At times most of us have seen our teens become overwhelmed by what ‘s happening in their lives – at school , with their friends , their teachers …the list is endless really. Fears about being seen as ‘stupid’ or a ‘loser’ or ‘loner’ are very real to them.

Sometimes they will even experience panic attacks which is an overwhelming fear in a “normal” situation. If a panic attack occurs in a classroom they may fear that when they are in class it will happen again – the panic is so frightening they may worry a lot about it happening and of course the more they worry the more likely it is too happen.

If your child is worrying about a situation where they have to do something they are really frightened of, you might like to share this with them:

Do you remember what it was like the first time you tried to ride a bicycle? Think back to how you felt getting on the bike for the first time. Were you able to just jump on it and ride away, or did you feel shaky and think that you might fall? Remember how it was to have someone hold onto the seat, to help you be steady? What did you think would happen if they let go of the seat and let you go off on your own?

Well, with practice, again and again, you learned to feel comfortable and ride that bike straight and steady. Do you think about how scared you were whenever you jump on a bike now? Of course not! Because you got used to riding the bike, now you don’t even notice if you feel a little shaky at first.

Now what do you think would have happened if, that first time you were on a bike feeling all shaky, you got off the bike and never got back on it again? What if you told yourself “this is too scary, I may fall and then I could get hurt.” Do you think you would have wanted to jump back onto that bike again? No way! If you tell yourself that something is scary and that you can’t do something, then it really feels scary and it keeps you from wanting to try again.

This is the same thing that happens to some people when they have to give an oral report or play an instrument in front of other people, or take a test in school, or even when they start conversations. Because they tell themselves it is a scary situation and that they can feel shaky and butterflies and such, then they don’t want to do those things anymore. And the more they avoid those things the worse it can get. This is because they feel more afraid than they would really be in that situation (Ref: Bruce Tong).

Helping our children to face their fears and find ways of managing them is an important part of being a supportive parent.

This support may include some of the ideas listed below:

  • Goal setting
  • Learning about the connections between what we think , feel and do
  • Positive thinking / self talk
  • Relaxation Training
  • Rewarding times when anxiety is managed.
  • Creating a daily timetable with a study or rest period each day
  • Exercise
  • Breaking assignments and homework into small manageable bites
  • One to one tutoring
  • Awareness of our physical reactions
  • Distraction
  • Creating a safe place for your child to go
  • Social skills training
  • Graded exposure to source of the ‘fear’
  • Taped soothing music

Sometimes however the situation does require specialist help – the school counsellor would be a good person to talk to about what support is available in school as well as the specialist agencies available to support young people.

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Julie Mulcahy is married to Peter, a Primary School Principal and is descended from a long line of teachers. Julie has taught Years 4 through to Year 13, moved from country schools in Bay of Plenty, Waikato and Northland and spent the past 10 years in Auckland where she has worked for six large secondary schools taking referrals for senior students who had learning or behaviour needs.

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