Teaching Parents to Mindfully Process Anxiety with their Teen
Parents of teens or young adults often ask me to help their children conquer anxiety. Managing anxiety, worry, school refusal, or behavioral issues starts with parents being able to acknowledge, process, and work through their own anxiety in the moment. Although it can seem difficult, using mindfulness to check-in with our own feelings can help us to better soothe and process the anxiety of our teens.
Here are three skills I teach the parents who come into my office:
1. CHECK-IN WITH YOURSELF
Although it can be difficult not to react in the moment, one of the wisest things parents can do when their teen is feeling anxious is to take 5 seconds to check-in with how they are feeling. Just like babies, teens pick up on even the feelings you aren't vocalizing. Thus, before engaging with your teen take 5 seconds to ask yourself, "What am I feeling in this moment? Where do I feel this feeling in my body?" Then take another 5 seconds to calm your mind and body before speaking your teen. If your teen senses that you are calm and at peace within yourself they will feel safe, and you will have a solid foundation on which to begin your conversation.
2. TAKE A CURIOUS STANCE. DON'T FIX.
Once you have had a chance to feel calm within yourself it is time to check-in with your teen. Many parents fall into the trap of immediately trying to "fix" their teen's anxiety. Although this comes from a very good place within them, it often creates power struggles. Instead take a curious stance. Ask questions like, "Can you tell me what you are feeling right now? Tell me more about that? Do you feel anxiety any specific place in your body?"
Taking a curious stance does three things. It helps your teen to tune into their own process, develop their own solutions, and it positions you as their safe supporter rather than the "fixer."
3. SAY IT IN 10 WORDS OR LESS.
Sometimes you will feel that it's important to convey a specific message to your teen. Perhaps you are worried that some of their behaviors are hurtful or will put them in harms way. However, parents often make the mistake of spending long periods of time lecturing, explaining, or talking to their teens about the things they are worried about.
Instead, challenge yourself to convey your message in 10 words or less and come from a place of caring rather than a place of blame. For example, "I worry when you engage in self-harm," or, "Your grades show me that you need more support."