Does your teen believe in themselves? In their ability to handle averse situations? In their ability to cope with difficult feelings?
I’m not just talking about confidence, I’m talking about capacity: Does your teen believe they have the capacity to navigate what life throws at them?
Do you feel you have the capacity to be there and support them effectively when they don’t feel they can manage?
These are not easy questions.
If your teen struggles with anxiety you may also notice that they are struggling with belief in themselves as well.
Today let’s talk about how self-esteem and anxiety are connected.
By now you will have likely watched our intro video on anxiety. You understand more about your teen’s experience and thus feel more equipped to respond when your teen is feeling overwhelmed.
Understanding is the foundation of connection. Connection is the foundation of effective support. If we understand each other we can build a relationship that enables us to “get through” to our children and for them to “get through” to us.
But you are feeling worried because while you “get” the anxiety, you are wondering how you can help your child believe in themselves even when their brain is telling them “panic panic panic” or “I can’t do this!!!”
Anxiety and self-esteem concerns go hand in hand. Chicken or egg, it doesn’t matter. Low self-esteem can make us question our capacity to handle difficult life events and thus create anxiety. But anxiety can distort our thoughts and make us question who we are and our worth. What matters is not what came first, but rather that attending to one will significantly help the other.
Supporting your kid through anxiety (without taking over and doing things for them) will do wonders for their self esteem, just as building self esteem can help reduce anxiety.
But where to start?
The first step is *drum roll*…
Yes, I know you were expecting me to say “Be curious! Ask questions first! Validate feelings! Create attunement! Build your bond and connection and the solutions will follow!!”
And I’m so glad you’ve been paying attention because those are super important.But the first thing you need to do is be patient.
Because anxiety and self-esteem are not things that shift overnight and the less patient you are the more anxious and frustrated you BOTH will become.
Patience means looking for small (SMALL!!!!) wins and not expecting miracles right away. Patience means celebrating the one tiny step forward they make and not freaking out when they regress 3 steps the next week.
Success is built on a low bar.
Sounds not super motivating, but scientifically is actually true. The lower your expectations, the more you and they are able to MEET those expectations, the more they go WOW maybe I CAN do this, the more they develop capacity, resilience and confidence. From that low bar, they build an entire scaffold of success to where they want to be.
If they feel they aren’t coping PLUS are struggling to believe in themselves, the more you push (even subconsciously) for them to “get better already” the deeper they will go into their shame cave.
Imagine being told that you had to go rock climbing tomorrow. But you had to do it without a harness or guide, and you had to do the tallest mountain. Um…no thanks? Cannot do. Gonna Bail on that one. Wow I’m so dumb. Everyone else is doing it. I suck.
Ok, let’s try: Tomorrow we are going to examine the local climbing gym and see if there is a wall we would like to attempt. Then we are gonna ask for a harness and a guide to show us the ropes. Then we are going to go as high as we feel comfortable and stop when we need to. Wow that was kinda fun. I didn’t realize I could pull my weight like that/ I went higher than expected. next week I’m going to try the harder wall. I’m pretty sure I can do it. I’m awesome.
Silly comparison? Maybe. But whether it’s an actual mountain, or a mountain of anxiety, the approach is the same. If you want them to be able to cope with anxiety and to build their self-esteem, you need to meet them where they are at, right now, with no or low expectations, and then help them navigate small, tiny, opportunities to build their capacity and success.
In the meantime. Take a deep breath! I’m here with you.