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

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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. 

Six Ways to Support Your Teen with Social Anxiety Disorder

Did you know Social Anxiety Disorder is one of the most common anxiety disorders? According to Anxiety Canada, it affects between 7 – 13% of the population.

Teens with Social Anxiety Disorder have a persistent fear of being watched and/or negatively judged by others. These fears can arise in social situations themselves, or even when thinking about them.

Photo by Katie Gerrard on Unsplash

If your teen has already been diagnosed, or is experiencing early symptoms of social anxiety, this article is for you.

There are several components to symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder that you can look out for:

Physical: Sweating, shaking, heart racing, face turning red, nausea, muscle tightness, derealization.

Cognitive: Thinking thoughts such as “everyone is judging me”, “I look stupid”, “people can tell I am nervous and think I’m weird”, “everyone is going to notice and remember if I mess up”, etc.

Emotional: Feeling nervous, isolated, sad, frustrated, upset, helpless, and/or overwhelmed with anything to do with socializing (kids at school, meeting new people, making friends, co-workers, dating, etc.)

Behavioural: Avoidance, declining situations or events that cause anxiety, choosing to not participate in class or activities, getting upset or frustrated when a social situation is approaching, etc.

Common Situations When Social Anxiety Disorder May Affect Your Teen:

Social anxiety disorder is going to show up differently for everyone. However, there are several common situations your teen may experience it:     

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

  • Public speaking, presentations, and oral examinations.
  •  Activities where performance may be evaluated, such as sports, creative expression, and recitals.
  • Unfamiliar settings or situations where there are a lot of new people.
  • Ordering food at a restaurant, talking to cashiers, talking to unfamiliar teachers, asking strangers for help, etc.
  • Participating in class discussions or group projects.
  • Meeting new people at school, or making friends.

Six Ways to Support Your Teen with Social Anxiety Disorder 

Social anxiety disorder can be overwhelming as a parent. Especially if you haven’t experienced it yourself and aren’t sure how to help your teen. Here are some ways you can support your teen with Social Anxiety Disorder:

1.      Knowledge is Power !

Providing your teen with greater insight into what may be going on, recommending mental health tools or strategies, and letting them know they are not alone can be invaluable. 

Understand for yourself and for your teen that Social Anxiety Disorder is relatively common and that there is hope for change.

Check out websites such as www.anxietycanada.com to access evidence-based resources and strategies. Encourage your teen to be curious and learn about their own experiences with social anxiety, including understanding their own triggers, sensations, and related outcomes.

2.     Be Supportive

Anyone who has ever felt anxious knows that it isn’t exactly a fun feeling and it can be isolating.

If you suspect your teen may be suffering with social anxiety, prioritize being a non-judgmental, empathetic support person in their life who genuinely wants to help.

Photo by Andrés Gómez on Unsplash

As fear of judgment can be high in teens with Social Anxiety Disorder, be extra mindful of how your own words and actions may come across.

  3.     Gradual Exposure

Symptoms of anxiety are often reduced by repeated exposure to the stimulus that causes the anxiety. Your teen’s heart and mind are probably screaming “run away!”  However, avoiding the cause of your teen’s anxiety tends to make it worse.

When supporting your teen with Social Anxiety Disorder, be sure to provide a lot of choice and gentle encouragement. Gradual exposure to social situations decreases symptoms of anxiety. The key is to pick situations where the anxiety does not overwhelm your teen, but ones where your teen feels mild to moderate anxiety and comes out the other side more self-aware and confident. 

4.       Target the Physical Symptoms

Anxiety can cause your teen’s body to become stressed, tight, and sore. Encouraging your teen to engage in progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, tai chi, or some other gentle, physical activity can do wonders in terms of reducing the physical experience of anxiety.

If you’re comfortable with it, these activities can even be done together or as a family!

You can try a guided progressive muscle relaxation exercise here.

5.      Target the Cognitive Factors

Anxiety has a way of making your teen’s thoughts and feelings feel like facts. If you hear your teen saying something along the lines of “something bad will happen” or “other people will have certain thoughts”, there is an excellent opportunity to be curious.

Photo by Clarisse Meyer on Unsplash

Gently ask your teen how they know that something will happen (this is a cognitive distortion known as fortune telling, by the way!), or if there are any other possible outcomes or explanations. Often when these faulty thought patterns are called out it becomes easier to notice them when they reappear. 

6.        Outside Support

Social Anxiety Disorder is an isolating path to walk when you’re alone. Sometimes having an outside perspective that isn’t emotionally attached can be a helpful outlet for your teen’s emotions.

Seek support for yourself from other like-minded parents, Facebook groups with parents who also have teens with Social Anxiety Disorder, etc.

For your teen, a therapist or coach can provide an outside perspective to plan steps for when their anxiety arises. If you’re looking for one to one support for your teen, you can book a free consultation with me here. Our company also offers group coaching here. Email us any time with questions you may have, or blog topics you would like to see: info@pyramidpsychology.com.


Jessa is a counsellor that has recently completed her master of counselling degree through Athabasca University.

She is highly passionate about helping people become the best version of themselves and it is an honour for her to work alongside teens and their parents.

A few of her favourite things are spending time with her family, friends and pets, being in nature, cooking and eating delicious food. And also, she loves plants!

Once a month, she 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. 

The Teen Years are Here – Now What!?

You might notice your teen pulling away, not wanting to spend as much time with you, and who certainly would rather be on their phone than attend most family events.These are the teen years,a time when your teen is breaking away from childhood and experimenting with adulthood. It is a significant time for them and for you as a parent, as you adjust to someone who is pushing away one minute – and wanting a hug the next.

It is a difficult – but a very important – milestone to manage.

Lisa Damour (PhD Psychologist)shares a lot on what is going on during this important developmental phase and how to handle it, in her book: Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions’. I highly recommend ordering a copy! 

Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash

What Does Breaking Away from Childhood Mean?

Breaking away from childhood – the teen years – is this idea of testing out different roles and aspects of adulthood. Almost like they are testing the waters of being an adult without diving in; a safer space to experiment. Your teen will be jumping back and forth between their new experiences, and their childlike demeanour.

I noticed this juxtaposition a lot on a recent vacation with my own teenage son. Usually, my son is very peer orientated. He wants to be with friends All. The. Time. When we were on vacation with no friends, my son wanted to spend a lot of time playing basketball with us every day, even showing physical affection, and playing games with his younger brother. But then later on, he was talking about dating and being in relationships and retreating to the trailer to be by   himself.

This is part of trying out adult roles, while being connected to aspects of childhood. 

Testing out adulthood could be anything for your teen, from sudden changes in fashion – hair, makeup, crop tops, etc. to no longer wanting to spend time with you. Your teen may want to spend most of their time in their room, but then occasionally still enjoy a day of baking with you, like they used to.

When friends are around, there may be a lot more eye rolling, or attitude – “mom, you don’t know anything!” type of behaviour. There’s a lot more pushing you away; you might see  a different side to your teen  when it’s just the two of you.

For the most part, you are held at arm’s length from their life and inner experiences… But when something goes off the rails (fight with friend, relationship ending, etc.) they’ll come to you and ask for advice, or want a hug. This is the flipping back and forth.

Dr. Damour uses the analogy of a swimming pool to explain the concept of breaking away from childhood in  the teen years, a playground image came to my mind – a very similar concept. 

Picture a playground, with the outer border  outlining  the park. In the middle  are the  play structures. The border – or outer edges – represent you as the parent. This is where your teen starts as a child, and then enters the playground. The play structures inside represent  all the different things and experiences they are trying out as they move into adulthood.

Younger children wouldn’t go far from that outer perimeter without having an adult nearby. But as teens, they can’t wait to leave the perimeter – a LOT! They want to be in there playing, trying things out. They want to explore their identity, experiment with new activities, and build different types of relationships.

As a parent, you are on the sidelines a lot of the time – you don’t necessarily know everything that is going on, thoughts, inner experiences etc. And they aren’t keen on sharing… But they will come back to the perimeter if they need a break from all that playground excitement.

When the tire swing makes them dizzy, they will come back to you – the perimeter – to sit for a minute. This is when you might have a moment of opening up a little bit, a sharing of their experience. Your teen may want a hug or a snuggle. They may even want to spend some time with you again…

The outer perimeter of the playground is their safe zone – you are their safe space.

It can be tempting for you to try and keep your teen close to the perimeter. To want things to go back to the way they used to be. But your teen wants to be in the playground , on the structures. That’s where they need to be in order to grow.

It can hurt and feel lonely as a parent to see them run  back off into their own space and take off into the world.

Know that it is very important that your teen has you there at the perimeter to be solid and keep them safe when they need it. For your teen to know they have a safe place to go when they are tired of climbing on the playground.

Understanding how important your role on the perimeter is, can be helpful to get you through this phase.

Photo by Omid Armin on Unsplash

Breaking Away from Childhood Is A Celebration

The role you play during the teen years is very important because they need to know they have support. They need to feel safe while they are breaking away from childhood.

The more I understand this process personally, the more I find myself being present in the moments when my teen is on the perimeter of the playground. I recognize how important it is to be there when my son needs a breather from the play structures, from trying new things. It feels empowering for me as a parent to know I am doing what I need to do to move him into healthy adulthood. And yes, at times a bit sad also.

So remember, when your teen doesn’t want to participate, is giving attitude, or would rather be with their friends – it is positive for their development. They are moving towards an important milestone, with you as a safety net. Breaking away from childhood is normal. And it is worth celebrating as a parent.

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

Taking Care of Yourself as a Parent in the Teen Years

Although it is a reason to celebrate, the process of breaking away from childhood can feel lonely and hurtful. Your teen may push you away, say mean things, give attitude, etc. You can feel rejected. This is especially true if you had a strong bond with them as a child. Just because this process is normal, doesn’t mean it isn’t hard. There might  be moments of loss, and even grief for you. There could also be a deep need to understand the change within yourself.

Taking care of yourself throughout this process is very important. Understanding what’s going on is a helpful first step. You will also need ways to get your own nurturing. This can be through other adult relationships in your life, like your co-parent, another parent friend or being part of  a community of parents. Being around others who are going through similar things will help you feel less isolated; you are not alone in the struggle. The Happiness Pill Program is a community I am building for you, as well as for your teen during this time. You can check it out here.

This developmental milestone is a time of shifting your focus from constantly being needed by your child, to having some space to recognize your own needs. Yes, your teens still need you, but not in the same continuous way they did when they were little. I encourage you to spend time connecting with things you love and enjoy that fill you up. Find activities or hobbies that were impossible to do when your teen was young and needed you physically all the time. You might see there is  space for new interests!  Not only are you taking care of yourself, but you’re modeling self-care for your teen as they experiment in the adult world.

Setting clear expectations for when your teen is pushing back and experimenting with boundaries is also a key part to taking care of yourself as a parent. Just because your teen needs you at the perimeter of the playground, does not mean you’re a doormat. They cannot walk all over you and treat you any way they like. Sometimes this can be tricky as a parent! Your teen may finally be wanting to spend time with you, and it may feel like telling them something they’ve said was hurtful will blow up and cause a big conflict. But it is absolutely okay to set those expectations – in fact, it will help them learn relationship boundaries that will carry into adulthood!

It is also okay to come back to something your teen has said or done, at a later time. To talk to them the next day and say “hey, what you said last night really hurt me. Let’s think about that choice in language next time.” Or letting them know ‘we don’t name call in this family’ etc.

Setting these boundaries can be emphasized,  if you have the luxury of being in a two-parent (or multi-parent) family, in the following way- Having someone  back you up a little when your teen says mean or inappropriate things. Another adult to say things like “ don’t talk to your mother like that, she deserves your respect just like anyone else”, and reiterate your expectations.

Even if you don’t have a two-person system in your family, it is still important to have clear boundaries and expectations. And to take breaks to care for yourself as the parent. 

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

How to Tell When A Teen’s Behaviours Are Concerning

While breaking away from childhood is a very normal developmental phase, Dr. Damour talks a lot about extremes being a sign of concern.

If your teen isn’t showing any signs of breaking away, it can be concerning – no attitude, push-back or boundary setting, etc. If your teen is constantly  people pleasing, with very little attitude or experimenting with new things, something may be preventing them from breaking from childhood. Being highly anxious to try new things on the play structures, can impede their development.

If your teen is on the other end of the spectrum – constantly in the zone of adult-like behaviour –  it is also something to pay attention to. If your teen is constantly participating in risky behaviours, completely cutting you out, never reverting back to childhood moments, always pushing boundaries, etc., they are showing signs that something concerning is going on. 

Of course, crossing the line with behaviours will be different for everyone based on family rules, values, and expectations. But if your teen is harming themselves or others, it’s important to pay attention. This is a sign that you may need to guide their experiences. 

It’s important to note that teens aren’t consciously pushing back or giving attitude with the thought of “I’m test driving adulthood”, but as parents understanding the context of these behaviors can help you  guide them in terms of  behaviours that are going to help them transition into adult life.

As mentioned earlier, having a community with other parents – knowing you aren’t alone – is crucial for you. Part of The Happiness Pill program is a weekly community call with other parents who know exactly what you’re going through. It is there to bridge the gap in communication between you and your teen. There is guidance along the way, touching base on all the important components of breaking away from childhood.

Check it out here. Or book a strategy call (free) with Chantal to see if the program is something for you.

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. 

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