My oldest daughter has always been anxious. She just turned 14 and in the last 6 months, her anxiety has hit an all-time high. She is not sleeping well and seems to be eating less than usual which is particularly concerning. The worst part is that she won’t talk to me and when I try to approach her, she completely shuts down. I am so worried about her and don’t know what to do.
Dear Concerned Mom,
I am imagining how difficult it must be for you to see your daughter struggling and not be able to help her. I am guessing in addition to feeling worried, you feel frustrated, scared, and possibly even helpless. Additionally, I am hearing your desire to connect with your daughter. There are a few paths you may wish to consider to connect with your daughter and hopefully open up the communication. But before attempting a conversation, you can help your daughter regulate. When we feel anxious our body goes into a fight, flight, or freeze state where we want to protect, not connect. So, helping your daughter find her calm would allow her to step out of this state and into a space where she can be more expansive and open. Breathing, meditating, sitting in nature, journaling, and listening to music are some of the many ways to relax our nervous systems. If your daughter needs support learning how to breathe to achieve a state of calm, the webe can be very helpful.
Once her body has calmed, you can begin a conversation with vulnerability or empathy. The first approach is focused more on you as you vulnerably share how worried and scared you are and how much you wish to have a relationship with your daughter that allows her to feel safe sharing with you. You can go on to share how much you long to be there for her and how helpless you feel when you think something is wrong but she is not comfortable sharing that with you. The second approach is focused more on your daughter as you empathize with her experience. In this option, you can begin with a guess as to what she may be feeling. For example, I have noticed that you are having a harder time with eating and sleeping and am wondering if you feel nervous, anxious, or afraid about something at home or maybe with friends at school? If any of those are true for her, you may notice a softening or quiet invitation to continue the conversation. If she remains closed and tight, try another guess or invite her to share a feeling. Remember as you go, talking is one strategy for connection but there are many others. For example, if your daughter is not yet ready to share what is coming up for her, maybe you can just spend time together? You can even tell her that she doesn’t have to talk now if she is uncomfortable, and that you are happy just being with her so she is not alone with whatever she is feeling. With this option, you reduce the pressure to talk while simultaneously offering reassurance that you are there to support her and help her feel safe.
It isn’t easy being a concerned parent and not knowing what to do, as that uncertainty can be quite painful. Just sharing your own pain and worry with friends or even with us at webe kälm is a way for you to also get some needed support.
From one parent doing the best they can to another, webe in this together!