3 Tips for Helping Your Child with Worries

April 3, 2014

Even though I’m a psychologist, I have a child with anxiety.  It turns out that being a therapist doesn’t automatically protect our family from that reality. My little boy can’t help it, I can’t help it; some of us are just hard-wired that way.

Jake, age 6
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My son Jake is a sweet, active, thoughtful, wild, kind, cheeky six-year-old. Even at such a young age, I already see that he struggles daily with the worry monster.  You know the one I’m talking about.  We’ve all met him on one occasion or another.  But the worry monster has taken up residence in Jake’s brain, and he battles it with a fierce intensity. As his parents, it falls on us to help him through it.  Whew…  Heavy burden, no?

worry monster
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Let me introduce you to The Worry Monster (Peters, 2013)

Jake is incredibly gifted in the art of verbal debate, and his debates with me are often manifestations of his internal angst.  I have learned to listen carefully to whatever he is fighting for, because it gives me a glimpse of what the worry monster is nagging him about.  If he argues with me about staying after school for a special activity (one that I know he really wanted to do yesterday)…. it’s a clue that there’s something there that he’s worried about.

Sometimes I forget to read the clues he’s offering me; in moments of frustration I feel like he’s just trying to be difficult.  Like when he balks at walking 2 houses down the street to his friend’s for a play date he’s been dying to have. But he’s not really trying to be difficult.  He’s just anxious.

It’s that damn worry-monster riling up his nervous system, leaving him feeling agitated and frightened, heart and mind racing, palms sweating.  But he’s 6, so it’s hard for him to realize and verbalize that it’s worry driving his angst and arguments.

Dan Peters, Ph.D.  wrote a wonderful book about helping children with worry.  As a psychologist who has worked with many kids and families, I can tell you that Peters’ methods and suggestions in Make Your Worrier a Warrior are tried and true.  If you take your child to a therapist tomorrow, these are the things any good one will tell you.  And his book is a lot cheaper, so give it a try first.

Worry Warrior
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So what do my husband and I personally do to help Jake when he gets anxious?  Whether he’s afraid to leave me to go play with a friend, or getting out of the car to walk into school in the morning, the steps we take are always the same.

1) Set predictable routines…

I can almost guarantee that the times Jake (and dozens of other kids I have worked with in my private practice) has an anxiety-based meltdown, something has been altered in his universe in a way that has made him uncomfortable.  Routines decrease anxiety.  It’s that simple.

2) Teach him breathing and relaxation exercises (when he’s not anxious!).

The key is that you have to do this when he’s not anxious!! Then when you’re knee-deep in an worry-meltdown moment, you can say, “Let’s breathe together.”  Breathing by itself may not solve the whole problem.  But it’s important for both of you.  When your child is upset, you feel upset.  So don’t rush (embrace the fact that you will be late to wherever you were planning to be at that moment), and take some time  to get calm together.  Here’s a link to my favorite YouTube video by Leah Kalish demonstrating breathing relaxation exercises for kids.

3) Call the worry-monster out for being a big, ugly, mean bully .  Yes, he’s a bully that lives inside each of us.  In this era of bully-awareness, kids can relate to this idea.  The solution to his bullyness?  We have to talk back to this bully and keep him from pushing us around. Every time we talk to him and about him, it makes him weaker.  This is a concrete image that children can grasp.  With practice, it becomes second nature.  Following Dr. Peter’s tips will help you give your child the tools she needs to deal with her worry for the rest of her life.  So give it a try, and just say no to the bully-monster.

NO worry monster
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The worry monster, as depicted by Dan Peters, Ph.D. in the book Make your Worrier a Warrior

I hope these tips and ideas help any of you who struggle with this same problem. It’s tough being a parent.  We have to stick together.

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8 Comments

  • Reply Pamela Mallett April 3, 2014 at 4:33 am

    Wow. Jakey’s such a big boy now. Love your advice, this blog, and you (and your mom & dad, and Jason, & the Princess Sophie, and Tessa and Emmie 😉

  • Reply Sandra Louise April 3, 2014 at 9:55 am

    Great tips, Stephanie, especially for when the worry monster lives insides us adults. Love the new header, too.

    • Late Night Quilter
      Reply Late Night Quilter April 3, 2014 at 10:59 am

      Thank you Sandra Louise! And thank you for noticing my new header. I’m very excited about it!

  • Reply Jeep April 3, 2014 at 1:33 pm

    Nice article and tips. Hope Jake can fight the worry monster and be happy. We miss you guys. Natan asked about Jake and Sophie many times. Btw, I like your logo. 🙂

    • Late Night Quilter
      Reply Late Night Quilter April 3, 2014 at 1:49 pm

      Thanks Jeep. We send our love to Natan. And thanks for the logo compliment!

  • Reply melintheattic April 4, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    I have a worrier too! These are good tips. We’ve developed some of our own techniques that come from a similar philosophy. Good to have these resources too. Thanks.

  • Reply LeeAnna Paylor April 7, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    I came for a visit because you joined my blog circles and what a gift!! I love your writing style. I am a recovering social worker having spent my work life with children and teens. I now get to live the creative life and work with adults. I loved your worry article, and can relate because I fight the monster too!
    The bulldog story is precious. Good thing you know how to deal with anxiety! I got anxious for you over the mention of the scorpion, yikes!! We have some creepy crawlies here in MD but again, yikes!
    I will put your blog on my reading list, and on my links under dog/quilter connections. Hope you visit me too, as this connection is why we blog. I’m off to watch your video. (I want to do a video but can’t quite figure out how to set up the camera by myself) LeeAnna
    Not Afraid of Color!
    lapaylor.blogspot.com

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