Anxiety and Perfectionism: 3 Ways to Help Your Stressed-Out Teen Cope

Is perfectionism and the pressures of daily life creating anxiety in your teen? Does your teen have difficulties starting or completing a new task for fear that he or she will fail? Is your teen struggling with schoolwork or participating in their after-school or athletic activities?

For many teenagers today, aiming for perfection and the overwhelming fear of failure is an unfortunate reality. Unlike “high-achievers,” many teens will often set lofty goals and assume complete failure if their goal isn’t met with sheer precision and perfection.

These teens run the risk of constant disappointment, which can lead to the development of anxiety, depression, self-esteem issues, as well as family and peer conflict. In order to mitigate the potential effects of perfectionism and related anxiety, consider the following strategies to help your teen find more balance in their daily life:

1) Promote Hard Work Rather Than Perfectionism

Encourage your teenager to consider goals that feel realistic and manageable, while still aiming for a challenge. It can be helpful to have conversations at the start of the new school year or after finals with your teen about his or her expectations.

This can be a great opportunity to help your teen modify or eliminate goals that may be too overwhelming, such as participating three AP classes. Instead, encourage your teen to participate in one advanced class so they are able to dedicate their time to a challenge while also finding time for self-care, social events, and after-school sports and activities.

2)  Defeat Negative Patterns of Thinking

Perfectionism is often associated with negative and self-defeating thoughts. These irrational thoughts will only exacerbate your teen’s anxiety and make it more challenging to find small successes and the necessary confidence within themselves. Teens will often engage in “all or nothing” thinking, such as complete failure or straight A’s. Teens may also think in catastrophic ways; a small mistake on a chemistry test will predict the colleges I am accepted to.

Encourage your teen to use a basic Cognitive Behavioral Therapy technique called cognitive reframingwhere he or she can challenge the irrational thoughts. Help your teen to replace the problematic thought with a more positive thought or fact that is more grounded in reality. Once your teen can change their negative self-talk, they are likely to feel less anxious and experience an increase in their mood.

For example, we can change “I failed my math quiz and now I’m going to fail the class” to “I didn’t do my best on this quiz, but I have many opportunities to ask my teacher for help and the remainder of the semester to work hard.”

3)  Cope with Stress and Anxiety in Healthy Ways

Foster a safe space for your teen to express their emotions and talk about their stressors. Often times, having an outlet and using healthy emotional expression skills can drastically reduce the pressures and decrease the anxiety your teen is experiencing.

Encourage your teen to cope in positive and healthy ways, rather than internalizing and shutting down. Avoid negative coping skills, such as immersing themselves in screens and electronics or napping to avoid the stress. Validate your teen’s concerns and anxieties while also challenging him or her to cope in healthy ways. This will look different for each teenager, but can include playing sports or talking with his or her peers, listening to music, going for a run, journaling, drawing, or even downloading a breathing or guided mediation app on their smartphone.

 Talk with your teen about how he or she can view mistakes as opportunities to learn, rather than total failures. Model positive self-talk and encourage your teen to “aim high” without resorting to perfectionism and self-defeating patterns of thinking in their academic and social worlds.

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.”

– J. K. Rowling

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Combatting School Anxiety: 6 Tips for Parents to Help their Kids

Anxiety as the New School Begins?

School anxiety can be very real for kids as summer wanes and the school-year approaches. Kids are filled with a variety of emotions as they approach the new school year: sadness as they count down the last fun-filled days of summer, coupled by excitement to start the first day of a new class with the potential of new friends and new experiences. For many kids, anxiety is very real and scary.

The “What-Ifs” can fuel anxious thoughts. What if…?

  • …the teacher doesn’t like me?
  • …my friends aren’t in my class?
  • …I don’t get picked for soccer?

The list of what-ifs’ can be daunting, but with a little help from parents, kids can learn to manage their anxiety about school:

1. Recognize anxiety in its different forms

While some kids will be open and verbal about their worries, others may not say much. Some nonverbal cues to look for if you expect your child is experiencing anxiety: somatic complaints that don’t have a medical origin, difficulty concentrating or focusing, restlessness, angry outbursts, withdrawal, and/or sleep difficulties.

2. Open up the conversation

Kids don’t always open up to adults and let them know they are stressed. Use mealtimes, commutes to activities, and even down-time watching TV to check in. “What are you looking forward to this year the most? Is there anything that you aren’t looking forward to or are worried about?”

3. Normalize your child’s worries

Remind your kid that everyone has worries. Help them recognize their positive attributes, as well as noting times that they have conquered similar trials. For younger kids, it may help to use their favorite super hero comparisons, such as “What do you think Spiderman does if he’s nervous before a big day?”

4. Help kids “dissect” their fears

Does you kid love science experiments? Encourage her to do a little experiment on her own school anxiety. Ask your child to name the worry, then help him to break it down:

  • What are the chances of the worry coming true?
  • Is the worrying helping you in any way?
  • Is it making things worse?
  • Have you been in this situation before?
  • If so, what helped you get through it?
  • What didn’t help?

5. Be mindful of over-scheduling

How many adults do you know that have a music lesson, dance class, or sport every day after work? Kids these days are inundated with opportunities and activities. While some amount of extracurricular activity is great for a kid’s growth, too many structured activities can cause unnecessary stress and exhaustion. Children have a difficult time identifying stress, so it’s a good idea to help them plan a manageable schedule that allows enough time for sleep, nutritious meals, and some good-old fashioned DOWN time.

6. Recognize when your child may need help

Anxiety and worries are a normal part of life, especially for kids. Be patient, supportive, and a good listener, and don’t be afraid to be creative with some of the tools above. However, if your child’s anxiety is so pervasive that it inhibits their ability to function, then don’t be afraid to seek help from a licensed mental health professional. Therapy can help a child with anxiety to cope with transitions, gain skills to manage their symptoms and stress, and deal with the ‘what ifs’ that come up through life.

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