Imagine being trapped in a large dog crate in the corner of a dark room as water slowly starts to seep in. The frantic fear of believing you might drown yet not knowing how to call for help or express yourself is how overwhelming anxiety can feel.
Whether your teen is developing anxious tendencies or has been diagnosed in some form, it can be scary and unknown territory to support them in, especially if you don’t have personal experience with it.
You’re of no help if you’re drowning too.
After our son’s diagnosis at 8yo, I dove headfirst into rescuing him from his brain’s daily assaults. I became a reflection of my son’s current state , worrying about the next episode rather than enjoying the calmer, happier moments. I forgot I was allowed to feel joy, have good days, and set necessary emotional boundaries to truly be of any help.
The best support I gave him, and me, was identifying my own generational trauma and anxiety to begin healing from them so I wasn’t unconsciously throwing my fuel on his fire. It’s an ongoing journey through loads of therapy and I’ve come a long way.
The number one tool I wish I’d known.
If you’re raised like me, there weren’t emotional vocabulary lessons, so I learned what I did from my parents, who also didn’t understand the spectrum. Now as a parent, passing on the same limited language wasn’t a practice I was going to continue.
In her latest book, ‘Atlas of the Heart’, Dr. Brené Brown shares her research on 88 distinct emotional experiences, stating that most people can only clearly articulate 3-5 of those. This directly impacts your brain’s ability to effectively express, process, heal from, and release emotions, increasing the incidents of anxiety and depression.
Now, every parent I work with gets a copy of The Feeling Wheel by Dr. Gloria Wilcox and it lives on their fridge, being brought to the table for mealtime. Each family member chooses and shares one feeling on the wheel (because they’re ALL human!), and optionally shares what was happening when they felt that way. Download your copy of The Feeling Wheel here and watch a quick demonstration here.
Watch the full video with all my tips here.
Let’s stop raising half humans.
If challenging emotions make you uncomfortable and you’re prone to rescuing your teen (and yourself) from them, you’re teaching your teen that HALF of their human experience is shameful, bad, and wrong.
By judging feelings with labels like good, bad, positive, negative, etc., your teen grows up lacking:
- the confidence to know ALL feelings are ok even if they feel uncomfortable
- the coping skills to navigate hard feelings
- the language to effectively articulate, express, process and release those feelings
- the emotional safety and support from you because they see how it upsets you
Every day I hear teens feeling incapacitated by ‘the dark side of the wheel’ and with no way to release those emotions, they internalize or numb their pain through cutting, drinking, drugs, sex, anything to feel better.
I’ve seen Dads have to leave our call to vomit because the discomfort of those challenging emotions feels so shameful their body has a violent reaction to them. This is more common for men who were rarely given the luxury of emotional exploration as young boys.
Emotional expression is a powerful antidote for mental health struggles.
This helped save my son. His continued assessments showed how his expanded emotional vocabulary dramatically lessened his anxiety attacks over time and he didn’t need to act out as much because his self-advocacy was strong.
Parents in my programs tell me their teen reduced their dependency on self-harm and substance use just by developing greater emotional awareness, expression, and self-advocacy.
This is work you lead and do with your teen over time, not require them to do alone.
I used to think my son’s anxiety was my fault and I’d broken this gorgeous child because I was so damaged. That belief held us both hostage and farther from healing.
Anxiety, whether situational or physiological, isn’t the end. It’s the beginning of a new path with different strategies, challenges, and celebrations. You don’t have to do this alone. Click below to join my private parenting community on Facebook for personalized support and two LIVE Q&As each month to get answers and resources when you need them.