Five Things To Say to Your Child or Teen When They Can’t Stop Worrying

Mental Health, Youth

A recent report shows that 39% of middle school students and 53% of high school students in Virginia are “not able to stop or control worrying.” Do you think your child or teen might be experiencing excessive anxiety or worrying? Here’s what you can say to help.

What To Say to Your Child or Teen When They Can’t Stop Worrying 

1. What’s on Your Mind?

Start by simply asking your child if they’ve been thinking about anything lately that’s causing them to worry. Ask them about the thoughts and feelings they’ve been having related to what’s going on in their life. If your child is younger and doesn’t yet really understand what anxiety is, you might ask them some guiding questions like:

  • Is something making you feel scared?
  • Does it take you a long time to fall asleep at night?
  • How is your body feeling? Do you have stomach aches or headaches often?
  • Do you have any problems paying attention in school?

2. It’s Ok, I Get Worried Sometimes Too 

Sometimes, the most helpful thing to do is to validate and normalize what your child is experiencing. Let them know that everyone gets worried sometimes, including you and the other adults in their life. If possible, share some specific worries you’ve had with them and how you were able to overcome them.

Related: Giving Real Help to a Loved One With Mental Illness

3. Feeling Anxious Is Normal and Healthy

Let your child know that anxiety is a completely normal and healthy part of being a person. Anxiety is our body’s way of letting us know that something might be wrong. It’s a natural alert system that keeps us safe in potential times of danger. This alert system has evolved over millions of years and even though we live a very different lifestyle today than our ancestors did, our bodies still keep us on high alert when something is worrying us. This isn’t a bad thing – we just have to learn to manage this anxiety so it doesn’t get out of control.

4. Which Thoughts Are Facts and Which Are Just Worries?

A common way to handle excessive anxiety or worrying is going through your thoughts and determining which are facts and which are just worries. This isn’t always easy, especially for teens and children, but you can help your child figure out which thoughts are potentially helpful and which ones are making things worse.

Tamar E. Chansky, PhD says to trade reassurance for questions. Even if you reassure your child over and over again, it might not stop the anxiety, especially in younger children. Yet, trading reassurance for questions will help you to help your child separate facts from worries. 

For example:

  • Instead of saying “Don’t worry” – say “What is your worry telling you? Do you really believe that?”
  • Instead of saying “There’s nothing to be afraid of” – say “What does the non-worry part of you think?”
  • Instead of saying “You’re fine” – say “Do you think that’s really true? Why or why not?”
  • Instead of saying “Look, your brother isn’t scared” – say “What do you think is most likely to happen?”

5. Do You Think It Would Help To Talk to Someone?

If your child or teen has been struggling with excessive worrying thoughts or anxiety for a while now and nothing seems to help, they may benefit from talking to a mental health professional. Let your child know that there’s nothing wrong with getting help for mental health struggles – that it’s just like going to the doctor when they’re sick. Also let them know that talking to someone about their thoughts and feelings can also be helpful when they’re not sick, but just want to stay healthy – like when they go to their doctor for their annual check-up.

Related: Virginia Teens & Suicide

Coping Mechanisms for Out-Of-Control Anxiety in Children and Teens

Sometimes, coping mechanisms can help out-of-control worrying in children and teens. Some coping mechanisms for anxiety include:

  • Meditation
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Journaling
  • Talk therapy
  • Taking action
  • Asking for help

Find Mental Health Help for Children and Teens in Region Five

If you live in the Greater Tidewater Hampton Roads Area of Virginia, also known as coastal, southeastern Virginia, you can always find help at Region Five.

Region Five is your primary point of entry for affordable and accessible public behavioral health services, including:

  • Mental health services for adults and youth
  • Substance abuse services for adults and youth
  • Developmental disability services for adults and youth

If you live in Region Five, make an appointment for same-day access to services at your local Region Five community services board.

If you live in another area of Virginia, find your local CSB here.

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