How brain dumps can help little worriers

how brain dumps can help little worriers

Written by Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curely of My Little Poppies

My oldest son is a compassionate, funny, creative, wonderful little human.

He’s also a World Class Worrier.

At 8-years-old, he should be spending his summer running through sprinklers and climbing trees and eating his weight in watermelon. He should be making mud pies and catching fireflies and having cannonball contests.

And he is doing all of those things, but he’s also worrying.

Worry is tricky like that. It can pop up, out of nowhere, on a beautiful day.

Worry can derail a summer.

No one is immune to worry. It is a natural part of the human experience, a crucial part of the fight-or-flight response. Worry protects us.

But it certainly doesn’t feel that way for some of us. Some of us worry more.

I am one of those people. I can remember being his age and laying awake on a hot summer night, scared out of my mind, unable to fall asleep.

So is it any wonder that now, thirty years later, I have a child who does the same? That apple does not fall far.

I wish I could make his worries magically disappear. I wish I could erase them from his mind so that he can get back to being eight and awesome.


Unfortunately, worry doesn’t work that way. You cannot snap your fingers and make it go away, but you can learn to manage it.

Learning to manage worry

Recently, a friend and I were discussing little worriers and coping skills and self-care. We talked about how it took us both years to figure out the coping strategies that worked best for us- way too many years! And we both agreed that we don’t want our children to wait that long.

One of the many benefits of homeschooling is the ability to pause everything and to focus on a child’s social-emotional needs when the need arises. 

Because no one can focus on math or writing with a mind full of worries.

When worry swells, I’ve learned it is better to set the books aside and focus on my son’s heart.

And just breathe.

Brain Dumps

Life is full of challenges and the sooner your child learns to navigate strong emotions like worry, the better. 

Coping skills are unique. What works for one child might not work for another. By talking about worries and trying different strategies, you will help your child learn to manage strong emotions.

I consider coping skills to be among the most important of life skills and I make sure to include them in our family and homeschool routine.

Today, I’m sharing one of my favorite coping strategies: brain dumps.

Brain dumps have many benefits

Remember how I told you that I was a little worrier, too? Well, over the years, through trial and error, I’ve learned what strategies work for me. And while I’ve outgrown those nights of laying awake and frightened, I have always had difficulty sleeping. I just have too many thoughts in my noggin!

When I was a teen, I started keeping a notebook beside my bed. Before I went to sleep, I would write down my thoughts. Sometimes this looked like a journal entry while other times it resembled a to-do list.

brain dump 1

I did not have a name for it then, but I was performing a nightly brain dump. By writing down the thoughts racing through my mind, I was transferring my worries elsewhere

This simple strategy eased my mind made space for sleep.

I’ve been a brain dump fan for decades now. It is my go-to worry reducing strategy.

Brain dumps help to:

  • Clear the mind
  • Organize thoughts
  • Gain perspective
  • Improve sleep
  • Increase focus and attention
  • Gain a sense of control over worries

And, guess what? Brain dumps aren’t just for grown-ups! Last summer, I taught my then-7-year-old how to brain dump. 

Is it any surprise that he is a big fan of brain dumps, too? There’s that proverbial apple again!

Brain Dumps

How our family uses brain dumps

I now use brain dumps in our homeschool in several ways:

  • First thing in the morning, if my son has a lot of ideas for the day
  • When he is having difficulty focusing on a task
  • Before a big event or new activity

I plan to teach my younger two children to use this strategy as well, but in the meantime they have doodle diaries to help them calm down and refocus.

But by far, my favorite way to use brain dumps is to ease worries before sleeping. 

Last summer, we placed a notebook by my son’s bed. We worked with him to brain dump at bedtime, and encouraged him to add additional worries should any arise during the night. Often, this alone eased his mind but if worries persisted in the morning, he would bring his notebook downstairs and we would chat about them over breakfast.

This summer, I updated our nightly brain dump routine. I made a brain dump printable and laminated it. By using a dry-erase marker, my son is able to use and re-use the printable.

Brain Dumps

Today, I’m sharing this printable so that you can use brain dumps with your little worrier. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Download the free My Worries {Brain Dump} printable here.
  2. Print
  3. Laminate
  4. Fill out nightly using a dry-erase marker

Brain dumps have been a huge success, not only to calm my son’s worries, but also to improve his focus for learning. This simple strategy has become one step in his journey toward understanding himself and managing difficult situations. My hope is that this strategy will work some worry-reducing magic in your home, too!

Brain Dumps

Now, it’s your turn. Tell me: Do you have a little worrier at home? What strategies have worked for your family? Share here.

About Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley

Cait is a school psychologist, mom to three amazing children, and an unexpected homeschooler. She loves nature, good books, board games, strong coffee, and dancing in her kitchen. You can read about all of these things and more at My Little Poppies. You can also find her hanging out with Kara at The Homeschool Sisters Podcast.


  1. Wow. I love this. I have one child who is very sensitive, and I have often encouraged her to write down all her “complaints” so we could discuss them one by one. But, I like this approach better. Wording it this way, framing it as “worries” would probably help me be more compassionate.
    Carrie Willard’s latest post: 5 Frugal Things

  2. I love that you laminated it because I think it’s symbolic of being able to “wipe the fears away.” I could definitely use this for some of my kids (and myself- the BIGGEST worrier). Thank you for this great idea!
    Shelly’s latest post: Is Homeschooling Really All That Different from School?

  3. Jennifer says:

    My almost 9 year old is a worrier but also quite private so struggles identifying and discussing his worries. He tells me a lot of what is going on in his head, but only after a lot of modeling, sharing my own thoughts (I have anxiety), and encouragement – over time. I fear his “holding back and stuffing” the worries are making things worse. I wonder how to help him feel safer to release them more consistently and often, and work through them so they are not holding him back…

    • My son is 8 and we are finally, just now, talking about worries more. He still keeps them inside too much, but every swell of worry gets better. I find that hindsight helps in this area.

      I always remind my son that, by keeping it inside, he is giving his worry more power.

      It has also been helpful to read books on this topic. There are heaps of fantastic books to use with children as a conversation starter and stepping stone.

      You are not alone <3
      Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley’s latest post: When it Feels Like Worry is Winning

  4. Thanks for sharing this! I have days where I fear that I’m not doing enough to aid my 8yr old sensitive, worrier. I love this idea and don’t know why I have not tried it before now, my husband and I both keep notepads by the bed to write down those things that wAke us or prevent sleep. And as you said the apple doesn’t fall far. I also like the odd for throughout the day. A challenge we face at times is not only worry but just random ideas, if he can jot those down and discuss them later then his fear of forgetting them may decrease allowing room for the task at hand. Thanks again for sharing!

  5. Wow, what a wonderful idea! I will implement this with my worrier ASAP.

  6. Kathrina says:

    What a great idea! I have depression, my 12-yr-old son has it, and I think my daughter has anxiety and my other son may too. Thankfully my youngest seems to have escaped so far. I’ve come up with coping strategies for myself but haven’t known what I can use to help my children sensitive worriers. This gives me a place to start. Thank you!

  7. Brain dump is an effective strategies. If you are interested in learning more strategies to deal with anxiety, go to GoZen! I’m not affiliated with them but have used their videos (need to purchase) for my daughter and it has been very helpful!

  8. …I could use a ‘brain dump’ for anxiety myself! Thanks for the reminder!

  9. Jennifer Butters says:

    This is very good advice for children (and parents/adults) who deal with OCD.

  10. We have a worry wall, or rather the back of his closet door, because he doesn’t want everyone to see them. He writes his worries on post it notes, sticks them on the back of the door, and closes them in the closet. He doesn’t have to think about the worries any more. We also have a happy wall and he writes things that he is thankful or make him happy on post it notes and sticks them up on a wall where we all can see them. I always prompt him so there are more” happys” than”worries” so he focuses on them and sees the positive not the worries. We have a bonfire and burn his worries usually in the winter and summer as he LOVES burning them!

  11. Thank you for sharing this. I have a daughter who struggles a lot with worrying, and so do I. I wish that someone had been able to help me when I was a child. I did not know that what I was suffering from was anxiety until I was 25. I just knew something was wrong. It actually amazes me that no one knew what it was. Now it seems so obvious. I was wondering if you have any other resources on dealing with worry/anxiety for children or Moms? Or if you know of any good resources etc?

  12. As always, God’s timing is perfect. This is a must for me to implement. Our household is a mess and my 8 year old could use this for the nightmare that is to come. Thank you.

  13. Holly Camping says:

    This such a wonderful idea! I am a worrier too, and, lo and behold, so is my 7 yo son! He doesn’t write or read yet, so what would you suggest for him? Could I ask him what is “on his mind”, and write it down for him?

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