This guest post was written by Ben Jackson, owner of The Parent and Pupil Coach which delivers behavioral change programs for 10–16 year olds. He coaches leadership and transition for career parents and is regularly contributing to webinars and articles. You can connect with him on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and LinkedIn. You can also find him on his recently launched YouTube channel.
Worry. It is something we all do, and at times it can occupy far too much of our attention. As adults, we have a few methods–to a greater or lesser degree–that can help us calm that internal questioning and get some release from the constant mental noise.
How many times have you spent a restless night weighed down by anxiety and worry? Quite often these thoughts can spring from a set of questions that recycle over and over again in search of some answer that we will find in our heads: “if only I had..” or “what if..” causing our thoughts to spiral and prevent us from finding peace.
These feelings can be trickier for children who have yet to develop a method or process of managing these questions, resulting in them getting anxious and upset which is naturally distressing for a parent.
Signs Your Child May be Worrying Too Much
Some signs that children are worrying too much include:
- Sweaty skin
- Noticeable heart rate increase
- Angry, irritable, or feeling on edge
- Apprehensive; worrying that something bad is going to happen
- Less energy, tiredness
- Eating habits change, less hungry, or stomach aches
- Focus and concentration lapses
- Difficulty sleeping at night
As these thoughts persist, they compound and often the original concern gains momentum, building up into worry and then further into anxiety. This leads to a deepening of their feelings and increasing overall stress.
As much as we would like to somehow get in their heads and scoop out what worries them, it can be challenging for them to articulate verbally what they are feeling. But that need does not have to be a restriction. You can still help them manage and deal with whatever is on their mind.
How To Beat Worry
Worrying is something we all do and is a normal part of life. These tips will not evaporate the worries entirely, but will help your child find a way to distill and slow down the intensity and persistence of their worries long enough to get some space to manage them. If you notice that your child is worrying too much, try the following tips to help them overcome their concerns.
Tip 1: Notice
One of the most powerful therapeutic tools is simply to notice that you are worrying. Becoming aware that you are worrying is one of the best first steps in coping with it. I encourage people to simply say “this is me worrying”. This awareness is great because it does two things very well:
- It takes a little distance away from the ‘I’ and moves it to ‘me’. This distance separates you from being in a ‘in the moment’ first person experience.
- You can begin to notice what it is that you do to get yourself upset. It may be just a small thing that has triggered this response. It helps to become aware of what is happening without any pressure to change it.
Working with your child simply helps them to notice that they are worrying or feeling upset. There is no need to delve any further into the details about what exactly is worrying them. Instead, help them learn to be curious about what they are experiencing. Once we become aware, we are in a far better place to do something about it.
Tip 2: Stop!
It may seem silly, but try getting your child to say “stop!”. Ask them to visualize putting their hand out in front of them with their palm out as though they are halting traffic. You can play with this idea and get them to imagine ‘freezing’ their worry in motion.
A neat trick is to take it a step further and get them to think about draining all the color from what they are seeing in their mind. This can reduce the intensity of the worry very quickly. Or get them to think of something else that is more fun, relaxing, and enjoyable–something that distracts them in a positive way.
Tip 3: Make Time to Worry
Suggest that your children set aside some ‘worry time’. Agree that there can be a specific time of the day when they can spend worrying about what is on their mind. A safe, acknowledged time when it is okay to worry, for no more than 15 minutes, is a great start. If your child worries when they are trying to get other things done, like homework, bedtimes, or music lessons, ask them to tell themselves to stop and that they will be able to worry about it during the established time.
Tip 4: Flip the Self-talk
It may be the case that your child worries about one or two issues on a constant basis. For example, “I’m not good at football and I am a terrible player”. To tackle this problem, have them write down the opposite in a positive statement: “I am getting better at football and that is good enough”. When they begin to hear themselves say that negative phrase, they remind themselves of the positive statement as the better alternative. Perhaps suggest that they keep the phrase somewhere they can see it easily to help them keep it on their mind, such as a card they can carry in their pocket or a sign in their bedroom.
Tip 5: Problem Solving
Getting help to resolve a problem can be a massive release of pressure and worry. Having someone your child can trust to discuss their problem can be very useful as they can often help solve it or offer ways to cope with it. If not, have your child work through these steps:
- Write down the problem as specifically as they can. If they need help ask, “what in particular are you concerned about?”
- Either on their own or with you, brainstorm all the ways the problem can be resolved. Go as wild and crazy as possible to identify more achievable solutions.
- Ask them to write down the pros, cons, and consequences for each solution. List out all the reasons for what is good about the solution and what is bad about it. Then identify what will happen if they choose that solution.
- Decide! Get them to choose a solution and then help them go do it.
- Review: when they have taken the necessary action, work with them to review the problem. Has it gone away? Is it different? Has nothing changed? Repeat the process if they need to.
Tip 6: Relaxation
With some practice, your children will learn which approaches work best to help them relax. A few suggestions below are a great way to help your children relax and reduce their stress and anxiety.
- Meditation. Mindful meditation is a great life skill to expose your children to. Practicing meditation 5, 10, or 15 minutes a day can have a tremendous improvement on a child’s well being.
- Get them outside. Take a walk, go out into the garden, or find a place to get away from the worry like by the water or under a tree. A change of environment can help tremendously, and this is enhanced with a physical activity like walking or biking out in nature.
- Breathing. Help your child focus on their breathing mindfully. Make it simple by asking them to notice themselves inhaling, feeling their lungs fill up, and then exhaling naturally. Their mind will probably wander back to what is bothering them. When this happens, just ask them to notice that and to bring their focus back to their breath again.
- Muscle relaxation. Help your child relax their muscles by stretching out, extending their body as far as they comfortably can, and then become super relaxed and basically floppy like a puppet on a string.
These tips are really useful as quick methods to alleviate a child’s stress and anxiety. I personally recommend anything that gets a child changing their environment ideally coupled with a physical activity. A walk, kicking around a ball, jumping rope, running around–anything that creates a physiological change will help immensely in shifting the worry and you will begin to notice a positive change in their behavior and outlook.
P.S. This all works for adults too!
How do you help your children address their worries?