HOW PARENTS CAN HELP SUPPORT THEIR TEENAGERS THROUGH DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY Here is a list with some suggestions of things to do and things to avoid.
Educate yourself (This is probably one of the most importance and most valuable things that you can do! By educating yourself about their condition, you are increasing your awareness/understanding of their conditions and what you can do to best support them. Do your research. Read journal articles, blogs, books etc)
Get professional support. (Reach out to a professional mental health therapist who can help to educate you and provide you/your family with support)
Talk about it (If you are feeling isolated or as if you are the only parent going through this, join a local support group for parents. Ask your friends who are parents about their experiences. Lean on and support eachother)
stay calm (This is especially important if they are becoming increasingly angry, frustrated, or anxious. If you “overreact” or respond the same way they are, a vicous cycle will occur, which will not be beneficial to anyone, and usually this only makes the situation worse. Instead, try your best to stay calm-take a few deep breaths).
Create routine/structure but allow for some flexibility (Most people with deprssion/anxiety benefit from being prepared and having a plan. This means they perform better and symptoms improve when they have some sense of what to expect)
Have realistic expectations (of yourself and them. Nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes. The most important thing is that we can learn from them. Many people with depression/anxiety have perfectionistic tendencies. That means they have expectations that are not realistic. Help them to create realistic expectations for themselves and others)
Reward and highlight their progress (Notice the things they are doing well. Provide verbal praise and positive reinforcement. Progress! Progress! Progress! For younger kids, making a rewards chart can be helpful with this!)
Anticipate their triggers and plan ahead (Again this comes down to being prepared. For example, if you know that they have difficulty getting out of bed in the morning: allow extra time, encourage them to make their lunch the day before etc. Many of the strategies that can be used to treat anxiety/depression can also be used to prevent the symptoms from getting worse. If you know that they will be entering a triggering situation, encourage them to use some of their coping strategies!
Have a “code word” (The ultimate goal is for your child/teenager to be able to express how their feeling, however it takes time and practice. In the mean time, develop a “code word” and its meaning, that they can say when they are feeling sad/anxious and when they need some space. For example, a code word might be “hippo”. When your child/teenager says the word “hippo”, that might mean that they are starting to feel angry and need to walk away/have a few minutes of quiet time before you start asking them about their day)
Create a safe place (Let them know that you are there for them and that they can come to you when you have a problem/need to talk)
Encourage them to seek help (Professional counselling is very effective in treating anxiety and depression! Keep in mind that therapy is far more effective when they are are ready, willing and able to accept professional help)
Normalize and validate their experiences/emotions (Being a child/teenager today is hard for a variety of reasons. Remind them that even though it might feel like it, they are not the only one going through this. Encourage them to seek professional support )
Respect your teenagers privacy (ie.if they need a quiet space, allow them to go to their room without criticizing them or assuming that they are “isolating themselves”)
Say “I love you. I am here for you..how can I help to support you through this?” (Ask them if they want to talk, without pressuring them to do so. (there is always an appropriate time and place to have conversations. This does not mean that they can get away with things, but instead realize that if they are already anxious, now is not a good time to talk to them about thier chores. If they say no (they do not want to talk), then gently remind them that you are here for them if/when they are ready.
Punish them for making mistakes (Instead pay extra attention to the progress they have made and their accomplishments. Highlight those and reward them!)
Blame yourself (Instead, educate yourself! There are many factors that can contribute to the development of anxiety/depression. Poor parenting does not 100% cause depression/anxiety. It is not your fault!)
Pressure them to talk when they are not ready (This can cause more issues. Instead, write them a note/send them a text letting them know that you are there if/when they need you)
Assume you know how they feel (Instead ask them ie. “I just wanted to check-in to see how you are feeling”. Even if you have experienced anxiety/depression yourself, it manifests and impacts everyone differently. Instead of making assumptions, ask them to help you to understand what it is like for them).
Make assumptions based on their diagnosis/behaviour (Instead, ask them! Do not assume that they will be “too anxious” to attend a family event. Give them the option anyways)
Punish them for their diagnosis (ie. Do not say “you look depressed. I am just going to ignore you until you are no longer depressed”. This is not helpful. Instead offers words of support and encouragement ie”I am here for you”).
Use labels (Be mindful of your word choices-towards them but also towards others. Your child is not the “depressed kid”. Their experiences of anxiety./depression right now do not define who they are. Instead, notice and observe how this may be impacting them)