5 Ways to Help Your Daughter Through Teen Depression

Depression, or Major Depressive Disorder as it’s diagnosed, is on the rise in teen girls. According to the Pew Research Center, teen depression for girls increased by 66% between 2007 and 2017, with 1 in 5 girls experiencing at least one depressive episode.

There hasn’t been a lot of published data for 2020 – 2021 yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this number continues to rise. The impacts of the pandemic have been hard on everyone, particularly teen girls. Teens are in this important developmental stage of pulling away from their parents to assert independence (a key transition for adulthood!). They turn towards their friends and peers as an all important source of connection and finding their identity. Recently, these have become trickier to navigate. Stack on top of that, rising stress and you have a recipe for disaster. But let’s not leave it on this grim note – I want to send a message of hope – there are things that you do that help your teen rise above depression. There are things she can do to bring more joy and meaning to her life. 

Photo by Mark Decile on Unsplash

If your teen daughter is experiencing low moods most of the time (including anger, irritation, sadness, and numbness), isn’t acting like herself, is pulling away or losing interest in activities she usually enjoys, is struggling to socialize, and/or having trouble sleeping (either over or under sleeping) she may be experiencing depression.

In my years of practice,  I have developed a program – The Happiness Pill Program –  specifically to help your daughter through her  depression. Oftentimes, teens wish they could simply take a pill and fix their depression, but this is often not a long-term solution. The Happiness Pill Program will give your teen daughter the skill sets to get through depression, and step into the joyful, confident person she wishes to be. You can check it out HERE.

And to get you started right away, to support your teen daughter to shift beyond depression, here are 5 tips that you can share with your teen by:

  • Learning about them
  • Modeling them
  • Inviting them to try these out for themselves 

Teen Depression Tip #1: The Power of Thought

Our thoughts are incredibly powerful. Give this a try (thank you Amira Alvarez for this exercise!) Imagine someone you love deeply. Picture them in your mind doing something that makes you smile. Notice what happens in your body when you really imagine this person doing that thing that brings you pure joy. What did you notice? My heart feels full and expansive and a smile paints itself on my face. But that person is not in front of me doing that thing. This is not happening in real time, I am simply using my thoughts to shift my emotional state and the sensations in my body. 

Helping your teen daughter recognize that she has the ability to overcome difficult moments and switch things around is an impactful tool to take away the power of depressive thoughts. Invite  your teen daughter to start simply noticing her thoughts and being curious. You’re not telling her what to do with any of her thoughts. Instead, you are simply getting her to start checking in with herself when thoughts pop in.

 “Is this thought serving me, or blocking me?”. You can help them start to tell the difference between a helpful thought – one that empowers them to be the confident person they want to be, and respond to things in the way they desire to – and a thought that blocks them. A blocking thought is one that isn’t serving them. 

“What can I do with this thought instead?”

One exercise you can offer to help with thoughts that don’t serve your teen daughter is a ‘mental vacation’. This is a tool to unhook from a thought that is leading to low emotions and turning into a negative spiral of thoughts. She can (you can do this too!)  picture herself somewhere peaceful and safe, it can be somewhere she’s been, wants to go, or somewhere completely imaginary. Next, she can take a few moments to really imagine what it would be like there, with all of her senses – what can she See? Hear? Feel? Smell? Taste? 

One easy way to shift gears and create a break for herself. 

Teen Depression Tip #2: Self-Care Assessment

Self-care might bring up the staple image of bubble baths, candles and soothing music. This is great if that’s your vibe. Self-care is in fact sooo much more than that. The way I think of it, is any action (small, medium, or large) that you take that is one step above just surviving. It may not take you

Photo by kevin laminto on Unsplash

into thriving and that’s ok! 

Help your daughter, by getting clear for yourself on what some of your self-care rituals are. Do you have an amazing lotion that you use? What about reading quietly for a few minutes after everyone’s in bed? Do you invest in therapy or coaching? How about going to the gym or go out with a friend from time to time. It’s for you to decide what self-care is and what is a level up from just getting by. 

You can encourage your daughter to be curious about how she is taking care of herself, to look at things from a different angle. Bring awareness to it, and then ask how it impacts her.

Body movement is an especially neglected one that I like to bring awareness to in my sessions with teen girls. It’s an integral part of overall health. Your daughter can check in with herself by asking things like, “How am I taking care of myself physically? What’s my sleep like? How is my tech use impacting my physical health?” The key here is not to tell her what to do, instead have her come to her own reflections on how physical health behaviors are positively or negatively impacting.  

From there what action (small, medium, large) can she take to make an adjustment. This gives her the power to choose what she does next.

Teen Depression Tip #3: Self-Compassion

Self-compassion is the ability to be kind to one’s self,  and you can help grow this skill.

Teen girls tend to be harder on themselves than others (aren’t we all?). I find asking teen girls to imagine what they would tell their best friend in the same situation a good start to lead into self-compassion. “If  your best friend were struggling in the same way you are, how would you help them? What would you say to them? What support would you offer them?”.  They can then turn that around to themselves and see in what ways their response is similar or different to how they would respond to someone they care about. 

For many of us, the way we respond to ourselves is V-E-R-Y different,  often a lot more negative, than how we respond to others. Instead of the kindness and empathy you might offer to your best friend, you are thinking things like – “Why can’t I get this? Everyone’s judging me. I’m a failure”. Your daughter is probably experiencing something pretty similar or even more intense.

When she is in the headspace of “I’m a failure, I can’t do this, I keep messing up”, etc. it can be really hard to take action and move forward. Bringing awareness to this opens up a space for your daughter to start treating herself a  little more kindly. 

Teen Depression Tip #4: Being in the Now

If your teen daughter is going through depression, her nervous system is feeling it too. She might experience detachment, or a numbness; where there is a  lack of feeling, sensation, and/or emotion. She could be feeling cut off from the world, from herself, and her environment; a loss of connection.

Helping your daughter connect to the present moment by using grounding and mindfulness techniques can help to rewire the nervous system to a place where she’s more relaxed and calm – so she can feel safe in her body and connect to self, others, and environment.

Here are a few ways you can help your daughter feel more grounded:

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

  • 5 Finger Breathing
  • Box Breathing
  • Slow down the breath with one hand on your chest or stomach while you breathe in and out 
  • Taking a breath in and humming as you breathe out
  • 54321 Senses Exercise (noticing what you can see, hear, feel, smell, taste, etc.)
  • Placing feet on the floor and really noticing the pressure and sensations of your feet being connected to the ground
  • Placing hands on the wall and applying pressure. Noticing what it feels like
  • Taking a walk and combining the 54321 exercise
  • Rubbing your palms together to create some heat and slowly noticing as they cool off
  • A little cold exposure like washing hands in cold water, splashing face gently with cold water, etc. 

Teen Depression Tip #5: Highlighting Uniqueness

Last, but certainly not least, highlighting your daughter’s strengths, qualities, skills, and resources is a wonderful way to help them realize what makes them unique. And further to that, start taking actions that move them in the direction of who they actually want to be and how they want to show up. 

What is it that makes your daughter, her?  What characteristics or skills does she have? Which does she want to develop? What’s important to her (her values)?

If there are things your teen values, but feels she isn’t stepping up  in the way she wants to, how can she get there?

Highlighting strengths, qualities, characteristics, uniqueness, values, etc.  is really important because it can help them see and step into who they want to be; their most confident selves.

I like to use the character strengths exercise with teens to help bring awareness to their strengths, how they are playing out right now,  and which ones they would like to grow. 

I sincerely hope these tools have given you a place to start! Don’t forget to check out The Happiness Pill Program – I designed it to support you AND your teen daughter through this journey. You can also download your FREE Anxiety & Depression Toolkit for Parents along with our mini webinars, all free and delivered straight to your inbox! Download your copy HERE.

Tool Kit

Email us with any questions, any time: info@pyramidpsychology.com

Love,

Chantal


portrait of Chantal outside in a fieldChantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

Keeping Teen Depression at Bay: 100 Ways to Boost Your Mood

If you are in Canada or anywhere in the Northern hemisphere, the change of season is in full swing – along with the increased likelihood of falling into depression. There are less daylight hours and gone are the freedoms of summer until next year. The stress of being back to school combined with the colder dark days hits hard for many teens.

This is not always the case, some of you might be welcoming the routine, knowing what to expect, and activities and things to keep you occupied. But if you have been finding yourself feeling a little more sad, irritated, angry, or stressed, or know you could easily slip into one of these, this article is for you.

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

Be sure to scroll to the bottom to get your printable version of the 100 ways to boost your mood and keep depression at bay.

Get your printable PDF here: 100 Ways to Boost Your Mood – for Teen Girls. 

The weather change and back to school routine are just some reasons you might be feeling low. Sometimes you might not even be totally aware of what’s leading to that down feeling, but you know how hard it is to get motivated to do anything. It can seem impossible to want to take action even if you know those things will make you feel better. 

When I get in a slump, it can be really hard to do my workouts even if I know in my brain how good I  will feel afterwards. I’ve come to learn that oftentimes the more I’m resisting doing something, the more I really need to be doing that thing.   

Photo by Daniil Kuželev on Unsplash

Things can quickly spiral into that bummed out dark place. Like if you’re feeling more and more tired, your emotions might feel like they are rollercoasting or flatlining into numbness. The idea of picking yourself up and doing something to change how you feel can truly be a challenge, even down to showering, eating, reaching out to a friend, doing something fun or active, etc. 

And even though it might seem like turning around the Titanic when it comes to boosting your mood when you’re feeling depressed, there’s a reason why it’s so important to take action to lift your spirits. Because what you do is what gets set into your habits and what you think is what gets patterned into your brain. The brain loves the path of least resistance, so if you constantly give it low, sad, depressed, unmotivated energy and motions, that’s going to be your brain’s go to and what it will want to continue.

On the other hand, the more you give yourself that boost – doing and trying things that lift your mood – the more your brain and body are going to want to do those things, bringing more joy, love, excitement and contentment into your life.

It doesn’t mean you’re not ever going to feel sad, crappy, or depressed sometimes. It doesn’t mean it’s not going to be hard to get up and do that thing. However, I have compiled a list of 100 things that can help boost your mood out of feelings of depression. You can use this as a quick reference guide to go back to…

Pick 3-4 to try each week or pick your top 10 and do those consistently over this month. I really hope you will see a positive difference in your life!

  1. Move your body for 20 minutes today
  2. Hang out with someone you like
  3. Help someone out
  4. Get some more sleep – try a 20 minute nap or go to bed earlier for the next couple nights
  5. Eat something that has mood enhancing properties – like berries, bananas, nuts, etc.  
  6. Listen to something funny- funny video, song, podcast
  7. Call someone who makes you laugh 
  8. Smile- fake it til you make it – science that says boost serotonin and dopamine (feel good endorphins)

    Photo by Omid Armin on Unsplash

  9. Think of something you are looking forward to in the next week/month/year
  10. Remember a happy memory
  11. Try a self-compassion exercise 
  12. Spend time cuddling with an animal
  13. Go for a drive and just take in sights
  14. Sign up for something new (class, webinar, activity, club at school, etc.)
  15. Volunteer – giving back makes us feel good.
  16. Dance
  17. Eat some chocolate – Go dark for this one.
  18. Create a bucket list or a list of things you’ve never done but would like to and choose one thing to go and do
  19. Go outdoors in nature
  20. Ask a friend to make plans for a future date
  21. Make a happy or mood lifting music playlist
  22. Take an amazing selfie
  23. Go back and do something that you used to enjoy when you were younger
  24. Go see a movie – preferably something inspiring or funny
  25. Read a book 
  26. Draw something
  27. Make art (paint, sculpting, collage, etc.)
  28. Call someone you haven’t spoken to in a long time (e.g. aunt, friend) and ask them about their day
  29. Write down some affirmations 
  30. Make your own list of mood boosting ideas
  31. Go shopping
  32. Put on your favourite outfit and go out
  33. Go to a party
  34. Organize or plan a party
  35. Play a sport
  36. Do something kind for someone else unexpectedly 
  37. Read poetry
  38. Write poetry
  39. Do something thrill seeking (e.g. roller coasters, mountain biking, ice climbing, cave diving, hot air balloon, etc.)
  40. Go to a pet store and pet the cutest furry fluffy critters you can find
  41. Write a letter to your future self
  42. Do a series of pushups, situps, squats and lunges for 90 seconds each
  43. Look in the mirror and say 3 nice things about yourself
  44. Get a spa treatment (e.g. massage, manicure, pedicure)
  45. Go to a laughter yoga class
  46. Go to a regular yoga class
  47. Do something a little extravagant (e.g. expensive dinner, rent a limo, wear something nice, splurge on something)
  48. Give/get a hug

    Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

  49. Snuggle a baby
  50. Play with a younger cousin/sibling
  51. Do something physically vigorous like a run or hike
  52. Offer yourself words of encouragement
  53. Go for ice cream or another delicious treat
  54. Give someone a compliment
  55. Make a list of things you’d things you like to do today and knock them off celebrating each one you get to
  56. Research your dream career
  57. Have a meal with people you enjoy
  58. Book a session with a therapist or teen life coach
  59. Play a game 
  60. Cook a nice meal
  61. Ask 3 people what they like about you
  62. Listen to inspiring videos
  63. Watch funny memes
  64. Make a video
  65. Set a 28 day challenge
  66. Go into a crystal shop and pick out one that speaks to you
  67. Journal your feelings, hopes, and dreams
  68. Use a mood tracking app everyday for the week
  69. Garden or do something that has you getting your hands dirty
  70. Read a book from your childhood
  71. Learn something new
  72. Run some stairs for 5 minutes
  73. Buy a inexpensive gift card to your favourite treat place and give it to the next person in line
  74. Start a gratitude journal/list 
  75. Download and start on an acts of kindness calendar
  76. Create a dance routine with a friend
  77. Write a song
  78. Make up the most outrageous touchdown celebration move
  79. Flip through a fashion magazine and snapshot your favourite outfits
  80. Find someone famous who looks like you 
  81. Check out this calendar to download all kinds of action calendars to boost happiness and download the app
  82. Watch a ted talk on happiness
  83. Clean out your closet or another space
  84. Show love to someone your care about
  85. Write a thank you letter to someone (you can send or not)
  86. Tackle a to do list
  87. Drink plenty of water

    Photo by quokkabottles on Unsplash

  88. Meditate
  89. Organize something
  90. Find, printout, write out quotes that you like and make them visible
  91. Scrapbook a favourite memory
  92. Sing
  93. Make a new friend
  94. Give something up 
  95. Try a new wellness app
  96. Play video games
  97. Write down a list of your strengths and qualities
  98. Create a vision board where you imagine your ideal self/ideal life- 
  99. Use mental vacation technique (imagine a favourite place- imaginary or real and take it in through all your senses – what you see, hear, feel, smell, and taste).
  100. Use your posture to boost confidence and mood.
Boost Your Mood

Love,
Chantal

 


portrait of Chantal outside in a fieldChantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

Panic Attacks – When Anxiety Makes It Hard to Breathe

Photo by Canva

I had my first panic attack as an adult, not as a teen –  and it was a very frightening experience. 

My heart was racing. It felt like my throat was closing; like I couldn’t breathe. My thoughts were all over the place. Not knowing what to do created more panic… Thankfully I had a wonderful support person who I was able to reach out to and she calmly stayed with me until it passed. I don’t even remember exactly what she said to me – something simple, in a calm, gentle tone.

Having a panic attack can be terrifying for your teen. They are stress and anxiety responses that spiral into a really intense physical response that can include a racing heart, quick/shallow/rapid breathing, shaking, nausea, racing thoughts, and feelings of doom (thinking they are having a heart attack or even dying).

Generally, panic attacks only last for a few minutes, with some lasting as long as 10 – 15 minutes. However, the intensity of the symptoms for your teen can make it feel like they are much longer – forever.

Panic attacks are hard on your teen emotionally, physically, and psychologically. And well hard on you as a parent, knowing your teen is paralyzed with fear in those moments. Let’s take a look at what causes them, how to work through them, and ways to prevent them.

Photo by Hailey Kean on Unsplash

What causes panic attacks?

There are some potential medical causes for panic attacks – stuff going on with your teen’s thyroid, respiratory disorders, etc. The Mayo Clinic lists some of the potential medical causes HERE. If your teen has experienced more than a couple panic attacks (they are happening regularly) or there is a sudden increase in the frequency, it’s important that they see a medical physician to consider underlying physical conditions .

If there are no medical reasons for your teen’s panic attack(s), the cause is often a response to anxious thoughts and stress. Your teen may have triggering events or circumstances that they find to be extremely stressful – such as crowded areas or school hallways, if social situations increase their anxiety. Triggers could also look like performance anxiety – when an important school test is coming up, or lots of assignments and deadlines, the overall anxiety can cause a panic attack as well. I’ve had teens I work with that respond to family arguments – continuous fighting – with panic attacks.

When panic attacks need further attention.

Some of the teens I work with have anticipatory panic about having another panic attack, which can ramp up into another panic attack. They worry about having a panic attack in a public space or somewhere they don’t feel safe, where they can’t get away or escape.

Others avoid situations and experiences with fear that they will have an anxiety attack – going to school,  social situations, things they used to enjoy doing, etc.

If your teen is avoiding these things, or fearing panic attacks in the future, looking into resources and support is definitely something you’ll want to look into. At Pyramid Psychology we offer therapy, as well as a coaching program designed specifically for anxiety. You can take a look at both HERE.

Panic disorders are good to be aware of as well – recognizing when your teen may be struggling beyond a reaction to anxious thoughts. Symptoms and descriptions of some panic orders are listed HERE. Seek support from a medical physician if you feel your teen may have a panic disorder.

How to support your teen during a panic attack.

Supporting your teen during a panic attack can be frightening for you, too.

Here are six strategies that may be helpful for your teen during a panic attack:

  1. Find a calm, quiet space. Not all teens will want to leave the space where they are, so you check in with your teen on what they would prefer if another panic attack occurs. Generally speaking, a change of environment is a good option. A safe space could be their bedroom, or if they’re at school, a zen room, or quiet spot in the counsellor’s office, etc.
  2. Tap into the five senses. Ask your teen to notice things around them, using their senses. What can they hear in the room? See? Hear? Etc.
  3. Breathing techniques. There are a few breathing exercises your teen can do the moment to slow their breathing, and pull their focus from the anxiety such as five finger breathing or box breathing. You can also ask your teen to put one of their hands on their chest and one on their abdomen – breathe in for four seconds if possible, hold, and breathe out for seven (physically slowing their breathing down).

It’s important to note that breathing techniques may be too hard for your teen at the peak of a panic attack. A good rule of thumb is to revert to the five senses exercise above, if breathing is triggering your teen further.

  1. Imagery. This is a strategy you’ll want to set up before the panic occurs. It is also called a mental vacation. Encourage your teen pick a favourite place, image, or memory that brings them calm and peace. They can imagine what space is like, what they are doing, seeing, hearing, etc. To feel the emotions of that place or memory. 

One of my mental vacation pictures is camping. I picture looking at the vast sky full of stars, hearing the fire crackling and smelling the marshmallows melting. I immediately go to a state of feeling calmer. To go to that mental vacation state your teen can come up with a keyword that can remind them of their place or memory – like repeating the word “camping” over and over during the panic attack, to help pull them through it.

  1. Support person. Having someone nearby for your teen, a person that can be a calm, consistent, relaxed presence can be helpful for them. This person might be a parent, sibling, friend at school, or other safe adult. Their role is just to be there, not to say too much – keep it simple things like “I’m here, you’re going to be okay, you’re safe”. Your teen’s support person can offer a glass of water. Or,  if touch feels safe and comfortable, they can have their hand on your teen’s shoulder or lap.
  2. Grounding. Not the bad kind that your teen hates. Grounding is doing things that help your teen be in the present moment- Stopping the spiral of panic. Small things can be done to help ground your teen – drinking a glass of water, they can try rubbing their knees, tapping their feet, alternating left and right. Counting is another strategy to try – counting backwards, or slowly counting to ten. 

Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

These acts will help your teen’s brain connect back to the thinking part of the brain (their prefrontal cortex) whereas in panic mode, their brain is completely hijacked by their emotions and survival mode.

It’s important to talk about these strategies with your teen, and try different ones. Every teen is different – and it’s important to find what works for them.

Reducing the chances of a panic attack.

There are things you can do – habits your teen can create – that can reduce the chances of a panic attack from occurring:

  • Limit the amount of stimulants – caffeine, drugs, alcohol (depressant with some stimulant effects), and nicotine in your teens system, as these things can contribute to panic attacks. Keeping things like vaping, cigarettes  etc. off the table as much as possible – with zero use being ideal.
  • Daily exercise and body movement is important for your teen. The release of endorphins is very beneficial and effective at reducing stress held in the body.
  • Relaxation techniques can be done on a regular basis (not just during a panic attack). Becoming a pro at practicing relaxation can go a long way to reducing the chances of a panic attack for your teen. Here are some techniques you can suggest to your teen:
    1. A little bit of yoga each day
    2. Stretching
    3. Taking a few moments to meditate
    4. Practicing calm breathing techniques.
    5. Laying down in their bed with no distractions. Just being.
    6. Progressive muscle relaxation
    7. Body scan from head to toe – what are they noticing in the different parts of their body?
  • Learning about panic attacks can bring clarity and understanding for both you and your teen; knowing what’s happening in the body.
  • Ensure your teen is connected to friends, family, support people etc. These relationships can reduce stress overall.
  • Sleep is a big one – make sure your teen is rested as much as possible. When your teen is not rested, it increases the chances of a panic attack. 

The Happiness Pill Program

As a teen life coach, I know it can take a lot out of you – and your teen – when they are experiencing intense responses to anxious thoughts, such as panic attacks. It can be exhausting, lonely, and frightening to see your teen so completely overwhelmed and stressed.

I created a 6-month coaching program for teens so they can not only survive the uncomfortable, difficult situations they experience with anxiety, but to thrive in their life. 

The parent component focuses on giving YOU the tools to navigate anxiety alongside your teen while building their resilience to create a life of joy and happiness! You have access to a community of parents like you and a place to gather tools and resources to ensure you are equipped with the very best for your teen.

Check out The Happiness Pill Program HERE. And when you’re ready to move your teen through anxiety and into joy, send us an email at info@pyramidpsychology.com

Love,

Chantal 

 


portrait of Chantal outside in a fieldChantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

Letting Your Teen Do That Hard Thing: 5 Ways to One Up Teen Anxiety

Parents often come to me asking for guidance with teen anxiety when their teen is facing an uncomfortable or challenging situation. Their teen suddenly wants to change class or stop doing an activity because they aren’t getting along with their peers, don’t enjoy the teacher, are falling behind or had something embarrassing happen etc.

In these situations, you then find yourself faced with a decision: ’do I help my teen fix this, or do I let them ride it out and face the challenge?’

Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

A while back, one of my kids was hanging out with a friend. They hit a car with their scooter. They freaked out and came back home. It was so obvious to me that something had happened.  Once we got the details, it was decided that they would go over to the house and let that person know what had happened. My kid felt so embarrassed and the thought of knocking on the door to admit the mistake and not knowing the outcome was super stressful. 

Part of me wanted to go with them, wanted to have the conversation for them, but I didn’t. It was hard not to step into rescue fix-it mode, my own anxiety flared up of what if the neighbour was rude to them, or judged my parenting decision. 

The desire to jump in and fix things for your teen may seem to be almost a reflex. Fixing the uncomfortable thing might feel like it’s setting your teen up for success, easing their anxiety and making things better. The thing is, oftentimes it isn’t what benefits them in the end. 

Allowing your teen to face challenging situations builds up their confidence and ability to figure things out- Read on to discover 5 Ways to One Up Teen Anxiety through the hard experiences.

In the end, the conversation with my neighbour went alright, and after a sigh of relief, my teen went on and had a great night with his friend….later on they even went back to the neighbors and brought over some cinnamon buns.  

Decreasing Teen Anxiety: Why Parents Want to Fix Hard Things

Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash

As a parent, wanting to help your teen out in tough situations is natural. Learning when your help is supporting your teen’s growth and development vs. when it might be stunting that growth can be helpful to understand.

Of course there will be times when it is really helpful to step in as a parent and support your teen through a difficult situation (which we’ll talk about later). However, a lot of development opportunities come from naturally riding out something that is difficult and going through it. You may even get a lot of resistance from your teen when you try to step in and ‘fix’ difficult situations.

But why is it so tempting to jump in and resolve the problem for your teen!? Why is there often such a strong instinct to  fix problems – ex: talk to the teacher when they’re behind, let them drop that sports class, etc.?

I sometimes hear from parents “I don’t want my teen to struggle. I don’t want them to have a rough time.” I get it. It’s hard to see another person suffer. In particular if it’s someone you love very dearly. Your role when your teen was younger was based largely on protecting them and helping when needed. It can sometimes be hard to loosen that role and allow your teen to make mistakes, mess up, and face something difficult.

“I just want my teen to be happy” is another reason parents share for why they want to ‘rescue’ their teen from emotional or difficult experiences.  And of course you want your teen to feel joy and to have positive experiences in their life! In fact, it is really important for them. Something to keep in mind, though, is the importance of feeling all the emotions (including happiness). There is a broad range of them – excitement, boredom, anger, sadness, love, etc. I think if we experience the range, there can be a deeper appreciation for certain feelings and a knowing that they can get through the tougher ones.

Avoiding a fight or protesting from your teen can be another reason to enter into rescue mode; you want to avoid the stress of the ‘teen tantrum’. It seems easier to simply solve the problem; it isn’t worth it to push your teen through difficult situations. As a parent, you simply don’t want to face the argument.

I know there are lots of times with my own teen where I think to myself ‘do I stand my ground here? Or do I just let it slide?’ It can sometimes be tempting to make the problem go away ASAP!

Being judged on parenting decisions is something parents often don’t talk about, but societal pressures around parenting exist. The layers of- What would other parents think of me if my teen fails this class or loses their job? I don’t do it that way, am I doing it wrong? What does that say about me if I force my kid to stay with a teacher they can’t stand? How will this reflect on my parenting? It’s very challenging as a parent to face these judgments. Sometimes these are conscious thoughts and other times it is more in the subtext of how we parent. 

How Often Are You Rescuing From Teen Anxiety?

Photo by Max on Unsplash

If you often find yourself rescuing your teen – doing things like letting them drop their sports, cleaning up after them continuously, talking to their teachers when they struggle, bringing them a project they forgot, etc. – consider the message that sends. 

Sometimes, the message your teen takes in when they are being rescued (although unintentionally) is that they aren’t capable. They truly believe they can’t handle things; that they need someone else to do it for them.

By allowing teens to do their own thing instead, you’re giving them a different message – “you can handle difficult experiences, you’re resourceful, you can face hard situations.” And these are messages that you most likely want your teen to be carrying.

What kind of lessons are you teaching your teen around their capacity to handle hard things? Their ability to face challenges?

One Up Your Teen’s Anxiety – Make the Most of Difficult Situations

You can use conflict and undesirable situations as a way to help your teen build their capacity to handle them, build resilience, and manage their anxiety.

Here are 5 things you can do to support your teen’s growth through hard things:

  1. Allow your teen to make as many choices and decisions as possible – inside and outside the home.

Some areas for decision making:

Photo by Creative Christians on Unsplash

  • Making their school lunches 
  • Organizing their study schedule
  • Choice around clothes and fashion
  • Plan their own routines (e.g. bedtime)
  • Selecting their hobbies
  • Negotiating responsibilities and contributions in the house
  • Choosing a family activity 

You can give suggestions and guidance – but let them do the deciding. As they get older, you increase choice making opportunities. The more comfortable they get with choice making, the more confidence and resilience they build. They will have more experiences that send the message: “I can make decisions, and no matter what the outcome is I can handle it.”

Your teen may choose an outfit that someone at school comments on. Or maybe they’ll pack a lunch that is too small and come home hungry.

They will be okay. And they will learn about themselves and others from those experiences.

  1. Let your teen ride out the consequences

You don’t want your teen to fail everything of course, or to act like you don’t care what they do. Experiencing natural consequences is a way to build their resilience, so when things don’t go well or there is a negative experience they know they will be okay. They will know from experience that they can learn from mistakes and glean a lesson next time.

Let’s say they break their phone because of what you consider negligent behaviour (aka it finds itself underneath the dirty laundry piled on their bed and gets knocked off during a frantic phone search and rescue mission….just saying it could happen). The hard thing: they have to

Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

earn the money to fix it and go without in the interim. 

As a parent you can use natural consequences as an opportunity to reflect with your teen – here are some questions to consider:

  • What can they do differently next time? 
  • What are the expectations around the situation going forward? 
  • How can they handle a similar situation in the future?
  • What did they learn about themselves that might help them in the future? 
  • When might they need a little help?
  1. Find the areas where your teen shines and get them to do it as often as possible. If they enjoy sports or art, encourage them to join community activities. Or they have a passion for something, consider volunteering opportunities. Or maybe, your teen is drawn to social issues, get them to organize a rally or do something at their school. 

Having your teen dial into opportunities to highlight their strengths and develop new skills will build their confidence. Then, when things come up that they struggle with, it’ll be that much easier to tackle it.

  1. Let them know about your own failures. This is a really important piece of parenting when it comes to building resilience. Share with your teen times when you faced challenging things, did things outside of your comfort zone, failed, or made mistakes. Tell them what you did to get through it and what you learned. It’s good for your teen to see that you’ve messed up and survived.
  2. Challenge your teen to do something that scares them every day. I’ve known a few people to use this as a daily practice and it can be hard at first, and then transforms into something creative and kind of fun! 

Challenging yourself to do something that scares you every day, builds that belief that “I can do hard things!”. It also minimizes the acuity of anxiety, by creating new patterns in the brain that look a little less like: I feel anxiety- I can’t handle it- I avoid the situation or default it to someone else to handle it AND a lot more like: I feel anxiety- I take action- I can handle it- I keep doing things that I want and know I am capable.

They can truly start to see that most often, regardless of the outcome, they’ll be okay. It doesn’t have to be a huge scary thing – it can be things like talking to someone next to them, wearing something eccentric or fun, trying out for the volleyball team, etc.

When to Step In

If your teen is at risk of being seriously hurt – bullying, threats (physical, emotional, psychological), or harassment of any sort, you certainly want to step in. There will be times like this when parent support will be absolutely necessary.

If none of these serious things are on the table, then step back and allow your teen to figure things out on their own. You can let them know you’re there to talk to, validate their feelings, answer questions, or provide some guidance.

The Happiness Pill Program

As a teen life coach, I know it can take a lot of practice as parents to support your teen through their anxiety. A lot of questions and concerns come up along the way. It can be a heartbreaking, lonely journey to see your teen lose their confidence, motivation, and joy as anxiety ramps up. The urge to continue fixing it for them can be strong!

I created a 6-month coaching program for teens so they can not only survive the uncomfortable, difficult situations they experience with anxiety, but to thrive in their life. 

The parent component focuses on giving YOU the tools to navigate anxiety alongside your teen while building their resilience to create a life of joy and happiness! You have access to a community of parents like you and a place to gather tools and resources to ensure you are equipped with the very best for your teen.

Check out The Happiness Pill Program here. And when you’re ready to move your teen through anxiety and into joy, send us an email at info@pyramidpsychology.com


portrait of Chantal outside in a fieldChantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

How Control Can Help Your Anxious Teen

I was listening to a podcast this week and they were talking about choice and control being such an important part in helping your anxious teen manage their anxiety. And it really is!

… Technically, control is an illusion; there is very little we can truly control. But, before I send you running into despair with that thought, let me tell you how you can help your teen (and yourself) learn how to manage that aspect of their mind – and create their own sense of control.

girl in orange sweater sitting behind a couch

Photo by Joice Kelly on Unsplash

What is control for your anxious teen?

Having a sense of control for your teen is a big deal. It’s about having agency – choices, decision making power, actions, plans, etc. Such as things they truly have some say about.

Ever had your teen pushback when it comes to helping out around the house because you’ve “forced” them to do something they don’t like or feel like doing? If you’ve found yourself cleverly giving them options, like the time they complete the chore or which responsibility they’d like to take on, you might have noticed that resistance just fade away. Because, as soon as your brain sees choices and options, it reduces stress and anxiety around a circumstance. It also provides a sense of safety, knowing there is an action you can take- something to be done about it.

Think of when your teen is preparing for a presentation. There will be some things that aren’t in their control – their teacher’s expectations, parameters around the project rules, due date, etc.

Thus, encouraging agency and control for your anxious teen is about helping them see where they can control things… What are the elements of choice with their presentation? – the theme, who they can work with (if the teacher allows this), the time and effort they put in, the type of project delivery (creative, visual, digital), etc.

So, if your teen is experiencing social anxiety, worrying about being judged, or not liked, they can look at it like this: What is within their control? What situations they put themselves in? How they might respond? Or how often they want to challenge themselves, their perspective, their attitude, etc.

How is control related to your anxious teen?

young teen girl covering her face

Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

Anxiety happens when your teen believes their capacity to handle a situation is far smaller than the issue itself. It Minimizes your teen’s belief that they can handle difficult situations or the unknowns –  “I can’t handle meeting a new person” … “I can’t handle getting a bad grade”, etc.

Anxiety lives in the future, meaning a lot of the thoughts your teen has are thoughts and feelings about things that haven’t even happened yet. So it instills the uncertainty and “what ifs”. 

Therefore, creating control for your teen – showing them they have choice – is so important to counteract some of the effects of the anxious brain. If your teen has agency (choice, decision-making, actions, etc.) over their life it gives them a sense of control, which minimizes their anxiety. It reinforces the concept of, “this is my life and I can do something about this”.

Strategies for Control.

Hula Hoop

girl with hula hoop and explanations around her.

Photo from Canva

The Hula Hoop is an exercise for your anxious teen to see the control and choice they have.

Ask your teen to imagine a hula hoop all around them. Everything within the circle of the hula hoop are the things within their control; things they can change, take action on, etc. The things on the outside of your teen’s hula hoop are things they have very little influence or control over.

The more energy, time, thought and effort your teen puts into things on the outside of their hoop – the things they have little to no control over – the more it feeds the machine of their anxiety.

It is more effective for your teen to concentrate on what’s in their hula hoop – the things they have a say over, actions they can take, choices they can make, etc.

Because, mapping out a specific situation is something I often ask the teens I work with to do. I will ask them to draw an inner and outer circle and write out the things they feel are in and out of their control. It is a visual that often surprises teens. Teens will say things like “I didn’t see the things in my control”, “I didn’t realize how much I was overthinking on the things  I don’t have control over”, etc.

Thus, the  “I” or “my” stuff… I can control my thoughts – which thoughts I pay attention to- my opinions- my behaviours- these find themselves within the hula hoop. I get to choose my actions – what I am going to do (or not do) about this. I get to choose my attitude – which perspective or mindset am I going to have? My perspective. My opinion. Etc.

The stuff on the outside of the hula hoop is “other people stuff” – things others are doing that we can’t control. And then of course the usual things we have no say over – the weather, traffic, etc.

One thing that may come up for your teen is “I can’t control my feelings”. And yes, it’s true… Your teen can’t control feelings that bubble up for them. However, there is definitely a choice and say in terms of how they are going to react and respond to their feelings. They can choose what to do with them.

Is This True?

dark haired girl lying down on the grass

Photo by SHINE TANG on Unsplash

Encourage your teen to take a moment and think about the truth behind their anxious thoughts. Guide them to find the truth behind the things their anxious brain is telling them.

So, your teen can ask themselves: “how true is this thing? What is the evidence of this thing you’re afraid of/anxious about? What’s the likelihood that this will actually happen?” Invite  your teen to ask themselves these questions to challenge the anxious brain a little bit.

You can also ask how your teen can respond to the situation. What can they do about it if the fear comes up?

Some of the anxious thoughts your teen may have are considered ‘Thinking Traps’ – thoughts that play tricks on them, bend the truth, or alter reality. You can get an in-depth understanding of these different types of thoughts – and what to do about it – with my blog article ‘Thought Distortions: You Have the Power to Choose Happiness

FEAR Acronym

The FEAR stands for False Evidence (and sometimes Emotions) Appearing Real. You can use it to remind your teen  that the anxious part of their brain has all kinds of things to say, and some of the time (a LOT of the time) those  fears are based in uncertainty. They are things that have a very small likelihood of happening. Or, if they do happen, are things your teen can do or say something about. 

Brian Clark wrote a great blog article on fear and anxiety using this acronym. You can read it here.

So, in addition to these tools, you can also find opportunities to build your teen’s sense of control, choice, autonomy, and agency.

Inspirit their capacity to handle stuff through small choices every day.  Allow them to make decisions around chores, organizing their homework, choices with friendship issues, contributing to the family, etc. Encourage them even if it ends up being a non desirable outcome . Because this shows them that they can make a mistake and still be okay. It builds resilience and helps them grab onto the belief that they are in control with decisions in their life.

So, the older your teen is the more you want to get them to do this. Thus, this is a great strand of development that’s so necessary for our kids, and reduces their anxiety.

The Happiness Pill Programthe happiness pill logo

Anxiety is hard on your teen (and can be for you too). It takes away energy and motivation, stops them from enjoying friends, family, activities, etc. As a parent, it can make you feel helpless.

I developed The Happiness Pill Program – a 6-month coaching program – to give both you and your teen hope. It gets your teen from a place of stress and anxiety to a place of contentment, motivation, and confidence.

We start by mapping out what your teen desires their life to look like, and how to get there – including communication with you. Then, we practice creating agency and control with weekly calls, for both you and your teen.

The Happiness Pill Program is a community of parents and teens going through the same thing as you!

Read all about it here. Email info@pyramidpsychology.com to register or ask any questions.

 


portrait of Chantal outside in a fieldChantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

Back to School Anxiety: Coping Skills for Your Teen

If you’re noticing your teen is a little edgy lately or seems less than keen to talk about school they may be struggling with ‘back to school anxiety’. The usual pre-jitters and mix of excitement and nervousness of going back to school could be prompting thoughts like these for your teen:

  • Who will I be in class with?
  • What if I get that teacher again?
  • I can’t wait to see my friends again!
  • I hope I will get good grades.

On top of this, teens have spent  the last year and half contending with  alternative forms of schooling in response to the pandemic – online, on and off in-person (with masks, shutdown sports, etc.), hybrid between online and in-person, etc. For some teens, this adds an extra layer of worry.

Photo by Matt Ragland on Unsplash

If your teen spent the last year learning online , they may be wondering what it will be like to go back to school like “normal”. They may be thinking,  “Do I even want to go back in person??”

This year may be especially hard for teens if they struggle with social anxiety and enjoyed the online aspect of schooling. On top of the regular ‘back to school’ worries, your teen may  be thinking:

  • What if it’s really hard?
  • What if I’m behind?
  • What if it’s weird to not be wearing a mask?
  • What if we have to wear masks again?
  • What if things shutdown again? 
  • What if they do cohorts again and my friends aren’t in the same class as me?
  • What if I don’t like it?

Sometimes teens don’t have an exact grasp on the specific thoughts but their worries  manifest physically. You might notice complaints of physical symptoms like headaches, stomach aches, general flu like symptoms with no illness related causes, etc. You may also notice changes in behaviours – more irritability, sleep disruptions, etc. 

Worries about going back to school – especially this year – are to be expected. But that doesn’t mean your teen has to white knuckle through it. 

Here are five anxiety coping strategies you can implement to help your teen transition back to class as smoothly as possible:

Anxiety Coping Skill #1

Breathing can be a secret weapon for your teen. Dialling into their breathing can help activate their rest and relax system (parasympathetic nervous system). This sets off a domino effect of calming. 

Photo by Lutchenca Medeiros on Unsplash

There are various breathing techniques you can try. Sheryl Ankrom, MS, LCPC shares eight different breathing exercises you can try here. Square breathing, or 4×4 breathing is one I find works well, and can be done anywhere anytime – including on the way to the school, in the hallways, and even in class. The Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto shares a really great video on how to do this exercise here.

Whichever exercise your teen chooses, I recommend going through it at least 4 times to allow their nervous system to catch up.

Breathing exercises aren’t for everyone. If your teen can’t focus on their breathing, or doesn’t enjoy it – try having them focus on some of their other senses. Here are a few ways they can do that:

  • Look around the room and (in their mind) name objects they can see
  • Pick a colour and try and spot it as much as possible
  • Listen for sounds near or far
  • Name one thing from all 5 senses – something they can see, hear, smell, feel and taste

The key is to bring awareness to the present moment and be less hyper focused on the anxiety.s.

Anxiety Coping Skill #2 

We all have objects in our lives that immediately bring comfort. They serve as relaxation prompts. It can be helpful for your teen to have an object like this with them as they begin the new school year. Here are some ideas, or things I have seen work well:

  • Favourite piece of jewelry

    Photo by Firmbee.com on Unsplash

  • Extra comfy sweater
  • Stone/crystal around their neck, or tucked in their bag
  • A note/quote/message on their phone
  • Putty
  • Favourite playlist on their phone (if permitted)
  • Doodle a small heart on a knuckle
  • Fidget ring around their finger

Having something that reminds your teen of comfort and calm will cause their brain to put out some chill alpha waves.

Anxiety Coping Skill # 3

Photo by Rosie Sun on Unsplash

Encourage your teen to find at least one person they can rely on that has got their back – a coping buddy. They can have more than one of course! It might be a teacher, guidance counsellor, friend, sibling, etc. Someone they can seek out and connect with when needed. This person can provide a nice distraction, or some comfort.

If your teen really can’t think of anyone that is accessible at  school, see if you can find someone remote who can be available for a call or text during an anxious moment – you, their auntie, etc.

 

Anxiety Coping Skill # 4

Use the F.E.A.R. technique. This stands for False Evidence (or Emotions) Appearing Real.

Anxiety can trick your teen’s mind to make them believe they are small and incapable in the face of the problem or thing they fear. The F.E.A.R technique is a way to bring balance in the other direction – with anxiety being small and your teen being big and capable.

Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash

Step One: Identify the worry (fear) – e.g. ‘I’m worried that I won’t be in the same class as any of my friends.”

Step Two: Dig deeper – what would happen if your friends weren’t in your class? What’s anxiety telling you? – e.g. ‘I will have no one to talk to all year. I will be lonely.’

Step Three: Flip it around – what could you do if your friends aren’t in your class? How could you respond? How could you solve this? – e.g. ‘Could be a total loner and not talk to anyone all year, 

I guess I could make new friends, I could find my friends during breaks, I could join a club or something at lunch, I could ask to be switched classes, I could talk to the person sitting next to me, etc.’

This technique gives the worry clear words and takes your teen down that FEAR acronym. It lets them know that even if the scary thing does happen, they have a lot of control and choice to do something about it! 

Anxiety Coping Skill # 5

Photo by Prophsee Journals on Unsplash

Create a plan and a routine so your teen knows what to expect. It is helpful to focus on what is in your teen’s power to control (their routine) and what is not.

A routine for school starts the night before – with a good amount of sleep, taking time to relax before bed, etc.Encourage your teen to include some things in their routine they enjoy.

You can also help your teen plan ahead for when they get to school – who will they meet up with? Do they know which classes they are in? What time does school start and end?

Having a plan around things that your teen can actually control (e.g. their responses, behaviours, what thoughts they tend to, etc.) can help quell some of that anxiety. 

Things to Make Note Of

Your teen is not alone in their anxiety – going back to school can be an anxiety-inducing experience in ‘normal’ times. Never mind the times we are in now! Let them know they are not the only ones.Ask them about their back to school thoughts.

What are they most stressed/worried about? 

Another thing you can do is focus on the things they are looking forward to. Get them to pay  attention to the friends they may get to see again, the school club they will join, etc. 

Anxiety can be a big deal but it doesn’t have to take over yours or your teen’s life – Share this blog with a parent of a teen and spread the support! 

The Happiness Pill Program is a 6-month teen life coaching program that supports teens to shift beyond anxiety, depression, and overwhelm and into confidently living the life they want by providing ongoing support. There is a built-in parent program and community to support you, too. Get on the path to freedom from teen anxiety here.

Love,

Chantal 


Chantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

My Teen Doesn’t Have A Lot of Friends – Should I Be Concerned?

I’ve had parents mention some concern about their teens only having 1 – 2 friends… Is this something to be concerned or worried about?

Having friends and changes in friendships are a very normal process for teens and their identity development – at different times we all have different people in our lives. Teens are going through that process right now, figuring out what type of people they want in their lives.

There are  some factors that may lean your teen towards wanting a small friend group. For example, if they are a little more introverted – or have introverted qualities – or maybe they feel most connected in close, intimate relationships.

I remember my middle school self – I got along well with a lot of my peers, but I really just had this one friend – she and I spent a ton of time together. She had this electric keyboard and we would hang out all weekend and write parody songs together. We had a blast! I just had the one close friend, really. And that was great for me.

So I think it depends on where your teen is at with having just one to two friends. If those two friendships are really close, good friendships, that makes a big difference.

Photo by Ana Municio on Unsplash

Questions to Ask

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself when it comes to your teen’s friendships:

  • Does our teen enjoy spending time with their friend(s)?
  • Is your teen saying or are you noticing behaviours indicating they may want more friends?
  • Do they seem satisficed with their friend groups?

Whether your teen has lots of friends or just a few, there are other elements that are more important.

Other Things At Play

It’s important to recognize if this is a preference thing, or if there is something else at play. 

Does your teen need to work on social skills? Confidence?

Consider how this might be getting in their way of making friends. If these skills are missing or underdeveloped, it can be really challenging for teens to make or keep friends.

It is important not to assume here. Ask your teen about their friend group – get to know how they see their friendships and what they value about them. In lending a curious ear, you may learn more about whether this is a preference, or their way of bei

ng, or if there are underlying difficulties or challenges that are preventing them from making more friends? If you discover your teen is really shy and strugglin

g to with talking to others, check out this blog I wrote just for them: How to Get Past The Shy: 4 Conversation Tips for Teens.

Something to Think About

One thing to consider is asking yourself if your concern is something that is coming from a projection of your experience growing up, or something you experienced as a teen. It can be helpful to practice a little self-reflection on your own friendships growing up and how that might impact the way you view your teen’s friendships. It might also lend itself to having empathy for your teen’s friendship woes as they come up. What were your friendships like? What were some things that were difficult with relationships?

Check-in with yourself and see if there’s a bit of parallel with your own experiences when you were younger.

Love,
Chantal


If you found this post helpful, pass it on by emailing a friend or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook – thank you!

Chantal Côté, R.Psych, Pyramid Psychology – helping older children, teens, and young adults learn how to build bulletproof mindsets.

To connect, send an email to info@pyramidpsychology.com


 

SELF-INJURY AND SELF-HARM: WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR TEEN IS CUTTING

Many of the teens I work with have used self-harm as a coping behaviour. Teens might feel like their parents “don’t get it” and like it is the only coping mechanism that is providing some temporary relief. It can be terrifying for parents who discover this and feel unsure on how to help with their teens pain and suffering.

If you are a concerned parent of a teen who is self-harming, this blog will talk about the what’s, the why’s, and the how to help.

Photo by Greg Little: grummanaa5

WHAT IS SELF-INJURY AND SELF-HARM?

Self-harm and self-injury can be used interchangeably and they are behaviours such as cutting, hitting, scratching, pulling out hair, punching hard objects, etc. Any behaviour that causes injury to one’s body can be considered self-harm. This is different than participating in a high risk activity that may cause self-injury in that the purpose of self-harming behaviours is to cope with psychological pain and overwhelm. Cutting is one of most prevalent methods of self-harm in adolescents at this time.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

WHY DO PEOPLE SELF-HARM?

We know that self-harming behaviours are used as a coping method to deal with psychological pain and overwhelm. Sometimes parents will ask me, “is my teen doing this to get attention?”. Well the short answer is: Maybe. Not attention in the way of “look at me” but more so a cry for help or a way of saying “I’m really struggling right now”.

Other times, parents will wonder if their teen is trying to complete suicide. Most often suicide is not the desired outcome. Teens who are self-harming may also have thoughts of suicide, but the self-harming behaviour is not usually intended as a lethal means.

So then, why? Well most often self-harming behaviours are used as a way to get relief in managing psychological pain. Whether it is to numb, express, or release pain or a way of gaining a sense of control over emotional overwhelm, these are usually the reasons people turn to self-harm.

The problem with this type of coping is that it provides temporary relief, meaning the psychological pain and overwhelm come back, which keeps a person in a cycle of self-harm. Also, physiologically there is a release of neurotransmitters and endorphins that are linked to that sense of relief. The more a person engages in self-harming behaviours, the more the body habituates and people tend to need to do more of the behaviour in order to get the same physiological response.  This means higher risk in the behaviour, such as deeper or more cutting, and this can lead to dangerous outcomes and unwanted consequences (e.g. infection, scarring, etc.)

Photo by Jose A. Thompson on Unsplash

HOW YOU CAN HELP WHEN YOUR TEEN IS SELF-HARMING

The first thing is to take it seriously. The sooner you can respond with caring and empathy, the quicker you can turn around this coping strategy. If your teen is scraping their legs or rubbing themselves really hard in response to a situation, this still warrants your attention in a real way. You can help early on and avoid the behaviours from escalating into something worse. Responding with caring and empathy can include: 

  • Letting your teen know you have noticed the behaviour
  • Letting your teen know you are concerned
  • Letting your teen know they do not have to feel shame about this but it is important to get some help and get to the root
  • Letting your teen know you are there for them and want to help
  • Asking your teen about the behaviour
  • Asking your teen about what’s going on, their feelings, things they are struggling with, etc.

After that, come up with a plan (with your teen) to help them stay safe and reduce the risk of self-harm. Consider using the TTURN acronym to help TTURN things around. 

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

T – Tell a trusted adult 
(get your teen to name 3+ adults they can talk to if they have the urge to self-harm, e.g. parent, teacher, coach, relative, etc.)
T – Tag your triggers 
(ask about things, people, situations, and emotions that increase the urge to self-harm)
U – Up your self-care 
(get your teen to collab on a list of things they enjoy doing or people that bring them comfort, e.g. reading, listening to music, going for tea, hugs, doing their hair, exercising, hanging out with friends, etc.)
R – Replacement behaviours 
(understanding why your teen is using self-harming behaviours will help you come up with alternative behaviours that have less risky consequences. For example, if it is about numbing pain which releases endorphins, look at some behaviours that release endorphins such as, exercising, punching a pillow, eating dark chocolate, laughing, etc.)
N – Negotiating Harm Reduction 
(come up with ways to reduce the risk such as making sharp objects less accessible, having them pain or draw on the body parts instead of injuring, using rubber bands or ice instead of sharp objects, etc.)

Photo by mentatdgt on Pexels

Third, consider working with a therapist for additional support. The root cause of self-harming behaviours may be related to managing feelings such as anxiety, fear, stress, anger, depression etc. It may also be related to larger mental health concerns or a lack of coping tools and strategies. A therapist can work alongside your teen (and your family as needed) to help them develop other strategies and offer them a safe place to express their thoughts and emotions.

As a therapist myself, I can support you and your teen with creative sessions in person, via video, or walk and talk appointments. I use hands-on methods to support your teen to communicate through their self-harm. You can book a free consultation with me here.


portrait of Chantal outside in a fieldChantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

When the World Feels Like its Falling Apart a Little (a lot!). Understanding Phases of Disaster Model and 6 Things You Can Do About It Today.

When I transitioned to working from home after the schools closed on March 16th of this year, I was feeling optimistic! I was thinking to myself- I will have quality time with my kids, get a good exercise routine going, see my clients virtually, and maintain a clean home.

Photo by Ben Wicks on Unsplash

Well that idealistic dream burst when I started to realize that triple duty; mom, teacher, and psychologist, within a 12-14 hour day is…..um…..ludicrous! It turns out I’m not alone and there is actually a fair bit of research on this whole responding to pandemics and crisis stuff. I’ve learned a lot over the last couple of weeks and I’d like to share one thing with you all that has helped me gain some perspective. ​

​It is called “The Phases of Disaster Response” or sometimes called “The Emotional Phases of a Disaster Response” and “Phases of Collective Trauma Response”. This model has helped me understand the ups and downs that my family and I have been experiencing as well as given me hope for what might come next.

As I am learning about this model and its 4 phases (heroic, disillusionment, rebuilding and restoration, and wiser living), I have also been considering different ways to cope. This is not a rigid model and everyone’s experience is unique so you may not follow the exact flow of what is described and that is OK!

THE 4 PHASES OF DISASTER RESPONSE

Heroic Phase – The heroic phase generally happens right after a disaster has hit.  A disaster such as a crisis or a pandemic. One of the main qualities is a rush of endorphins. It is like having a surge of energy where we take action almost automatically. We jump in, doing whatever we can to help. We can tend to hyperfocus on “necessary” tasks and be in “get it done” mode. This might look like planning schedules for school and work at home during the pandemic, making to do lists, buying lots of toilet paper, and tightening control over things we have a say in. Lists, routines, and planning are the name of the game.  We may feel resourceful and come up with creative ways to spend our days with self and family.

Photo by Esteban Lopez on Unsplash

Disillusionment Phase– This is where the endorphin train halts hard! We may notice constantly feeling exhausted, like a burnout of “this too much and there is nothing I can do to make it better”. This usually shows up as physical tiredness and lethargic feelings. It might be hard to get out of bed. Our emotions are running high. We might be feeling grief, stress, helplessness, frustrated, irritated, and these emotions might be wearing us down. Some people may experience different types of feeling like appreciation and gratitude for some of the changes. There can be a sense that there is nothing we can do to change what has happened and that there is no going back to the way it was.

Photo by Tonny Train on Unsplash

Turning– This is not a phase but lies between disillusionment and rebuild/restoration. This is usually described as coming to two truths- one where we acknowledge the loss and grief of the old normal and at the same time feel that there is still good in the world. There may be a balance in productive energy and rest/recovery. We might give ourselves permission to not know everything. We feel a sense of acceptance of some of the more negatively experienced emotions (sadness, confusion, anxiety, frustration, boredom, etc.) and know that there are still positive emotions to be experienced (joy, fun, excitement, gratitude, etc.).

We may miss things from our “normal life” like friends, teachers, routines, learning a certain way, and activities. We may also start to adjust to a “new normal” with new routines, different ways to connect with friends and family, etc.

Rebuilding and Restoration Phase – This phase is considered an action phase. It is one that is collective and collaborative. Families coming together, professionals, community, government, etc. Is it marked by a focus on the “best interest of the most people”. We may see that this phase strikes creativity and an invitation for many voices from the community. This phase takes time and we experience the ups and downs of grief with a sense of moving forward.

Wiser Living Phase – This phase occurs when communities are well into their “new normal”. Families and communities have considered measures and preparation to help with future experiences. There is an acknowledgement of what has changed for people in more permanent ways. There is an awareness of existential questioning and a recognition of our mortality. This phase is an oscillation between scars and healing.

6 THINGS YOU CAN START DOING RIGHT NOW TO COPE

Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash

1. Recognize this is a collective trauma response – Many of us have heard this or something like this “We are in this together”. As social creatures, knowing we are not alone and that everyone is impacted by this global experience is an important coping strategy. There are others who are badly wishing they could hang out with their friends, go outside, play on their sports teams, and not constantly be frightened of someone they love getting ill. ​

2. ​Have a sense of what phase you are in -If you identify where you most closely find yourself in this model, it can help you decide what you need next. For example, if you are in disillusionment, care and rest are so important as well as giving yourself permission to NOT do. Also, knowing where you are right now, might give you a sense of what might be ahead.

3. Everyone’s experience is unique – ​Know that this model is just a guideline. In some ways this might contradict my second point. It is important to recognize that this is one model with some good information and that our experiences are unique and may not follow a linear path. As a role model of mine often says, “take what fits and leave the rest”.

4. Start with safety (bottom up approach) – If we think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the very basic needs must be met before we can tend to other needs. Our physical needs are first, followed by safety, love and belonging, esteem, and finally self-actualization. Basically we need a roof over our head and food in our belly before we can “desire to be the most we can be”. Think about your physical needs and what you might be needing right now. Are you tired? Are you hungry? Are you staying somewhere that is not safe right now?

Two truths- One where we acknowledge the loss and grief of the old normal and at the same time know that there is still good and hope in the world.

Our nervous systems work the same way. If we start from the bottom-up, we can help kick in our parasympathetic (rest and relax) nervous system. This can help us feel calmer and manage moments that are overwhelming. Start with something simple, like finger breathing (tracing your breath on one hand using a finger from your other hand), finding 10 items in the space where you are that are the colour blue, imagining a calm place and tapping gently from side to side on your upper legs. The more you practice these types of tools, the more automatic they become.

5. Nourish yourself throughout the day -I feel like you can’t overdo this one. Find moments, even slivers, throughout your day that bring calm, well-being, laughter, inspiration, creativity, play, exercise, rest, and more each day. You can begin by focusing on one of those and peppering your day with activities that bring that into your life. If you choose laughter for example, Facetime someone who puts a smile on your face, watch a stand up comedy show, funny cat videos (are those still a thing?), or try not laughs, fake laugh for 10 seconds- and it shouldn’t take long before it becomes a real laugh. Let me tell you by experience it is super contagious to fake laugh, as my 12 year old said between giggles, “stop mom you’re being so weird!”.

Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Unsplash

6. Know your village​ – Who are the people that you feel good around. Do they live in your home with you? Are they elsewhere? What is about them that makes them important to you? List those people, think about them, and think about ways you are connected to them right now. You might be meeting up on video games or during virtual games nights. You may be part of a WhatsApp or Marco Polo group. You might call them once in a while. You might sit down to a meal together every day. Be intentional about connecting to your village, to your people. ​

 


portrait of Chantal outside in a fieldChantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

Anxious thoughts and feelings in the age of pandemics and uncertainty – How can we help our children and teens

Ok, I must admit when I pulled up to our local grocery store in the middle of a typical work day to find a full parking lot and checkouts with long lines, I started to feel a little uneasy. To add to my nerves were the empty aisles of canned goods and toilet paper and the hushed side conversations between couples and families on the current Covid 19 pandemic situation while shopping.

If you are reading this and beginning to feel slightly uncomfortable or nervous, you are not alone and this is a normal response to the fear of the unknown.

Times are uncertain, and information regarding this situation is changing rapidly. The thing is, and this might sound like a bold statement, times are always uncertain and things are always changing and transforming.

So why might this feel different?

Photo by visuals on Unsplash

Well for one, the amount of communication coming our way regarding this situation is intense and reaching many facets of our lives; politics, national sports, social media, global neighbours, and local communities. If we have the same messages on repeat coming at us from many sources, it begins to infiltrate- the psychology of panic.

It is like taking a hyper powerful microscope and pointing it right on the coronavirus- it will look quite dramatic and absolute from that lens. Historical peaks in flu season are typically December, February and March in North America, we know that other strains of coronavirus such as SARS and MERS have shown much higher mortality rates, and we know that focusing on basic hygiene practices can be effective ways to minimize the spread of viruses. This information however, may fall into the background during the panicked feelings under the hyper powerful microscope.

The best thing we may do is to zoom that microscope out, get a wider perspective, and use that larger understanding to guide us through yet another moment in time that has uncertainty.

Photo by Merakist on Unsplash

HOW DOES THIS TRANSLATE TO OUR KIDS AND HOW CAN WE SUPPORT THEM DURING THIS UNCERTAIN, CHANGING TIME?

​HERE ARE 7 IDEAS TO CONSIDER:

RESILIENCE AND ADAPTABILITY– Life is just this- it is uncertain and is in constant flux of change and transformation. Yet, we do not (for the most part) hyperfocus on the fact that we may get into an accident today or that a natural disaster may hit at any given moment. We manage, we tolerate, and we accept a certain amount of unknown to live. We share those traits of resilience with our children as well. We teach them the joy in playing together, the enjoyment of a good meal, the mundane of boring but necessary tasks, and the comfort in connecting with someone we love. All of this exists within the bigger scope of life’s uncertainty but the focus shifts, the attention is drawn elsewhere. Take a moment to highlight your child/teen’s resources and resilience to life’s general unknowns and how they are already handling it, they’ve got this and so do you!

things are always changing and transforming, so why might this feel different?

LIMITING ACCESS TO INFORMATION THAT WILL FUEL THE FIRE OF PANIC– Of course, having some information can be helpful to have a sense of preparedness and knowing how to respond. However, the is a point when the amount of information we and our children are receiving is not serving those purposes anymore and is simply sending us into a state of anxiety and alarm. Now there is no magic here in terms of how much information is too much.

Consider your child/teens age and their developmental stage. If they are 5, the information we will share with them will likely be a lot simpler and lot less than if they are 15. Consider their personality: is my teen someone who is naturally more anxious? Is my child someone who already worries about health matters? Is my child someone who just really isn’t phased by too much?  Consider your family values and what you believe young people should know and think about the current environment in which you live in.

In our case, being a family involved in different sports, the cancellations have been something we have had to address with our kids. You are the expert of your own family. Focus on providing truthful information, the minimum you need to help support your child and teen. Know that your conversation may have “I don’t knows” and unknowns with the possibility of giving more information if a child/teen is asking or it feels important to do so. You can always give more information, you can’t really take away information.

Photo by Markus Spiske – Unsplash

SHARING ACCURATE AND TRUTHFUL INFORMATION– Think about what kind of information you are sharing with your child/teen and how you are sharing this information. Where are you getting your information? Is it on the latest Facebook feed or from someone in the checkout line at the grocery store? Where are your children/teens getting their information and what are they hearing? Find sources that you feel are as accurate as possible and reputable. I am currently checking in with the Alberta Health Services page, the Government of Canada page, and I have checked the World Health Organization site. I appreciate places where I can find the most factual information and information on how we can respond to minimize the spread.

It’s also important to think about how we are sharing information with our kiddos. Try delivering information in a way that is consistent, calm, and honest. It’s ok to share some feelings of worry and uncertainty, but probably best to avoid panicked delivered message.

ROUTINES– When there are cancellations of sporting events, gatherings, hobbies, and in some cases school, life can quickly feel out of control. As parents, focus on ways that you can promote routine and predictability. If your children/teens are staying home from school, are there some basic school tasks  they can do for part of the day (reading, some math, working on an assignment)? Can you offer some time outside, some art making, or some scheduled meal times that provide routine?

If sports plans or events you were going to attend were cancelled, check-in with your child/teen and see what they might want to do instead. Would they still like to get some exercise, even if it’s taking the dog for a walk, or shooting some hoops with you at the local school. Consider how they continue to connect with their peers and provide opportunities for this to happen.

Photo by Christian Bowen on Unsplash

KEEP THE FUN GOING​- Life continues in the face of change and the unknown. Continue to encourage conversations outside of this topic. Share funny stories and experiences that keep positive emotions flowing. Continue to encourage fun and laughter. Create opportunities for excitement, joy, doing things they enjoy, and connections with others. You may not be going to public spaces in the same way at this time, but you could try playing board games, going outdoors (weather permitting), spending some time as a family, inviting a few friends over, etc.

INFORM CHILDREN/TEENS ON WHAT THEY CAN CONTROL– Letting young people know that they can be an important part of prevention and they can help and do their part can be very meaningful and supportive. Informing them about health hygiene practices like hand washing, coughing and sneezing “properly” into your ‘chicken wing’, and social distancing are all things children and teens can be active agents in.

Photo by CDC – Unsplash

HARNESS OPPORTUNITIES TO HELP OTHERS– In heightened moments of uncertainty, being able to help others and to feel part of a community can be important. Consider ideas that help your child/teen feel like they are part of a caring community. Maybe they are an advocate for handwashing at their school, maybe they are delivering a box of food to the doorstep of someone who is not feeling well, maybe they are the calm presence for someone who is feeling panicked.

There you have it.

​I’d like to take a moment to thank Renee Jain for providing some interview information on how to help young people manage anxiety regarding the coronavirus.


portrait of Chantal outside in a fieldChantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

12