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?’

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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

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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?

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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:

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  • 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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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. 

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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

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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.

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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

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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. 

parenting styles psychologist in calgary alberta teen psychologist authoritarian authoritative permissive uninvolved

Parenting Styles 101: Bridging the Gap of Communication with Your Teen

Is there a gap in communication between you and your teen? If you ever feel like you and your teen are speaking completely different languages which leads to tension and arguing, you are not alone. Understanding the various parenting styles – and which you lean towards – is a great place to start bridging that gap and strengthening the bond between the two of you!

Diana Baumrind, a psychologist in the 60’s, researched younger kids and their attachment with their parents. She looked for different patterns and behaviours that developed over time. She was highly focused on  the parent-child relationship. From this research, Baumrind  coined three different parenting styles. In the 80’s the research continued and a fourth parenting style was added.

The four parenting styles are: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and unengaged/neglectful.

Parenting Styles on A Continuum

Before we dive into each of the parenting styles below, it can be helpful to recognize that they are on a continuum rather than definitively either this style or that style. You may recognize yourself in more than one of the styles. There are two continuums, the first is for warmth/responsiveness, and the second is for high vs. low levels of demand. See the photo below:

parenting styles psychologist in calgary alberta teen psychologist authoritarian authoritative permissive uninvolved

In terms of academic success, mental health, and emotional wellbeing, studies consistently indicate that children and teens do best with more authoritative parenting styles. The neglectful parenting style has shown to be the worst for them.

With that being said, there are values to all parenting styles, as well as consequences for each. It is important for me to acknowledge each parenting style without judgement and the hope that knowing more about this will allow you to make the best decisions for your family and their well being..

You will very likely discover your dominating parenting style, as well as other parenting styles you recognize using (a secondary style if you will). With an open mind, you may even see ways you want to shift your style!

The Four Parenting Styles

Authoritarian Parenting Style

parenting styles teen therapist in calgary alberta psychologist for teens

Photo from Canva Pro

Referring back to the image above, this style of parenting shows a high level of demand, and a low level of warmth.

There is a power differential between you and your teen – with you being in charge at the top, and your teen being at the bottom…You are the authority. The boss.

Something you might say to your teen is “because I said so”; there is very little room for negotiation, or having your teen weigh in on expectations or consequences. (It doesn’t mean you don’t care, just that what you say goes).

You are driven to have your teen do well in certain areas – to behave well, succeed academically, meet goals, etc. There is structure in your home, with a lot of rules; your expectations are clear. Emotions aren’t addressed or talked about a lot, and punishment is a strategy used readily.

Remember the continuum – you may notice sometimes you parent with the authoritarian parenting style, and maybe not other times. It isn’t necessarily ‘this’ or ‘that’ style.

Authoritative Parenting Style (Balanced or Engaged)

If your dominant parenting style is authoritative, your relationship with your teen involves a lot of warmth, AND there is a high demand from them. The power differential in this parenting style is still one with you being the caretaker, or the one in charge. However the gap between you and your teen is smaller. There is flexibility in their role.

parenting styles therapist in calgary alberta psychologist for teens coach for teens

Photo from Canva Pro

You have clear expectations and standards for your teen’s behaviours around respect, school, academics, etc. Something you may say to your teen is “let’s talk about it” – there is room for negotiation. You have built a ‘give and take’ style of communication with your teen.

So for example if you have the expectation that xyz chores must be completed after school, and then they can go out with their friends. Your teen would feel comfortable coming to you and asking if they can do the chores when they get back, or maybe partially complete them before going. There could be a conversation around this expectation.

In contrast, this conversation likely wouldn’t occur at all in the authoritarian style of parenting.

 

Permissive Parenting Style

You parent with a permissive style of parenting if there is a lot of warmth, and not a lot of demand.

parenting styles therapist in calgary alberta psychologist for teens coach for teens

Photo from Canva Pro

There are not very many rules in your home… The rules you do have in place may not be clear, and

are not often enforced. You avoid conflict with your teen whenever possible.

Avoiding conflict whenever possible and making your teen as happy as you can are important to you. You are indulgent with requests from your teen, for items, when they want to go out with friends, etc.

Your expectations for how your teen will contribute (academics, household responsibilities etc. are relatively low).

Using the same example with the chores above, your teen will most likely go out with their friends and do their chores later.. You sometimes end up doing the chores yourself, to avoid conflict. Or, they slide by altogether- maybe they don’t even have official chores to do.

Uninvolved Parenting Style (Disengaged/Neglectful)

The uninvolved parenting style involves little to no warmth, and very low demand.

parenting styles therapist in calgary alberta psychologist for teens coach for teens

Photo from Canva Pro

As a parent with this parenting style, you are not really engaged or interested in your teen; your teen fends for themselves. This could be from a variety of reasons – your own childhood, trauma, a heavy workload, competing priorities etc. Whatever the reason, you do not have a lot of time for your teen.

 

If your teen were to get invited out with friends, they would simply go without telling you. They most likely don’t have chores to worry about at all. Or, if they do, it is because you are absent.

It is important to note that while all parenting styles do have value, the uninvolved parenting style shows the worst outcomes for teens and their development – their emotional well being and mental health.

Using Your Parenting Style to Communicate with Your Teen

As you read through the four parenting styles, where did you find yourself on each continuum? Did you notice a dominant one or a secondary style of parenting you turn to?

Understanding your parenting style can help you see how it affects communication with your teen. If you are more authoritarian, your teen may not be very open to discussing what’s going on in their world and how they are feeling. If you are more permissive, your teen may treat you like more of a friend, giving you all the details on what’s up and also some of the treatment that seems reserved for friendships. If you are more authoritative, your teen may be asking a lot of

calgary psychologist teen therapist in calgary alberta pyramid pscyhology chantal cote parenting styles

Photo from Canva Pro

questions and looking to negotiate boundaries often.

If you’re unsure (or you just like doing online quizzes) here is a quiz you can do to get an idea of your dominant parenting style. In this quiz, Micheal Popkin uses the terms Autocratic (closely related to Authoritarian), Permissive, and Active (closely related to Authoritative).

Of course, this is one part of the equation. At the end of the day, your teen has their own personality and temperament and will respond to parenting styles differently. Some teens may respond better to parents who are more authoritarian while others may thrive more with more permissive parenting. Even though research tells us the best outcomes seem to be linked to authoritative engaged parenting, each child is different.

Once you’ve pinpointed your go-to parenting style, you can start thinking about the strengths in your parenting. What are the things you are doing well as a parent? – Does your teen know what to expect, are you caring and engaged, , do you stop at the drop of a hat when your teen has something important to talk about, etc. These are all attributes that bridge the gap between you and your teen, and it is thanks to your parenting style!

pyramid psychology therapist for teens teen coaching parenting styles psychologist in calgary alberta

Your Parenting Style History

Consider how you were raised – what parenting style did you see as you were growing up? How do you think that impacted you?

Some parents will repeat how they were parented, and others will do the opposite…Think about what values you hold onto from your parents’ parenting styles, and which you’ve let go of. What are your reasons for holding on or letting go?

Your Teen’s Response to Your Parenting Style

You can use the idea of parenting styles to parent with intention.

Once you know the what and why of your parenting style you can give some thought to how your teen is responding to your parenting style. Although the authoritative parenting style is associated with positive outcomes , every teen is different. You can ask yourself- when does my teen respond best to me (no you can’t say never!)? And, when does my teen respond the worst, almost a guaranteed shutdown or argument?

Then, look at your areas of vulnerability; things you want to work on. For me, I lean close to the authoritative parenting

style, but I can also be quite permissive – there is a lot of indulging and warmth with my kids…. There are some beautiful things with that; my relationship with them is really strong. But I can see when I have indulged too much. And I

recognize that my kids both ask for/expect a lot of things.

If you are looking for some ideas to support your communication with your teen, The Happiness Pill Program is a deep-dive program designed to bridge communication between parents and teens, just like you. It is a 6-month program with ongoing support for you to dive into your parenting and find ways to help things flow for your family. There is also support for your teen to develop communication skills, decrease anxiety & depression, and increase confidence. Check it out here.

Do not hesitate to reach out if you have questions! I am also accepting questions to be answered in my weekly blog article.

Email any time: info@pyramidpsychology.com

 


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. 

7 Ways to Parent Teens Successfully

It is a different ball game in today’s world to parent teens successfully. This generation of teens face a lot of different stressors and pressures than previous generations.

With technology and social media, teens are connected to a much larger world. They are privy to a lot more stimulus and information, including exposure to worldwide issues, and at a much  earlier age! I’m pretty sure I was wearing classically “uncool” sweatpants (don’t get me wrong, sweatpants can be cool nowadays) and running around playing make-believe until I was at least 11 or 12. There is a lot of pressure for teens on how they show up in the world – as a social advocate, through body/self image expectations, popularity contests (think likes on social media) etc.

Photo by Amy Treasure on Unsplash

That translates to it being  a really challenging time for you as a parent to navigate these dicey waters.

It’s important to acknowledge the challenges when it comes to parenting teens successfully, with our fellow parents and non-parents, to create supportive communities, and talk about the shifts that have happened in parenting throughout the generations. Of course every family/situation is different, but there has been an overall shift to a more authoritative (aka sometimes called balanced) parenting style. This kind of parenting is one with a lot more discussion around things, instead of authoritarian (it’s “my way or the highway”) or passive/permissive (the kids are the boss or do their own thing). You can read a brief definition of some of the parenting styles here.

Many more parents today are wanting to be quite engaged and involved in their parenting, and that’s a wonderful thing! There is an emphasis on making the relationship with your teen a top priority… and if that speaks to you, it may mean pivoting , and learning new skills and approaches. 

Here are  7 ways you can parent successfully while putting the relationship first: 

 

Parent Teens Successfully: Listen and Seek to Understand

I hear from teens on a daily basis: “my parents don’t get it. They don’t understand me, and they never will.” etc. While part of this is normal – all teens at some point feel their parents don’t understand them – it is also really indicative that parents need to reconsider their way of  listening. 

You probably have a lot of advice and wisdom to impart to your teen; experiences to share, and values you want to instill in them. These things are all important! However, the real impact is when you can step back and be a listener more than a talker. When you  listen most of the time,  and add in wisdom just a little bit of the time, the impact is far greater.

 

Photo by Bence Halmosi on Unsplash

Parent Teens Successfully: Get to Know Your Teen as A Person

Get really curious about who your teen is! Ask them what they like or enjoy. Ask their opinion on things (I have yet to meet a teen who doesn’t want to share their opinion). What kind of passions do they have? Which hobbies interest them? What doesn’t interest them? Which are the things they dream of doing one day?

You want to create opportunities for quality time to truly get to know your teen as a person. 

Buuuut, you’ll need to be careful not to leave them feeling badgered. I know I get caught in the ‘one too many questions’ with my teen… I think the conversation is going great, and then I ask one more question and I get an eye roll, an “I don’t know”, or a “nothing”, said with attitude. That tells me I asked too many questions! Oh well, I can always try again next time.

You can also get curious by getting to know the books and movies your teen is into. Take an interest and read/watch them yourself; ask them things that will get their perspective, it’s a wonderful peak at who they are.

There are 100 questions you can ask your teen in this article – just remember not to ask them all at once!

 

Parent Teens Successfully: Have a Go – To Venting Place

It is not easy to be a parent and the pay sucks! It is trying on your emotions, and even your own thoughts. A normal part of parenting is to sometimes think things like “I don’t know what to do… they are driving me $%@* crazy…..I don’t know what to say any more.”

It’s Important to have somewhere to go, or someone to talk to; a venting person. This allows you to have a safe space where you can say the things that could be harmful if you said them directly to your teen… I’m not suggesting that you put on a fake facade to your teens and then smack talk them to your friend… But things like “they are driving me crazy! They’re so lazy and won’t clean up after themselves!” are good things to vent to a friend or another parent that will ‘get it’, instead of saying it to your teen.

9 Reasons Every Mom Needs a Venting Buddy is a really great resource that dives into the amazing things venting does for you as a parent; it’s more than getting some complaints off your chest!

 

Parent Teens Successfully: 70/30 Rule

This is about giving yourself some compassion to not get things ‘right’ all the time; 100% spot on. Set an expectation, or a goal, for yourself as a parent to try and get things ‘right’ 70% of the time, instead of all the time

You’re  going to mess up at some point, say the wrong thing….lose your temper. You might even say something really mean. It’s all okay, as long as you’re leading with love, curiosity, and kindness a lot of the time. Leading in this way 70% (80% would be superstar status!) of the time gives you some leeway when you do mess up. It allows you to go back and apologize, to let your teen know you didn’t handle it the way you wanted to, and move on from there- remember the emotional bank account blog? (Going back and apologizing can be really powerful)!

Don’t shame or blame yourself every time you make a mistake. Instead, think about what you can do next time, how you can clean it up, etc.

Photo by Baylee Gramling on Unsplash

Parent Teens Successfully: Modelling

You can be a powerful influencer for your teen by modelling the behaviours and values you want to see. Things like respectful communication, talking openly about thoughts and feelings, self-care, choosing healthy relationships, etc.

You can model respectful communication by talking to your teen in a calm, respectful, caring tone… This doesn’t mean you’ll receive the calmness back all of the time (or even most of the time) from your teen, but it will allow them to see that it’s a possibility; that it can be done that way. You can show your teen how to have a healthy body image, by practicing things that demonstrate you’re caring for your mental health and that you love your body. For more tips on modelling, this is a really great article: Parents: Role Models and Positive Influences for Parents.

(Check out our upcoming Body Image Workshop for Teens if your teen is needing more help in that area specifically. Information for parents is also included).

 

Photo by Eye of Ebony on Unsplash

 

Parent Teens Successfully: Positive Discipline

Positive discipline is using consequences, expectations and rules as a way of teaching rather than punishing. On an unconscious level, punishments or consequences can have the intention of ‘hurting’ your teen in a way; showing them what it feels like, or ‘getting them back’.

Imagine your teen breaks curfew – instead of punishing, ask yourself “what can I teach here? What lesson would I want them to learn?” Discipline can be an opportunity to teach the importance of safety and communication. Going forward, you can set an earlier curfew, no outings for a period of time, or require more check-ins the next time they go out.

For key points around positive discipline, check out this PDF.

Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash

Parent Teens Successfully: Let Love Lead

Put the relationship first. No matter what happens. At the end of the day, that’s what’s important.

You want your teen to know they are important to you, that their safety matters, and that they have your support if things go wrong. For example, If your teen is experimenting with alcohol (even though you rrrreally didn’t want them to), you want them to know they can call you if things go awry. Or when it comes to apologizing – letting your teen know you’ve made a mistake, and building that trust with them, is more important than the need to be right all the time.

When you’re communicating with your teen, ask yourself “when I say (or do) this, am I saying/giving them the message that they matter? Am I telling them that this relationship is important to me?” Take an inventory of what sending that message looks like.

This comes up for me a lot when I think of situations with my own teen when I want to nitpick – like  when he comes home  on time, but full of sassy attitude. It would be so easy to nitpick about the attitude! But when I  stop and think – is it more important for me to stop the sass, or can I put the relationship first? Instead of nit picking, I can start a conversation – “How was your night? You seem a little off – is there something you want to talk about?”…..or ignore the sass and notice the timely entrance. 

Implementing these 7 ways to parent your teen successfully is a work in progress. Don’t forget the compassion part, and remember to find joy in the journey!

 

The Happiness Pill Program

I have created a program called The Happiness Pill Program that is designed to bridge the gap between you and your teen, so you can really begin to put your relationship first. The program focuses on a one on one approach where you as a parent will learn to communicate and collaborate with your teen from a better common ground. 

After we have begun that work, your teen and I will create a road map of their wishes, goals, and dreams, and the steps to get there. I will be giving them the tools throughout the 6-month program (through group coaching) to navigate bumps on the road, decrease anxiety, increase confidence, build better relationships, love themselves, and ultimately create their own happiness.

All while checking in with you so you can continue to build a strong bond with your teen on their journey to end overwhelm and depression.

You can go to my website below for more details here, or email us at info@pyramidpsychology.com to get on the waiting list.

Happiness Pill


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. 

Everything You Need to Know About Therapy – On and Off the Couch

Can you picture yourself walking in your favourite park, sun shining down on your face, picture perfect trees against a vast blue sky backdrop?

What if this was your counselling session?

Photo by Priscilla De Preeze on Unsplash

When choosing a therapist to work with your teen, fit is really important. You want to choose someone who your teen feels comfortable with, someone who you can communicate with easily, and someone with knowledge in working specifically with teen issues.

Beyond these considerations, you’ll also want to think about how the sessions will unfold. When I was developing my therapy practice,  I gave a lot of thought to the different ways I worked things out when I was a teen. I have memories of walking with my best friends, tea in hand, venting about relationships and school stress. I remember keeping a journal for poems, art, and just letting it all out. I also remember blasting my music until the feelings passed.

That’s why it’s important to offer different ways for teens to meet with me. Here’s a little more information on the ways therapy can look when working with the team at Pyramid Psychology.

Photo by Priscilla De Preeze on Unsplash

Walk and Talk Sessions

My friend reminded me the other day that I had talked to them about the idea of walk and talk therapy sessions over 10 years ago. Although I’m definitely not the only person to have thought of this idea, it has been percolating in my mind over many years.

Walk and talk therapy sessions are when I meet with a client in a safe outdoor space (generally Fishcreek Park in Calgary, Alberta) and we walk during the session. We can take breaks and sit on the park benches or walk the entire time.

This kind of therapy can be great if:
– You are intimidated by the idea of sitting face to face with someone and talking about vulnerable topics
– You like to move
– You like being outdoors
– You have good conversations with others while walking

 

Photo on Canva Premium

Movement produces endorphins and other natural chemicals that help boost our mood. So the combination of being able to talk about your struggles while moving can be a natural way to help thoughts, feelings, and experiences transform from the inside out. Even paying attention to the speed of walk or the pace can help bring awareness to your teen’s experience and their ability to make choices that are right for them.

When I asked my first walk and talk teen client how the pace of our walk was, they answered, “what do you mean?”. I invited them to notice if our walking speed was too fast, too slow, just right and to notice that in their body. At first, I think the teen thought it was a little weird, but as they settled into noticing, they realized they wanted to walk just a little slower and we adjusted. It may have seemed like a small moment but it was so significant to have them check-in with how they were feeling in that moment and to advocate and ask for a change. This is a skill they continue to grow and use in their everyday life.

Walking side by side with your therapist can also help to even the playing field. What I mean by this is sometimes it can be intimidating for teens to talk to adults, let alone psychologist adults. Walking together can help it feel a little more comfortable and casual. The quality of the therapy is there, but the feelings surrounding it may make the conversation flow with more ease. You can check out www.pyramidpsychology.com for a little more information on walk and talk sessions.

 

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Expressive Arts

Expressive arts is a way of supporting teens (people of all ages really) to express, understand and discover while using experiential mediums such as paint, writing, drawing, photography, movement, music, crafting etc. Expressive arts is different from art therapy. It uses many different ways for teens to reflect and get to that place of change and action. Expressive arts also uses something called the Intermodal Process. The Intermodal Process means using multiple mediums in one session in order to gain a deeper understanding.

For example, you might start by creating an image and then write about the image or you may start by listening to some music and create a drawing in response.

It’s important to know:
– You don’t need to be an artist or
– Even think you are creative
– All you need is a little bit of curiosity and an open mind
– It can be as simple as starting with scribbles or creating a mini sculpture with pipe cleaners

I have trained for some time in expressive arts and the really humbling part is that in order to learn you need to do it. So I have tried many different ways of being creative, some which I love, some which I learn so much, and some that I won’t use that much in the future.

Photo by Etty Fidele on Unsplash

If a teen is interested in using expressive arts, we talk about it at first and discuss how it can be used occasionally during sessions as an additional way to process thoughts, feelings, experiences OR that it can be used as the main technique. It’s important for us to find the right fit. I also start off by getting to know the teen’s type of creativity they feel most comfortable with. Teens have said to me it’s been helpful to know the art is not graded and there is no expected outcome. The art making process is just as important as the product (the thing you create).

When teens (and me!) use expressive arts in session, oftentimes, they are surprised at what they notice and what comes to their awareness. It can help them:
– transform an emotional response (e.g. anxiety to calm)
– put into images/art/music feelings and thoughts that are difficult to put into words
– take an experience that feels scary and big and make it into a tangible creation that isn’t as overwhelming
– bring awareness to their inner experience in order to make changes and come to resolutions
– learn new skills, new ideas, and new knowledge

If your teen is less verbal, needs more time to process their experiences, or enjoys being creative, expressive arts might be a really good fit. The Thirsty for Art Podcast and Shelly Klammer are a couple resources to check out to learn more.

 

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Virtual Sessions

Some teens like virtual sessions because they can hop on from the comfort of their own home. If your teen has a private, cozy space where they can talk to their counsellor,  this may be an option. It can be nice to have your pet snuggle up to you while in session and be able to sit on your bed or wear your pajamas.

Virtual sessions are not for everyone and here are a few things for your teen to consider:

  • Is my home a space safe?
  • Is it quiet and distraction free?
  • Am I ok meeting someone in 2D?
  • Am I virtually tapped out?
  • What are the pros and cons of this type of therapy for me?

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On the Couch

Meeting face to face in a specific office space has its advantages. It is a container for therapeutic work. The space is dedicated for this and once a teen leaves, they metaphorically leave some of that tough stuff in that space. Having a consistent  familiar space to meet can also help with that feeling of comfort and safety. Knowing all you need to do is show up and the space will be there, unchanging, and familiar can alleviate additional stress. Talking with someone face to face can help add things like non-verbal cues (e.g. body language) which gives another bit of information.

Your teen’s choice on how they want to work with their therapist is part of growing their self-esteem and confidence. You can always mix things up also and have some off the couch and some on the couch sessions – making the process of building bulletproof mindsets as creative as they want it to be!

Love,
Chantal

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

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


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 Miracle of Teen Feelings

This could apply to all humans really, but my passion and purpose are all about helping teen girls build bulletproof mindsets and believe in themselves, so I’m writing for you today.

Feelings (emotions) can fill your heart with love and joy, steady your body with calm relaxation, or claw at your chest with heart rippling anxiety. Feelings can be raw, intense, and totally hijack your body and brain.

 

Photo by Orkun Azap on Unsplash

 

Even though they can be pretty powerful at times, your feelings are also a practical and important barometer (measurement tool) for how you are doing in any given moment. They give so much information and if you can be curious enough to learn about them, they can be a guide to your inner world and what you are needing.

Here are 5 things you must know about feelings:

Photo by Ilya Shishikhin

1. UNDERSTANDING THE EMOTION:
​THOUGHT-BEHAVIOUR LINK

Feelings are the body’s response to your thoughts. Feelings can seem like they are happening in response to something outside of you like a breakup, a test, a fight with a friend, etc. The truth is that it is not the situation or event that causes the feeling. It is actually the mental filter which it is interpreted through. So the mental filter (your thoughts about the thing) which you see a situation through leads to the feelings you experience.

You may not feel a lot of emotion if I tell you that Sarah is no longer best friends with Jude, but if it is you that is no longer friends with your best friend, you will probably have a lot of feelings about this. The meaning we give to situations and events cause our feelings. Why is this important to know this? Well it means anytime you are feeling a feeling you can check-in with yourself by asking:

What is the story I am telling myself right now (e.g. I’m not a good friend, I’m not smart enough, I will screw this up, I am strong, I can always try again, I am a good friend)?

 

Photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash

2. NAME IT TO TAME IT

When something is unknown or uncertain, our human brains see it as a threat of danger. The danger can be physical, but it can also be emotional or psychological danger. So if you don’t know what you are feeling or you are not sure how to express that feeling, you might end up getting totally overwhelmed. Being able to name your feelings might sound way too simple to make any difference, but it can really help your mind and body start to feel better.

​I like to use the emotion wheel below as a tool to practice this skill. You can start at the centre (these are the 6 primary emotions that have been researched and pretty much found globally across cultures and ages.) They are Happy, Angry, Scared, Disgusted, Sad and Surprise. Then from there you can branch out to other feelings that might help you better understand how you are feeling in that moment.

​I like to print it out and have it around. You can circle different feelings that you notice coming up for you often.

 

3. OBSERVE YOUR FEELINGS

It can be really easy to get caught up in your thoughts and feelings, kind of like being swept up by a storm. Once you calm down or it is over, do you ever realize that you can look back and see things much more clearly?

Imagine your thoughts and feelings like a big aquarium full of sea life. When you are caught up in your thoughts and feelings it is like swimming in the aquarium along with all of the sea life. It can feel pretty overwhelming to imagine swimming in the water with sharks and stingrays beneath you! (Did I mention the aquarium was really big?)

Being able to observe your feelings and taking a step back can give you a whole new perspective. It is like standing outside of the aquarium and looking in. All of the sea life is still there (your thoughts and feelings), but you can now look at it with curiosity instead of overwhelm. It often opens up the possibility of choice on what you want to do and how you want to respond when you are observing your feelings.

Photo by Silas Hao on Unsplash

 

One exercise that can help you practice observing your feelings is an exercise introduced by Daniel Siegel, called SIFT. You divide a piece of paper into 4 (see below) and take 1-2 minutes to write or list anything you notice. Start with sensations and work your way through.

Sensations – Any body sensations you are noticing in this present moment (e.g. tense, tight, tingling, numb, warm, cold, shaky, etc.)

Images – Any images that you are noticing. Some people see them as pictures, moving images like a movie, colours, shapes, symbols, or nothing at all. All of these are ok!

Feelings – Any feelings or emotions you are noticing in this moment. It may be one dominant feeling, or different feelings mixed together.

Thoughts – Any thoughts you are having right now. They can be repetitive thoughts, questions or random thoughts. Anything goes!

4. YOUR BODY CAN SOMETIMES FOOL YOU

Your brain and body are pretty amazing. They take in everything that is happening in your environment – what you see, feel, hear, smell, and taste – and within fractions of seconds, decide if things are safe, dangerous, good, bad, liked or disliked.

The thing is our brain can’t tell the difference between an actual situation and a thought. Weird right?! Meaning we can think ourselves into worry (and other emotions) and our body will feel it like a real danger or threat.

Next time you feel worried, scared, or anxious yourself: Am I in real danger at this moment? What is the evidence for this? Then take a couple slow breaths and see how you’re doing.

 

Photo by Evelyn Paris on Unsplash

 

5. THE POWER OF FLOW

The more you resist a feeling, the more it will keep coming back. The expression “what we resist persists” means that if you try to avoid anxiety or ignore anger, it gets bottled up until it basically explodes in ways you are not meaning to. Allowing yourself to feel what you’re feeling helps it flow through instead of getting stuck.

Think of your emotions like houseguests. If your anger houseguest comes to the door and you pretend like you’re not home, anger keeps knocking. Then anger knocks louder and maybe starts trying to find other ways to get it. Your feelings are like really persistent houseguests. Or you may have your joy houseguest that comes by and you invite in and you never want it to leave. Eventually joy is like, “I need to go home now” and you may cling to it and ask it to stay just 5 minutes more.

Learning that feelings come and go constantly is important, and if you allow them to stop by and hang out for a while, they always leave.

Photo by Seyedeh Hamideh Kazemi on Unsplash

I love this translated poem, written by Rumi –

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

​You are the miracle that is a Teen and I feel so honoured to write to you today. Here’s to hoping your feelings can be your guide.

Love,

Chantal

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

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

 


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. 

How to Combat Anxiety – Part 2 of 5 Miniseries – Practical Ideas and Tips to Help Settle and Soothe the Mind and Body

USING OUR SENSES

Our brain processes the world through our senses- what we see, feel, hear, smell, and taste. How we think, dream, and how our memories are stored are all encoded through our senses (e.g. imagining the sound of someone’s voice, smelling cookies and remembering a time you baked cookies with your favourite aunt, dreaming of a familiar place or person). Bringing awareness to our senses can be a powerful tool to help us cope with anxious and negative thoughts and feelings.

We can use our senses to tune into the present moment and to our current environment, which can help our mind and body settle

By doing this, we help bring our prefrontal cortex (reasoning and logic part of the brain) online and tune into the “now”. This can be something that can be really helpful if we are feeling upset, overwhelmed or just overly activated as it can help us to settle and soothe our mind and body.

 

Photo by Solstice Hannan on Unsplash

What are some ideas you can try to bring awareness to your senses?
The 54321 strategy
This strategy uses a countdown using each of your senses. The most commonly known way that I know of practicing this strategy is going through each sense and pairing it with a number. For example, using your sense of sight, name 5 things you can see in your current environment right now.

***You can name things aloud if you want but you can also name them in your head, both can be effective!

Next, name 4 things you can feel right now. For this one, consider internal and external feelings. Internal feeling like “I’m worried, I’m stressed, I’m tired” and external feelings like “I can feel my feet on the ground” or “I can feel the back of legs on the chair”.

Next, name 3 things you can hear right now. Next, name 2 things you can smell right now. Sometimes smell can be a little bit tricky, if that is your experience, perhaps you can access the smell of your clothes or your hair or even just the smell of the air.

Lastly, name 1 thing you can taste right now. I like to use a variation on this one and I often invite teens to say one statement that lets them know they are going to be ok in some way, for example “I am ok”, “I will get through this”, “I’ve got this”., “I am going to be ok”.

Photo by Matthew Payne on Unplash

 

54321 Variation
Another way to try this strategy is to use the countdown idea and this time honing in on some of the senses that are generally more accessible. I mean senses that are a little easier to access for most people for example, our sense of sight, touch/feel, and hearing. This time you would begin a countdown that is naming things like this: 5 things you can see right now, 5 things you can feel right now, 5 things you can hear right now. Next, name 4 things you can see right now, 4 things you can feel right now, 4 things you can hear right now. Next, name 3 things you can see right now…… well you get the point and you would continue until you get to naming 1 of each of the senses. This variation can be helpful if you are needing a little extra time to get your “thinking brain” back online.

The insight timer blog also has an article on the 54321 strategy, a variation called the HALT technique, and an audio clip with a guide 54321 exercise.

Photo by Hayes Potter on Unsplash

Tuning into one specific sense 
In this strategy you choose a specific sense to focus on and you can give yourself a few different challenges. One example of this is a hearing challenge, where you name as many things as you can hear in 10 or 20 seconds.

Another strategy is distance hearing, where you begin by noticing sounds you can hear as a part of you (inside) such as your breathing or your stomach noises (especially if lunch time is approaching!). Next, you distance your hearing and name sounds (things, people, animals, etc.) you can hear around you and nearby. Next, you distance your hearing even more and challenge yourself to  name sounds you can hear in the next room or further until you can’t notice any new sounds.

 

Photo by Alex Jackman on Unsplash

Another idea using our sense of sight is spot a colour. You start by choosing a colour and naming as many things as you can that are the selected colour or a close variation of that colour. You can lengthen this exercise by repeating it using every colour of the rainbow. I particularly like this one in an outdoor setting, especially in fall or spring when a variety of colours are available to us.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Our sense of smell is another option. If there are smells that you experience as comforting or soothing (for me that would cinnamon or the smell of a warm pot of homemade spaghetti sauce- yes I like food!), perhaps you can have those smells accessible for you. Now, having the smell of homemade spaghetti sauce on hand is not super practical, but if there are other scents like lavender, rosewater, peppermint, citrus, or a blend of essential oils, it is much easier to work with.

Some people will use roll on scent sticks or lava bead bracelets with a few drops of a soothing scent. If you find the smell of your laundry soap of shampoo, you can use your clothes or hair, and take some sniffs of those. I would add one point of caution around our sense of smell-  smell is highly linked to memory, so I would advise testing out a smell before you use it in a situation where you are upset and are trying to settle and soothe.

If you found this post helpful, spread it by emailing to a friend or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook- Thanks! Also, be sure to come back and check out Part III, where I’ll be talking about using breathing to combat anxiety.


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. 

How to Combat Anxiety – Part 3 of 5 Miniseries – Practical Ideas to Settle and Sooth Breathing

Part 3 is all about breathing. Breathing is essential to human life and we all do it, but we each have a unique rhythm.

How can you use breathing to cope with anxious and unhelpful thoughts?

How does breathing let your body know, “thanks for being on alert, but I’m ok right now and I’ve got this”?

​Read on my friends.

Our breath pattern changes depending on what we are doing and how we are doing. If we are exercising, for example, our breath will deepen and speed up in order to get more oxygen to our muscle groups. When we are sleeping, our breath generally slows down to respond to our state of rest.

Our breathing is also linked to our emotions. When we are scared or really stressed our breathing can become rapid and shallow, preparing us to fight, freeze, or flee. When we are relaxed, for example during a meditation or enjoying a good book, our breathing slows in response.

​Breathing may seem automatic and for a lot of things it is, but the really cool thing  is that we can adjust our breathing to settle and soothe our system on purpose.

This kicks in our parasympathetic system which is our ‘rest and relax’ system, the opposite system that kicks in when we are under stress.

One important note about breathing- everyone’s breathing pattern is unique to them! Although breathing instructions and breathing exercises may encourage you to take breaths in certain ways, it is really about what is an option for you at that moment. In going over some of the ideas in this blog and video, please keep in mind that whatever kind of breathing is available for you today- is ok!

For example, people who have experienced a lot of trauma sometimes tend to have shallower breaths, so if a breathing exercise or instruction is inviting you to take deep breaths that can actually be quite activating and overwhelming. It’s about listening to our body and well…..learning to listen to our body.

Photo by Carlos de Miguel on Unsplash

 

Breathing in through my nose? Through my mouth?

Again listening to yourself and what’s possible in that moment. It can be helpful to breathe in through your nose when trying breathing patterns that are designed to help kick in the parasympathetic system, but it doesn’t have to be that way- so just keep that in mind.

If you have allergies (Oh do I know hay fever season!) or a cold and it’s a matter of mouth breathing- then go with that! When I’m practicing breathing patterns to relax, I generally tend to breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth but again, whatever is an option for you.

Photo by Emiliana Hall on Unsplash

There are different types of breathing strategies that can be used and using simple reminders and cues can help guide the breath. 

Finger breathing– tracing your breath using your hand as a guide. What I usually do is take an in breath (breathe in) when tracing the outside of my first finger (perhaps your thumb), pause or hold at the top, and then take an out breath (breathe out) as you trace the other side of that same finger. Just keep that pattern as you trace out the entire hand. The added bonus is that the touch of you tracing your fingers can add some extra focus and soothing.

 

Photo by Michael Fenton on Unsplash

Shape breathing– If you have something to write with and write on handy, draw out a shape of your choice, any shape will do. Then you can use your writing tool (pencil, pen, sharpie, lipstick- you can be creative here!) and trace over the shape you’ve drawn and have your breath mirror that shape. For example, if you choose to draw a rectangle, you will trace over one line and breathe in, trace over the next line and take a pause, trace over the next line and breathe out. Trace over the shape until you’ve taken a few breaths (I like to do between 5-10)

Photo by Kyndall Ramirez on Unsplash

Being aware and noticing your breath– Simply bringing some focus and attention to your breath and where you notice it the most. For some folks that might be more in the chest, for some it may be more in the stomach area. The invitation is to place your hand on that area (your chest, your stomach, or both) and just take a moment to notice as it rises and falls with your breath. Notice your hand(s) as they go up and down with your breath. Repeat for a few breaths.

Photo by Javardh on Unsplash

 

Imagery or object breathing (feather breathing, candle breathing, flower breathing)- While bringing an image to mind, use that to guide your breath. Let’s take the feather breathing example. You can have an actual feather for this idea or you can just pretend you have a feather handy. Place the feather in your hand and as take your in breath and out breath, trying to make the feather move. Same thing with the candle breathing- imagine you have a candle in front of you and as you breathe in and out, you are moving the flame of the candle, but not blowing the candle out. This helps to control and bring awareness to the breath.

If you found this post helpful, spread it by emailing to a friend or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook- Thanks! Also, be sure to come back and check out Part IV, where I’ll be talking about using visualization and imagery to combat anxiety.

Breathe on! 


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. 

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