356: Parenting Anxious Kids and Teens: Advice from a Psychologist Mom// Dr. Terri Bacow

 

Parenting anxious kids can be stressful!

It’s hard to watch our kids struggle. If you have a child who worries a lot, avoids certain social situations, or even shows physical signs of panic when facing their fears, you might start to wonder, “Does my child have diagnosable anxiety? Or is this just part of growing up? And what am I supposed to do to help them?” 

This is a personal topic for me because I struggle with anxiety myself, and just in the last few months, my daughter has started to show some symptoms of anxiety. It’s hard for me to know how much of this is just normal development or if it is something to get more support for. As I said, parenting anxious kids can be stressful! 

If you’re like me, and these questions have ever come to mind, you will love my interview with Dr. Terri Bacow, a well-known expert in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). I was thrilled to have a true expert on this topic, and I want to get right into it. Dr. Terri introduced three takeaways that can help us parent anxious kids

 

Dr. Bacow’s Tips on Parenting Anxious Kids

 

1. Validate your child’s anxious feelings.

When your child or teen is anxious, they won’t be able to hear your advice or move past the moment unless their difficult emotions are first explicitly acknowledged. Remember, anxiety isn’t always logical, justifiable, or warranted, but it is ALWAYS understandable. Never say, “Just get over it!” or “Just calm down.” Instead, in a soothing tone, take your best guess at how they are feeling, and say, “I understand you are frightened right now” or “This is really hard right now.” 

This is fairly easy for me to do with my son. He responds well when I validate his feelings, but I’ve struggled more with my daughter. She seems more resistant to the validation. Dr. Terri gave me some good feedback when I asked for suggestions on validating my daughter’s feelings. She helped me see that sometimes, when I’m trying to validate, I use phrases like, “I’ve had hard days, too.” This makes it about me, and I need to keep my validation focused on her. Instead, I can say, “That sounds so hard.” I’m going to try this! One sure thing about parenting anxious kids is that it takes a lot of testing to see what kind of validation is most helpful for each specific child.

 

2. Model calm, brave behavior for your child. 

If your child’s big emotions trigger you, try to stay calm and sturdy, and do not reinforce your child’s anxiety with excessive attention. Dr. Terri tells us to put on our “poker face.” It’s important for our kids to see us modeling this calm state if we want them to calm down.  

So, if you yourself are scared of something, try to work on your “poker face” when parenting anxious kids. It’s totally fine to talk to your kids about how you are feeling. In fact, it’s really healthy for them to know that we experience fear and anxiety, but narrate to them what you are doing to cope with your anxieties. You can say things like, “I am feeling a fluttery feeling in my stomach right now because speaking in front of a crowd sometimes feels scary to me, but it’s important to me that I push through this. So I am going to take deep breaths and do it scared. I know I can do this.” 

 

3. Do Not Enable or Collude with Your Child’s Avoidance Behaviors. 

When parenting anxious kids, it can be tempting to allow them to avoid situations that make them uncomfortable, but this actually strengthens and reinforces the anxiety. This is the science behind the idea of exposure therapy. When we avoid the trigger, it feels better for a moment, but then the next time we’re exposed, it peaks even higher. Exposing leads to habituation, which means that something becomes less and less triggering. It’s important not to avoid it!

Instead, help your child gather the information they need to feel safer in the situation and then encourage them to do the hard thing with your support and encouragement. Remember that some kids will need scaffolding to build their tolerance for certain environments and situations, and that’s okay as long as we’re not enabling them to avoid the trigger altogether. 

 

One thing to remember when parenting anxious kids is if your child’s fear becomes persistent, obsessive, outsized, or disruptive to their functioning or the functioning of the family, please seek help from professionals. There is effective treatment for anxiety, and Dr. Bacow suggests Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as a place to start.

If you have an anxious kid, you’re not alone! There are so many resources out there to help. You’ve got this! 

>>>Are these tips from Dr. Terri Bacow on parenting anxious kids helpful? What would you add to the takeaways? What has helped you with your anxious kids? Tell us in the comments below!

To listen to the full episode, go to your favorite podcast platform or click the audio at the top of this page! 

To read the transcript for this episode, click here.

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About our Guest:

 

Dr. Terri Bacow is a well-known expert in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and the author of an incredible workbook for teens titled, Goodbye, Anxiety: A Guided Journal for Overcoming Worry. Dr. Bacow is a Brown University graduate and received her doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Boston University. There, Dr. Bacow trained under David Barlow at the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, widely known for assisting individuals with a range of anxiety and mood disorders. Dr. Bacow is currently seeing clients in person as well as via telehealth in her private practice in New York City. She is also the mother of two children.

 

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