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Episode 48: Why Are Kids Anxious and What to Do About It with Natasha Daniels

Brief summary of show:

Anxiety seems to be something we hear about more than ever for both adults and kids.

Why are we seeing such a high rate of anxiety right now? There are obvious reasons, of course, like the many uncertainties we face every day, but life is full of uncertainty today.

This week, we’re focusing on dealing with and understanding anxiety with my guest Natasha Daniels. We're going to talk about anxiety in kids – all the way from toddlers up through teenagers.

Natasha is a child anxiety & OCD therapist, and mom to three kids with anxiety & OCD. She is the author of Anxiety Sucks: A Teen Survival Guide, How to Parent Your Anxious Toddler, Social Skills Activities for Kids and It’s Brave to Be Kind.

Her work has been featured in various places including Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, PsychCentral, The Child Mind Institute and The Mighty.

Listen in as we talk about:

  • [3:10] Why our kids are anxious

  • [9:40] What is social anxiety?

  • [12:15] Advice for parents helping their kids through anxiety right now

  • [17:20] How to help our kids build positive thoughts about themselves

  • [20:25] How social media, food and sleep play into our kids’ anxiety

  • [23:15] How to know when your kids need external help, like a therapist or medication

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Connect with Natasha

Connect with Me

View Transcript for this Episode

[00:00:00] Natalie: Hi everyone. It's Natalie anxiety seems to be something we hear about more than ever today for adults and for kids. So here's the question. Why are we seeing such a high rate of anxiety right now?

[00:00:13] Well, there are obvious reasons, of course, in and out of school, home, back at work home again, mass. Uncertainty in general about the future, but you know, life is full of uncertainty today. I want to focus on dealing with anxiety. We're going to talk about kids. And when I say kids, I mean little kids, toddlers, all the way up through teenagers, but everything we're talking about.

[00:00:38] It applies to us as adults as well. We have to learn what is anxiety and what is stress? What is normal worry? And what is a mental health issue? My guest is Natasha Daniels. She's the author of the book. Anxiety sucks. A teen survival guide. Natasha has worked as a child and teen therapist for more than 20 years.

[00:01:01] She has a private practice. She has a website, she has a podcast and she has three kids. And three other books, four total the topic is really important because we absolutely have to understand, and not only identify anxiety, but we need to have strategies in place for dealing with it. So let's get started.


[00:01:27] Natalie: Natasha. This is a topic. I get a lot of requests for as a mom, as podcaster, also teaching high schoolers. Now it's kind of a new thing for me is I feel like I'm hearing more about anxiety then in the last five to 10 years, is it because we've learned more about it, where identify.

[00:01:48] Natasha: I think that's part of it, but I also think I think there is an increase in anxiety in general, kind of in our society right now.

[00:01:55] I mean, understandably with, I think the pandemic and everything that's going on. Um, But luckily I think we are tuned in and so it's also getting identified when it's popping up.

[00:02:05] Natalie: Well, as soon as we can identify. And know that that's what's happening, then we can do something about it. So let's take us a minute here for parents who are listening and thinking, you know, maybe that's what's wrong.

[00:02:18] Maybe that's what's causing my child to not want to go to school or be scared to go to the birthday party or how can you help parents identify that that's what's happening in their child's.

[00:02:31] Natasha: Well, I love that you brought up those things because I do feel like sometimes anxiety will show up as anger or difficult behavior.

[00:02:37] Sometimes that is the first sign. And if it's. Unusual for your child or it's out of character or it doesn't make sense and they're not giving you an explanation. It is good to dig further because a lot of times that resistance is actually anxiety and disguise. So I always say to parents, pause and say what's the hardest part about blah, blah, blah.

[00:02:59] You know, and phrasing it, not why don't you want to go to school? Because the wise, I feel like put kids on the defensive, even though we don't mean to it hasn't accusation kind of tone. But when I say what's the hardest part about going to school? They're more open, cause I've already acknowledged that it's hard.

[00:03:14] And so there's some validation in that and I know that sounds cheesy, but it actually is pretty powerful. And then I'm listening for anxiety responses. So if they say it's boring, I might still probe. But maybe they say, I just never liked school, but if they say things like. What if I throw up or if they say things like the tests make me so nervous, or if I'm not getting where, and I say, what's the, what day is the worst?

[00:03:35] And they say Fridays what's on Fridays. PE what's the hardest part about PE? No one picks me for sports. You're listening for those anxiety response.

[00:03:45] Natalie: Yeah. Some of those things are really normal kid things, but when it goes on over time or I want to get into here now, because when it leads to physical things like a stomach ache or a headache or not wanting to eat, like what are some of the physical things that we might see in our kids or teenagers to identify it as anxiety.

[00:04:08] Natasha: Yeah. And like you said, you know, A lot of it's normal, but it's the level of severity that shows up for a lot of them. So sometimes you might have a kid who is nervous about blah, blah, blah, but not, they're not getting stomach aches and throwing up. So some physical symptoms of anxiety are definitely the gut.

[00:04:24] So feeling nauseous, throwing up diarrhea, constipation, And then frequent headaches and a, child's not going to have all of these, but they can have some of them, you know, shaky legs heart palpitations, chest pain, difficulty breathing headaches. I think I already said that dryness of mouth. You might have someone who's like very fatigued, so it can really show up in a variety of ways.

[00:04:49] Natalie: So, what do you do? Like, let's get a little bit more into that. Say you have a teenager who feels nauseous every time one thing happens, or maybe it's maybe it's finals, which is a very normal pressure situation for a teenager and they come upon this and they don't know how to handle that pressure. Maybe they they're getting.

[00:05:09] Every time, something like that happens, where do you start with them? How do you, I love the way that you give examples of these conversations that you can have with.

[00:05:18] Natasha: Yeah, the first place you want to start is getting them to recognize that it's anxiety. Not that you're just counting a stomach because having anxiety myself, the stomach is real.

[00:05:28] It is, it feels just like a stomach virus. So there is no difference, but getting them to see that it's caused by anxiety is your first step. And so you might say, and for older kids, you have to lead them really with the breadcrumbs. I've noticed, you know, that you have a stomach ache Monday through Friday, but then on the weekends, your stomach feels better and you're singing in a non accusatory tone.

[00:05:50] It's just, or I notice your stomach hurts every time you have to perform, or every time you go to soccer practice, what do you think that's about? So we want our kids to start to think about it themselves instead of just. It's just anxiety. You're your stomach hurts. Cause it's anxiety that really can shut them down, but getting it to notice patterns is the first step.

[00:06:08] And then once they realize that this physical pain I'm having is an indication that I'm anxious and it's really like a deep indication. Like I've let my anxiety go so far that now it's physically showing. Then it's, how do you catch those thoughts as they're starting to build? How do I become more in tune to my body so that as it starting or even before it even starts, I say, Ooh, I'm going to be really anxious for soccer practice.

[00:06:31] What's that about? What are my, what are my negative thoughts about soccer practice? And then I want to explore those because I want to reframe those thoughts, or I want to counter those thoughts with a different perspective.

[00:06:43] Natalie: what do you think about identifying persona firing this anxiety? I've heard people talk about, and I know in your book you talk about giving it a name and what does that, what does that look like?

[00:06:54] I, I, I love the name you use for your anxiety, but what that looked like for other kids.

[00:07:01] Natasha: Naming. Anxiety's really helpful for a lot of different reasons and some kids don't want to do it and that's totally fine, but the benefits are it personifies it and it externalizes anxiety. And so it's not, it's not who they are because now a lot of kids don't want to identify with their anxiety and say, I am this kid that is afraid to make friends and I'm afraid to speak up.

[00:07:20] But when you say. My anxiety's name is para, right? So for paranoid. So pero doesn't want me to talk right now, our parents telling me this is going to be a horrible thing. it empowers me to, to confront pero or even to train pero if I don't want to be aggressive about it, you know, where power needs to learn.

[00:07:37] So you can name your kids can come up with anything. I mean, in our house, we have, okay. We had Mr. Worry, we have dictator, we have squishy, we have a full pack, people with anxiety, so they all have different names. Um, In my practice I've heard Bob and Gus and all sorts of just fun, silly names. And that, that helps us with communication and it gives us language.

[00:07:59] Natalie: So you can shut Gus or pero down when you start to say, okay, get out of my head. And because another thing I know you talk about, and I have seen this so many times over the years is the snowball. If you let Gus take hold, whoever your anxiety is, that can snowball into one little thing. They were afraid of can turn into like the worst thing in life.

[00:08:24] Natasha: Yeah. And teaching kids how to catch those snowballs early in my practice, I always call it melting snowballs. And so you can't melt a snowball if you don't know it's there. And so being aware of, I just had a snowball thought and being able to catch those snowballs as they go and reframe them is really important.

[00:08:43] Natalie: Can I, it took about a specific type of anxiety because I know you see a lot of this in your practice and. It seems like I talk to more and more parents who have kids who have social anxiety, who are, you know, they don't want to go to the birthday party or they don't want lots of examples. They just don't want to be with other kids.

[00:09:00] They're afraid of being around other people. What, what is that like? What is social anxiety? How can someone know if that's the struggle their kids have? And then what would you say to it? How would you advise me?

[00:09:12] Natasha: Social anxiety is very near and dear to my heart because that is, I have social anxiety disorder and all three of my kids have different renditions of social anxiety and socialists.

[00:09:22] And people often think it is you're shy, or it means that you can't make friends or you need social skills and you can be an extrovert and outgoing and have social anxiety. my youngest daughter is the biggest ham to the point where she really makes my social anxiety squirm because.

[00:09:38] Out there. She just had a choir concert. She was like nauseous before the concert could almost didn't make it. And then when she was actually up there and they'd let you free dance at the end, I wanted to die free dancing. The way that she was, she has anxiety. And that is because social anxiety is the fear of rejection criticism and judgment.

[00:10:03] And her core fear around that is I'm going to throw up and people are going to be, are going to hate me, or I might actually have a pee accident. So those are the two ways that it shows up for her. So not in performing or being social. And so I think most people don't understand social anxiety. They think it's either, you know, just this shy, demeanor, and it's not, it's ultimately the fear of rejection and criticism in whatever way that might show up for that person.

[00:10:29] So

[00:10:29] Natalie: how can someone get over that? Especially a teenager, they the most vulnerable time in their life, or they're so worried about what, more than ever, what people think about them.

[00:10:40] Natasha: It is really hard because social anxiety is one of those things. It's really hard to like separate yourself from, because it feels very much like it's you.

[00:10:47] And so, you know, when. We personify it and now for me, it's pero. And so I'm okay. But pero says, everybody hates you. Her parents is, oh my gosh, they're whispering about you. I can actually evaluate that and say, is that actually true? You know? And even if that's true, cause I do like to go all the way down the rabbit hole and accept the worst case, do they define me?

[00:11:09] Do I let other people define me or do I define myself? And if I'm allowing a stranger, I'm so worried that the stranger is going to think I have a pimple on my face. Do I care what that stranger things, you know, is that going to impact my life? And so a lot of it believe it or not is about developing self love and self compassion.

[00:11:26] That is really the antithesis of social anxiety. Hm.

[00:11:29] Natalie: how does someone do that? I mean, I know there are a lot of ways to develop self love and compassion and all of that, but what advice would you give to a parent who's teenagers going through that? Right now?

[00:11:41] Natasha: It's hard, especially as a teen because.

[00:11:44] They have to do it because you have, you have lost all your power. Their peer group is the most powerful thing. At this point. The foundation has already been set and it's solid. And so it's getting them to see what they value in themselves. And I always tell, and I, my 18 year old has social anxiety, like we all do in this house.

[00:12:02] And I'll say like, do you want to be a flat or a flagpole? You know, So the F the flagpole is like solid. Like, you have certain attributes that, you know, you are, and you're solid about them. I am dependable. I am a good friend. I am. And so you want, you want your teenager to start identifying what are you, what are you solid?

[00:12:22] But nobody can rock your boat on. These are the things that you are. Um, And so you get them to list those and start to really self identify with, yeah. Like I won't lie to you. Like, I am an honest person. Or I am a really good artist. A lot of times the outer stuff is harder than the inner stuff.

[00:12:39] You know what my values are. I could be hard on, I could be solid on versus my skill base. And then normally I'll have teenagers go through their values, like who they are in. With their flagpole is I use the analogy of a flag pole. And then what my skills are. And then physically, even though we don't want our kids to think that it matters what you look like on the outside, the reality is they will, they do care.

[00:13:01] And so it's not to feed them a bunch of BS and say, you're beautiful, or who cares? What you look like. The reality is I'm a teenager and I do care and I do care what other people think. And so I don't have to. Se, except all of yourself. I think being more realistic and saying, okay, you don't like your nose.

[00:13:18] That's okay. You don't have to like every part of you. What part do you like? What part are you like? You know what, but I got these eyes and people do compliment my eyes, but better than that, I like my eyes. You know, when I go put my eyeliner on, I love the way it looks. And so they don't normally do that because we live in a society that says that's cocky or that.

[00:13:37] Yeah, we've kind of ruined that a little bit for our teenagers and ourselves that we're not allowed to dote on ourselves or to feel good because then we're, we're being narcissistic.

[00:13:48] Natalie: Did you know that kids have two buckets that need to be filled on a daily basis? What are those buckets? Well, there's the attention bucket. And then the power bucket. If these buckets aren't filled in positive ways, your child will do whatever has to be done to get those buckets filled. And you know what that means often it's whining.

[00:14:11] Tantrums fighting because in their eyes, negative attention is better than no attention at all. So if you find yourself constantly yelling, nagging, maybe reminding that's the one I face all the time, I have something for you and it's already. Thousands of parents, you can head to my website, Natalie to get in on a free training from positive parenting solutions there.

[00:14:41] You're going to learn how to fill your child's buckets positively again, it's Natalie Tisdel, T Y S D a to get in on that free online class.

[00:14:54] Yeah. You know, and on this podcast, I talk a lot about mindset and you can spend a lot of time focusing on the nose that you don't like, or you can spend more time focusing on the things that you do like, and that goes also for the things we fill our minds with.

[00:15:10] It's one of the reasons I left the news business. It was so negative and I felt like my mind was just being filled with negativity versus. Thinking optimistically thinking positively seeing the good in people. And so as someone who works with kids at that time in their life, it's kind of flipping that switch of focusing on the positive.

[00:15:30] And it sounds easy to do. It's not always easy

[00:15:34] Natasha: to do it really. Isn't easy to do. Yeah. I mean, it's simplistic in the way that. Do it, but to actually get it done, it's really tricky. And I think sometimes as parents, we want to swoop in and we want to be their cheerleader on. So we say, you know, our kids might say I'm so stupid.

[00:15:48] And then we swoop in and we go, no, you're not honey. You know, you're so smart. Dah, dah, dah. And they know we're just there. And sometimes I give my kids a counterintuitive response and I'll say, if you think you're stupid, then you're going to feel stupid, you know? And it kind of shocks them a little bit and they'll look up or I'll say something like, don't talk to my son that way and they'll be like, I am your son, but it's getting them to realize that they're treating themselves.

[00:16:12] Like they wouldn't even treat a best friend. And so just falling into counterintuitive responses to our kids to shake them up and wake them up can be helpful. Yeah.

[00:16:21] Natalie: What other ways would you advise to flip that switch? You know, I keep a gratitude journal, for example, or at one point in my daughter's life, we put sticky notes on her mirror every morning of the things she loved about herself.

[00:16:33] Or what other examples do you have in. To help build this confidence and flipping that switch of positivity.

[00:16:43] Natasha: Yeah. I love the concrete examples you give. And I did that with my youngest, where we had like little jar and she'd write things that she liked about herself and pulled one out each day in the morning.

[00:16:51] But also I think even bigger than that is what we model. And so our kids watch our actions, not our words. And sometimes when we are not trying to spoonfeed them positivity, but we like we model. The true grit of dealing with difficult feelings and being okay with it can be helpful. And so um, I'll give you some examples.

[00:17:13] I think sharing our own struggles can be helpful. And so, you know, if you struggle with social anxiety or other issues, doing it in inappropriate way can be helpful. And so one day it was like, I'll just use this as an example. It was pajama day at my kids' school. And for some reason I made. A dentist appointment and like a pediatrician appointment that day.

[00:17:32] And so my kids were like, we're just going to wear our pajamas. And my social anxiety was like on fire, like, oh my gosh, I don't want the doctors to think. I'm that kind of mom, that my kids at like nine or, you know, whatever are just roaming around in their pajamas. And so I told my kids, after I did this, I said, I set up a challenge for myself.

[00:17:50] And I said, I'm not going to say that it's pajama day. Cause my anxiety would say um, oh, and by the way, it's pajama day so that I could like, not feel judged. And so I didn't say anything and I felt really uncomfortable, but I, I did it. And then after that, I said to my kids as kind of a life lesson, you know, my parents showed up today cause it was pajama day and they had no clue.

[00:18:11] They're like, why would that bother you mom? 'cause, I don't want people judging me. And then do you ever feel like people are judging you, but then I said, you know what? I know I'm a good mom and I know, you know, blah, blah, blah. And so I, I don't care what they think. So use that as kind of a, a dialogue for us to be able to dive deeper.

[00:18:29] And I think that we can model things like that. And that's, that's so much more powerful than just us telling our kids. You're great. You know, you're amazing. You should believe that yourself. Yeah,

[00:18:39] Natalie: yeah. To really see the things that we do or the struggles that we have. I think as a parent, that's one of the, the hard things we deal with is we don't necessarily want our kids to know when we're struggling, but for them, because we don't want them to take on that worry.

[00:18:53] I know I do that. I don't want my kids to know if I'm worried because they have enough in their life. But for them to know, I have worry or I have a problem, but I'm not afraid of it. And then I'm that that's life. And then I'm going to deal with it and it's going to be okay.

[00:19:06] Natasha: And you can do it after the fact.

[00:19:08] Right? So you can, you can use an experience that said, you know, like they didn't know I was nervous at the time, but then after the fact it's a life lesson my kids love stories. And so sharing your stories with intention, right? Cause we don't want. To be our kids confidant, or we don't want to dump on our kids and we don't want them to feel like we don't have it and we're not an anchor for them, but showing them that we can walk towards our fears, just like they can.

[00:19:33] And it's a human thing. Not a kid thing can be super powerful.

[00:19:37] Natalie: Yeah, absolutely. What about just every day, things like food and sleep and social media, like how do all of those things play into anxiety and our young

[00:19:48] Natasha: people. No, I think it's all interrelated, you know, everything feeds on each other. So if I'm not and I think some kids are more sensitive to different foods than other kids and getting them to be clued into their body and saying, you know, you're feeling this way because you haven't been eating well today and getting them to identify like my son.

[00:20:05] Goes ballistic when he has candy, like his head spins and we were all like, no, don't let him have, Halloween's very scary for us. It's a scary holiday for many reasons, but me just telling him you can't have community doesn't help. He had to have the own insight. You know, he would be like a ping pong ball and I'd say, and he'd be anxious.

[00:20:23] And I would say, Why do you think that is? And he'd be like, let me think about what I ate today. Now that he's 12. He'll actually say, let me think about what I ate today. Or even if we go out, he'll say, well, I'm not going to eat all of that because I don't want to be out of control. And so he's making the connection because not all the way now I leave a huge bowl of candy out, like it's yours to moderate because I want him to learn.

[00:20:46] Self-control. And we

[00:20:48] Natalie: have food. I find the same thing with sleep issues that we both have 12 year old sons and, you know, they want to stay up late. Mine really wants to stay up late. And it was hard for me to not say, here is your bedtime eight o'clock, eight 30 or whatever it is. Eight 30, he thinks 9, 9 30 is better and he's, and he's pushing it because he's that tween.

[00:21:10] And like, my friends are staying up later and all of that, but I am trying really hard. So I appreciate that advice to say, how do you feel the next day instead of that's just the way it goes. And I guess that's maybe how we grew up or more people have just those, the rules are the rules, but to help him understand you need some kids need nine hours sleep, you need 10 hours.

[00:21:34] Natasha: Yeah. And give me those tools like that understanding now, instead of when they go to college, I was actually talking to my daughter about this because she's got a lot of free reign at this age at 18 to like, you know, you can stay up however you want. You know, you're a straight a student do what you.

[00:21:49] And then she can learn like, oh, I feel horrible the next day. And so I'd rather her learn that now, then she go crazy her freshman year in college, because now there are no parents there. And she's learning how to self-regulate for the first time in a new environment,

[00:22:04] Natalie: eating more, staying up late, all of those things that, that, that might happen if they haven't learned.

[00:22:10] To self-regulate. Oh, so many good lessons. I really appreciate everything that you told me today, and I know a lot of people are struggling with this, but I do have one really important question because I have found with some of the teenagers that I have worked with that we think we can handle these things on our own sometimes.

[00:22:25] And I know in your books, you give some awesome advice and that is just what some people need, but at what point. Do we need more? Do we need a therapist or do we need medicine or at what point do you think you would tell parents, go get some help?

[00:22:41] Natasha: I think there's a couple of different things. One, I think anyone can get help if they want help.

[00:22:46] I don't think. There's anything that's too small that they couldn't benefit from someone to have a soundboard and build some skills. I mean, being proactive and developing stuff is amazing. But with teenagers, you know, they have to want what they want. And talking to a teenager who doesn't want to be there from firsthand experience is not a fun thing for either the therapist or the teenager.

[00:23:08] And so I would often say, Tell your mom that unless you want to come back, you can't come back because it's a collaborative approach. But I think often we don't even ask our kids because we think that they're going to be offended or we think that the palms, or we can throw a book at them. And so I think it's opening that dialogue and say, I notice that you're struggling with blah, blah, blah.

[00:23:30] And here are some options. And sometimes you actually have to not use the word therapist, but you might have to use like life coach or like a different language for them to make it palatable. I've had parents email me and say, we're going to call you a life coach. And that's okay. You know, I still have my degree and I can still help them.

[00:23:46] They got, they got the concept coach versus cause sometimes there's a stigma depending on your family and the way that you guys talk about the mental

[00:23:53] Natalie: health. Yeah. And it might be hard for some teenagers. Unfortunately it might be hard for them to talk to their parents. So having someone someone else they can talk to might just be what they need.

[00:24:04] So I like that advice. It's always. Okay. No matter what level they're in, it's always. Okay. And I like to think that mental health should be like your yearly checkup with your pediatrician, like having that understanding so that then when they're older, if they do ever have any issues, it's not like, oh, I have to go get help from someone with my mental health.

[00:24:26] It's just a normal thing.

[00:24:28] Natasha: You know, I love that. I love. That thought process, because I do, I think it's just as important as going to your doctor. Kids are in therapy and it's a maintenance thing. They'll be in therapy until they get to decide whether they want to be in therapy. But even if they said, mom, I don't want to see anyone anymore.

[00:24:44] I would honor that. But it's been so much part of their life that they couldn't imagine not talking to somebody like once a week or every other

[00:24:51] Natalie: week. Yeah. And it takes away that stigma that we absolutely have to get.

[00:24:56] Natasha: Yeah. And they see me doing it.

[00:25:00] Natalie: Yeah. Well, I know you've written a number of books and I know you have other resources, so tell everybody where they can get that.

[00:25:06] And I'll, I'll put these in the show notes as well. So they're easy to find, but give us a little more.

[00:25:11] Natasha: Um, Well, I do have a podcast, 80 parenting survival podcast, and I have a YouTube channel that makes videos directly for kids and teens. But you can find all of that at, at T parenting, which is my website.

[00:25:23] And so I post everything

[00:25:24] Natalie: there. Terrific. We'll lead people there and thanks so much for your time, Natasha. I appreciate it all the best to your family. And look forward to talking again soon. Sounds good.

[00:25:33] Natasha: Take care.