More and more children are being diagnosed as suffering from anxiety.
Some are more severe than others, but for each individual child, there are parents who can sometimes feel very lost in how to help and support their child through times like this.
One of the most anxious times for any parent can be having a teenager leave school early, no matter what the reason. Today we will explore ways to deal with your own feelings and supporting your child as best as you can.
What do we mean when we talk about anxiety?
- The first thing to say is that most of us feel anxious at different times in our lives. It is a natural emotion that anyone can experience especially if there is a significant event coming up.
- What we need to recognise is that anxiety is an emotion of the future. By that I mean, we worry about something turning out worse than we hoped.
- We can exaggerate how badly things are going to turn out and this causes a body reaction such as butterflies or sweating.
- We rarely imagine the event turning out unbelievably positive, yet there is as much chance of this happening as the worst case scenario happening.
- Teenagers are growing up in a world where there is so much focus on each person (selfies, social media etc) where validation and acceptance come from well outside the normal peer boundaries.
Teenagers seem to have so many different issues that can lead to feelings of anxiety, and this can be a massive worry for parents. Are there any ways that parents can help to reduce their child’s anxiety?
- There are many different models for working with people who are suffering from anxiety and for most people, we don’t want our kids popping pills. We would much rather they learn to deal with these anxieties and the causes for themselves.
- How many people do you know, got into a car to learn to drive, had an accident early in their driving career and never drove again. What happens is that an event takes place, that causes a person to think a certain way about their driving, which then causes an emotional reaction (fear, embarrassment etc), which leads to a physical feeling in the body (butterflies, making themselves sick) that impacts on behaviour (never driving again). Cognitive Behavioural Therapy believes that if you can change any one of these, there is a higher chance of success.
- You need to listen to your child, not only to what they are saying but to what they are feeling. Don’t dismiss their feelings by saying that the “bully won’t hit you today”. I was given a great analogy once, where it was described as your child, when they think of school, sees a huge tidal wave about to crash in around them. It’s important to get to the root of the issue.
- Ask your child how they might like to deal with the situation that is causing them anxiety, if they can begin to change that sense of hopelessness, they are in a much stronger position to overcome.
- Get them to practise mindfulness techniques where they focus on their body and breathing properly. When you are anxious, your breathing increases and your body goes into fight, flight or freeze mode. By teaching you child to control their breath, will help them to slow this process down.
- Enlist the help of a professional if it is so severe that it becomes debilitating.
Having a child leave school early is almost a worst case scenario for many parents. How can parents handle this situation?
- There are really a number of different elements here. Legally if you child is under 16 they need to be in school. Nearly all parents are well aware of this, but can still struggle to get their child back into education.
- Engage with your local Education Welfare Officer. They will be able to tell you all the available options for your child and will advocate on behalf of your child if they have been put out of one school and you’re struggling to find another school that will take your child.
- If your child is just refusing to go to school, you need to learn what the reasons are for this. You will most likely hear, “I just hate it” or “I hate a certain teacher” or “It bores me”, but is your child actually saying, “I’m struggling with the work” or “I don’t understand what the teacher is saying to me”. When children struggle in school, how they can deal with it in many cases, is through disruption or aggressive behaviour which distracts from them not understanding the content.
- There really is no point in asking your child “What do you want to do with your life”, you might as well be asking if they fancy a first class trip to the moon. Many teenagers live in the here and now and the future is not necessarily something they worry about.
- The main objective is to get them back into some form of education as quickly as possible. There are many non-traditional educational options available in most areas now, so take the time to find out what and where the options are, just in case another school won’t take them in.
- It’s also important for your child to not be left to sit around and sleep in. This will encourage them to stay up late and as the novelty of being out of school wears off, they can become restless and this is when they can gravitate towards groups of other young people who might encourage anti-social behaviour.
- Get them working with/for you or a relative where they have a purpose for each day. This may also make them realise that school wasn’t quite as bad as they thought.
- Try and talk to them about what the issues were in school that caused them to leave. You will probably be told that it was down to everyone else, but try and dig deeper with them.
- Come up with a plan together. They may be embarrassed at being put out of school, but this may show itself through angry and aggressive behaviour. Maintain the household boundaries but try and work with your child to reassure them that you will support them through this period.
- Keep your own emotions and disappointment in check. You might feel embarrassed and let down by your child. Its okay to let your child know you’re disappointed but let them know you’re not giving up on them.
- If your child just refuses to go to school, you may have to let natural consequences kick in where they have to get out and get working but it will be important not to facilitate them doing nothing.
Both of these issues can be very difficult for both parent and child. By exploring as many options as possible, you are letting your child know that you are there for them and will work through these issues with them. This can offer such reassurance to your child which can make the process that bit more bearable for both of you.
If you or your child require support around any of the issues discussed above, contact Allen on 086-8058404 or at email@example.com to arrange a personal appointment.