Parenting Teens: A Dog’s Life Metaphor for Overcoming Anxiety


I have two dogs: Oscar and Lilly. That’s Oscar with the black and white tuxedo and Lilly is the little champagne-colored princess. Oscar is a happy, easy-going guy who loves to go on adventures and meet new dogs and people friends. Lilly, on the other hand, is scared of EVERYTHING outside of the house. Poor thing.

overcoming anxiety

I feel so sorry for Lilly because she doesn’t enjoy life like most dogs. We have tried to take her to dog parks and on play dates, but she is so scared (even at our little community dog park that has only Oscar and her in it) that she just trembles and pants. She won’t even take short walks around the neighborhood because she’s scared of everything that moves.

Oscar, on the other hand, gets to go to the James Island County Park dog park and loves to play with dogs of all sizes! He goes to the beach and loves to trot around the neighborhood and down King Street on Second Sunday. Oscar goes to his friends’ houses and has doggy play dates. With every adventure outside of the house, he has a good time, plays and then kicks-back and relaxes wherever he is. He is loving life!

Examples from Teen Life

I imagine that you have caught on to my “Dog’s Life” metaphor by now. I have a 13-year-old daughter who has anxiety. She comes by it naturally from her mom – yep, that’s me! But, like her mom she has worked hard to use mindfulness & mindset techniques to calm her anxiety, give herself a pep-talk and go outside her comfort zone so that she can enjoy many adventures.  Last week she went to sleepaway camp at the Governor’s School for the Arts & Humanities in Greenville. This week she is at sleepaway music camp at Charleston Southern University. And these are not her first sleepaway camps. She has been going to sleepaway camps since she was ten! 

This is NOT EASY for a girl with severe anxiety! 

My daughter’s friend, on the other hand, who also has anxiety, decided to leave music camp after only one night. My daughter was very, very disappointed. But, I reminded her that her friend doesn’t have mindfulness and mindset techniques to help her. I told my daughter that I feel sad for her friend because this is the second year in a row that she has opted out of the wonderful opportunity to attend this camp. 

overcoming anxiety

Kids with anxiety

For those of us with kids who have anxiety, or are shy, or just don’t want to stop playing video games, it is important for us to explain to them (and perhaps even push them a little) to go outside of their comfort zones so that they don’t miss out on life!

I think back to my freshman year in high school and how I allowed my anxiety to hold me back. I was so self-conscious that I would not even walk across the campus (we had outdoor campuses because we were in Southern California) by myself. In fact, I’m pretty sure that my attendance records show that I missed over-a-third of that school year – Yikes! 

What changed things for me, was a push from a friend. One day, when I was begging her to walk across the courtyard with me, she said in a very straightforward, yet not unkind, way “Why can’t you walk across the quad on your own? What is wrong with you? No one cares about you walking by yourself!” Or something to that effect, it was 30+ years ago!

She helped me to realize that my fear and anxiety was holding me back. – thank you Cassie!

Mindfulness & Mindset Can Help Them Overcome

Now don’t get me wrong, I did not have a quick change overnight. It has been a long journey of learning and practicing mindfulness and mindset techniques. Therein lies the Secret Sauce though. When practiced on a regular basis, Mindfulness and Mindset techniques work to overcome the anxiety that keeps us from doing something that will add to our lives. 

Lilly doesn’t have the option of learning and using Mindfulness and Mindset techniques. We’re using small doses of exposure-therapy to hopefully help her overcome her doggy agoraphobia. The calming effects of Mindfulness and the motivational effects of Mindset CAN help people of all ages overcome anxiety. We, as parents, have the option to learn these things for ourselves and then pass them on through example and teaching to our kids.

Back To The Dogs

Next time your child balks at wanting to do something that could be fun for him or her or begs to come home from a camp, tell them the story of Oscar and Lilly. And then ask them which dog they want to be like.

“Would you like to be like Oscar and have a good time? Would you like to play (in teen-talk we say “hang-out”) and then chill out and relax? Or, would you like to be like Lilly and miss out on life outside of the house?”

If they answer that they prefer to be like Lilly, it’s time for you to try three things:

  1. Push them to get outside their comfort zone by teaching them “catch-phrases” to be their own motivational coach.
  2. Talk to them about other things they have done that were enjoyable and fun. This reminds them that they do have a good time when they try.
  3. Teach them Mindfulness techniques to calm their nerves.

And if at first you don’t succeed… try and try again! You know how teenagers can be! 🙂

Big Hugs & Happy Parenting!