February 13: Self-Help Resources for Children and Teens
Last week a colleague reached out to ask me about self-help resources for anxiety and stress targeted to children and teens. We talked about some of our favorites, and I realized this would be helpful information to share with a wider audience – I’m sharing the list here.
Lately there has been so much reporting about the mental health crisis facing children and teenagers. In addition, as you may know from personal experience, there is currently a shortage of mental health resources for children: most individual practices are full, and many clinics have exceedingly long wait lists. I’m not suggesting that self-help resources can take the place of clinical care. However, if you are parenting a child who is struggling with stress and anxiety, these resources offer an additional way to support your child.
What is the most helpful way to offer self-help resources to your child?
First, be sure that the resources you are going to share are targeted to your child’s age and developmental stage. When I use workbooks with children in my practice, I have found that verbally precocious children who often sound older than their chronological age are still best served by workbooks that are targeted to their actual age group.
While you may see several options that seem as though they would be helpful to your child, I suggest starting with just one book or workbook. You can always add more later.
I recommend previewing materials before you share them with your child to make sure that you are comfortable with the material.
For younger children, select a resource that seems relevant, then find a time when you can sit down together to read through the first 1-2 chapters. It may be tempting to do more in one sitting since the chapters are often quite short. However, there is a real benefit to allowing children time to digest and process what they have read and learned before you move on to adding additional information.
Depending on your schedule, plan to sit down with your child once every few days or once a week to read 1 or 2 more chapters.
Tweens and teens will need to have a sense of agency in selecting a resource that feels helpful to them. You might start with the online resource, AnxietyCanada, and either explore the site together or suggest that your child spend some time perusing the site.
If your tween or teen is open to using a hard copy resource, I’d suggest visiting a website that has multiple offerings and allowing them to choose a book or workbook that appeals to them.
Again, these resources don’t take the place of psychotherapy. They offer another tool that can support your child’s ability to develop self-awareness and a toolbox of adaptive coping skills.
What if you are worried that your child’s behavior requires more immediate professional attention? You might want to read my post from October, 2020 about how to figure out when you should worry about your child. If you feel uneasy about your child’s well-being, I encourage you to trust your instincts and reach out for support in one or more of the following ways:
Contact your pediatrician’s office.
Speak with the adjustment counselor or social worker at your child’s school.
If you have urgent concerns about your child’s safety, please go directly to the emergency room or call 911.
Finally, keep in mind that reacting with stress to a pandemic that has lasted almost 2 full years is not in itself an indicator of struggles with mental health. It’s rational for children to be distressed about the pandemic and it’s helpful to tell them this directly: “Two years of a pandemic is so overwhelming, of course you feel sad and angry about it. That’s a rational reaction. I read about some resources that might be helpful. Do you want to check them out?”