses the ‘1 + 2 = 3’ method to help young people understand their emotions. It looks like this:
The image helps to illustrate the link between an event (the ‘trigger’), our thoughts, and our feelings.
If you try replacing a negative thought with a more positive one, your feelings about the trigger will change.
How do I know if my child feels anxious?
If your child has some anxious feelings, signs might include:
● Struggle with sleeping
● Muscle tension
● Inability to control fear or worry
● Poor concentration
Sometimes a young person who’s worried or fearful will behave in a way that’s stressful for parents or caregivers. This may seem like ‘attention-seeking’, but it’s important to remember that your child may be going through a difficult time and are in fact ‘care-seeking’.
How can I help my child with anxious feelings?
It’s a good idea to check in with your child pretty regularly to see how they’re feeling - both the good and the bad. Sometimes you’ll get a sense that everything is fine. If you feel that they could do with some help, try using the ideas below to explore anxious emotions.
Make time to talk and listen
Teenagers don’t always want to talk, and it’s important to respect their space. This definitely doesn’t mean there’s a problem. The best thing to do is to let them know you’re there if they need you.
Try to get into the habit of having chats about how things are going in general. Ask them how they’re feeling and let them say what they want to say. The more you talk and listen, you sooner your child will know they can come to you with problems.
Activity: a moment of calm (the palm pebble)
>> Useful if your child is feeling very anxious. Works well with pre-teens or early teens.
This activity can help a young person refocus their mind and feel calmer. Try the following:
● Find a small object that your child can fit in their hand. This could be any anything with an interesting texture (such as a pebble). Ask the young person to explore the object with their hands, feeling the bumps, grooves and rough areas.
● Ask them to tell you what they’re feeling, which bit they like or dislike. Ask them to describe it.
● The process helps to refocus the mind, slow breathing and reduce the stress hormone, cortisol. If your child finds the activity useful, they can use it as a ‘go to’ resource in times of worry.
Activity: how thoughts influence actions
>> Useful for building understanding of how we experience anxious feelings and how we react. Works well with any age.
The below helps explain how thoughts and feelings are connected to actions.
Here’s an example of how the three are connected:
1) Thoughts influence feelings
After studying hard but doing poorly on a test, a young person might think, “I’ll never succeed at anything.” This makes them feel bad about their abilities as a student, or worry about the future.
2) Feelings influence actions
They feel anxious about studying for the next exam, and dwell on their feelings. They then put off studying because they still feel discouraged about the last exam.
3) Actions influence thoughts
Their lack of studying for the next exam results in another poor grade. They think, “I don’t know why I even keep trying. It’s useless. I’m a failure.”
Download the exercise. Take some time to read through and reflect on how this links to your own experiences. Then use it to talk with your child about how negative thoughts can influence how we behave:
Speak to your child about how thoughts, feelings and actions are connected.
Ask them to remember how a recent event affected their thoughts.
Get them to think about how they acted as a result. What if they were to think differently about what happened?
Activity: ask questions to challenge anxious thoughts
>> Useful if your child already has some understanding of the connection between thoughts, feelings and actions. Works well with teenagers.
Anxious thoughts can feel overwhelming. But remembering that they’re not always rooted in reality can take away some of their strength. Get your child to work through these questions, with you or alone.
● What do I have to tell me that my anxious thoughts are true or not true?
● How many times have I felt this way before? What was the outcome afterwards?
● What’s the worse that could happen in this situation? If that did happen, how might I handle it? Would I still be OK?
● How much of my judgement is based on facts vs feelings?
Encourage your child to ask themselves these questions whenever they feel anxious or worried. It can help them see that feelings are not always an accurate reflection of what’s happening.