Little kids with big worries

Little kids with big worries

Written by Cait Fitz of My Little Poppies.

My oldest son is a world-class worrier. The worries housed in his brain are far too big for his sweet little body. I wish I could whisk them away and erase them from his mind forevermore.

His worries always spike this time of year. Is it a hold-over from the winter months? A form of Spring Fever? I’m not quite sure, but we always experience a swell of worry in spring.

We brace ourselves for sleepless nights and heart-to-heart talks that don’t seem to do anything… that is, until they do.

My little buddy has conquered many fears in his seven years on the planet and, thankfully, we’ve learned that the worries always pass with a little TLC, creativity, and heaps of patience.

Do you have a little kid with big worries?

While I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers, I am happy to share strategies that have worked for this school-psychologist-and-world-class-worrier-mom.

Name it

It is important for your little worrier to understand that everyone worries. Anxiety serves an important purpose: protection. It plays a key role in the fight or flight response.

The first time I told my son that worries are a normal part of the human experience, I could see him relax. Identifying and understanding worry is one step in the process of conquering it.

Listen

The last thing you want to do with worry is ignore it. Talk about those worries!

Remember that it can be difficult to discuss the worries as they are happening. Sometimes revisiting the topic at a calmer moment works wonders.

I often talk about the previous night’s worries while driving. I think there’s something about the spontaneity and lack of eye contact that makes the whole thing less formal and, well, easier. Talking about the worry will help you both to understand it better.

Triggers and resiliency

Knowing worry triggers can give you time to prepare, or to develop an action-plan:

“Hey, bud, there’s going to be a clown at Joe’s party. How do you think we can make this work?”

Whatever you do, do not fall into the avoidance trap.

It is important for your child to face the worries and work to overcome them, with support from you. Conquering worries builds a feeling of success and fosters resiliency.

So, for example, I have a child who tends to freak-out at new activities. Before each new activity, I will say something like,

“Remember that time you were really afraid to play soccer because you thought everyone was better than you but then you tried it and you absolutely loved it?”

Remembering past successes can be helpful in overcoming current worries.

worry2

Photo by Pixabay

Strategies

Explain to your child that triggers and coping are unique.

When I’m overwhelmed, I find that exercise, books, music, and sleep are my best coping strategies. Share yours with your little worrier and help your child to discover what works.

Great strategies include:

  • guided relaxation and imagery
  • meditation
  • yoga
  • deep breathing
  • progressive muscle relaxation
  • distraction
  • humor
  • writing
  • and drawing

Keep a notepad beside your child’s bed so that he or she can do what I call a “brain dump” and either write about or draw the worries. This can clear the mind and allow for sleep.

Stress is a part of life so it’s best to learn to manage it early. Coping skills are among the most important of life skills!

Self-care

This may sound trite but it’s true: eat well and be sure to get enough exercise, fresh air, and sleep.

Meeting these most basic of needs will give your child the energy to calm the worry monster. This is just as important for parents as it is for children.

It can be extremely challenging to parent an anxious kiddo. You’ll have a better chance of staying calm if you are taking care of yourself.

Model

Yes, some of us may worry more than others, but we all worry.

The next time you are worried about something, talk about it with your worrier. Identify the emotion and walk them through how you will cope with it. Or, talk about a time in the past that you felt anxious and how you overcame it.

Simplify

When you are in the throes of a worry surge, simplify. Make time for relaxation in your day. Snuggle, read, or try a mandatory quiet time. The quiet will recharge everyone.

When our son’s worry spikes, we cut back on activities and focus on the things we love. Doing less brings an instant calm to our days.

If the worry monster has reared its angry noggin in your home, cut back on your homeschool expectations. Worry will not ease up if you have a huge to-do list to conquer.

If your child loves read alouds, do more of them and cut back on other things. Learning will happen if you relax and let it, I promise.

worry

Remember

Worry ebbs and flows and changes over time. You might conquer it this time, but it could rear its ugly head again.

Remember these tips and remind your child of them. What worked last time may need to be tweaked this time.

Don’t be afraid to try something new

Some of our best worry-busters were borne of desperation mixed with a little creativity.

One time we overcame a fear of crickets with bedroom “cricket blocking” shades. Another time, we conquered a fear of using the bathroom at night with a portable nightlight.

Most recently, we quelled our son’s fears and sleep difficulties with a worry basket and some car keys!

Seek help

If your child’s worry is significantly impairing his or her functioning and daily living, and/or if there is a history of anxiety in your family, it’s important to seek help. The sooner, the better.

Call your pediatrician or ask around to find a wonderful mental health counselor. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and/or play therapy can work wonders.

Do you have a world-class worrier too? Share your tips 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.

Comments

  1. My ten year old became extremely anxious last summer. So much so, I ended up taking him to our family doctor. We somehow worked through it, but I noticed that when we started back with our school routine in August it seemed to disappear or at least diminish greatly. I wondered if it was just simply a lack of routine that left him spinning. He was coming into that ‘in-between’ age where he doesn’t want to play with toys constantly, but not quite ready to move on to other things. I’m going to be watching closely this summer to see if any if those worries come back and if so, get him refocused and more structured. I have already implemented a loose schedule of sorts where they have daily things to do, many of which are working towards their own goals of things they want to accomplish this summer.

    • Lacey,

      It is interesting you should say this because I, too, think my son’s worries are related to change in routine. Historically, he has swells around the start and end of the school year. It is one of the main reasons that I have elected to homeschool year round. We are more relaxed in the summer but I think this is a better plan for him. Thanks for reading and I hope you have a worry-free summer!
      Cait @ My Little Poppies’s latest post: DIY Traveling Journal Homeschool Project

  2. Melissa W. says:

    My two are too young to be dealing with this yet, but I wanted to mention that I’m in the middle of a book called “Simplicity Parenting” by Kim John Payne that addresses the fact that kids are growing up too fast and have too many adult anxieties that are stealing their childhood from them. The book gives lots of tips on how to give them back their childhood by protecting them from adult problems, among other things.

  3. Kara Anderson says:

    I loved this Cait, and I am working on building a worry basket based on your ideas. I might have also borrowed your notebook-beside-the-bed idea for myself! 🙂 Thank you for addressing this — it’ something we deal with a lot, and I can get caught up in feeling like we are the only ones.

  4. Love this post! So many wonderful ideas! I have 3 worriers, all with ebb & flow (like all of us, I guess!). All 3 have gone through the “worrying about monsters at night” phase, and even though we pre-plan with ways to keep from being scared, and talk during the day (exactly like your car ride example!) about monsters not being real, how we keep doors & windows locked, etc, I’ve found that, in the middle of the night, what works best, is to just go with it. If the come to my room afraid, I go to their rooms and tell all the monsters (very sternly) to get out. I pretend to watch them leave & always have to remind one that he really does have to go. I (again , sternly) tell the monsters they can’t come back in b/c my son is trying to sleep & that they can’t be in there. For whatever the reason, this works so well with my kids. In the morning, we can talk more clearly about it, but in the middle of the night, kicking the monsters out myself has been the only thing that works. 🙂

    • I adore this, Stacey! I can just picture it! Have you read “There’s a Nightmare in my Closet” by Mercer Mayer? That’s all I could think of when I read your response. It’s one of my childhood favorites and I love the part where the nightmare starts to cry and the little boy lets him sleep in his bed. If you haven’t read this book, you probably think I’m crazy 🙂 Thanks for reading and I hope those monsters stay away for a while!
      Cait @ My Little Poppies’s latest post: DIY Traveling Journal Homeschool Project

      • I HAVE read that book!! It is such a great one, and that is such a great part!!

        I forgot one key part of kicking the monsters out – I always ask if my son sees any others. If he does (sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn’t), those get kicked out, too. Don’t want to miss any that he sees & I don’t. 😉

  5. Oh my! This post is exactly what I have been thinking about and dealing with this last year. One change we made is to put in place a meditation/breathing technique that we do before school and it’s made a big difference. For both of us 🙂 Thank you for writing about this topic!
    Maggie’s latest post: What summer structure looks like around here

  6. Helpful post! If you or your readers haven’t read this book, I recommended it: “The Highly Sensitive Child” by Elaine N. Aron, PhD identifies 20% of the population as “highly sensitive” and they (we) are prone to worrying more, can be more depressed and well..sensitive. She has a lot of strategies in the book, too. I notice that getting my son in nature helps. And just clearing his schedule to do less.
    Deborah’s latest post: Earth Day Exploration

  7. This is so helpful, Cait. I have not considered the potential impact of modeling how I cope with anxiety. I usually shield my two worriers from it, but based on your suggestion, I think it makes perfect sense to talk them through how I am coping with my own anxiety. Thank you for sharing your wisdom!
    Shawna@nottheformerthings’s latest post: When ‘Christian Parenting’ Isn’t Christian

  8. Hi Cait, thank you for the useful article.What resources for guided meditation and/or online yoga for kids would you recommend?

  9. Hi Franca!
    I have heaps of meditation and mindfulness resources. I’ve written about them here: http://my-little-poppies.com/make-your-own-worry-basket/ and here: http://my-little-poppies.com/a-mindful-month-of-books/

    You can also find FREE resources online, too. I know that there are free classes offered through YogaGlo (not sure if there are kid classes available but my trio likes to practice yoga alongside me) and Pinterest has tons of guided relaxation print outs. Good luck and let me know what you end up liking!
    Cait @ My Little Poppies’s latest post: Games that Encourage Imagination and Creativity

  10. I have twin girls and often their worries feed off of each other. And often, I can’t predict whether an activity will cause them to get scared or not, so I don’t prepare them enough for it. Also, if one gets scared about a new activity the other will start getting anxious as well (then I end up with two six-year olds clinging to my legs, and I can’t even move to try and comfort them). One of them is starting to be more independent at least though. I think I’ll try your brain dump method and talking things through more with the other.
    Catherine’s latest post: A Lesson on “The Man”

    • Hi Catherine,
      We can’t always predict, either, although some things at this point we have an idea will cause his worry to spike. I can relate to what you wrote about feeding off of each other. My oldest will often cause the younger two to worry about things that had never been on their radar before. I hope that the brain dump helps you!
      Cait
      Cait @ My Little Poppies’s latest post: Our Favorite Logic and Reasoning Games

  11. I really appreciate this article as this is what we have been going through with our 7 year old. It has been 6 months of sheer hell. She was terrified she would throw up. It was consuming her life (and ours) and affecting everyone’s sleep. Her play therapist thought that maybe she had the phobia – Emetophobia fear of vomiting. Anyway, I just wanted to leave a comment because although your first suggestion is to listen, what actually healed my daughter was to finally ignore her.

    This was incredibly hard – actually the hardest thing I ever did as a mom – but I now believe (3 months post phobia-averted) that ignoring her was the only thing that prevented her tremendous FEAR from actually becoming a PHOBIA. She is nearly 100% over this now, although she does still have some sleep issues, but I have blogged about the things that have helped us if anyone wants/needs to hear about some other suggestions to get through the stage of worrying.

    http://raisingcatandbug.blogspot.com/2015/05/dont-let-fear-become-phobia-part-3.html

  12. I am realizing I have an anxious kid. I struggle with thinking about all things all the time and he does the same. He wants to tell me all the things that are in his head and I feel like I don’t have space in my own head for my thoughts let alone his thoughts. We are in a period of huge upheavel in our family where we are moving from a place we love to a place that feels far, far away and different. No one really wants to make this move and my anxiety and depression has swelled and immobilized me. That only makes it hard for my kids and homeschooling. My son started getting hives which we and the docs agree are caused by anxiety so now he is taking allergy meds to keep them from getting worse. What do you do when mom’s mental health is precarious? It feels like a vicious cycle. My son needs answers, I don’t have them, I worry that I can’t give them to him, he just asks more questions, round and round. Along with boxes and selling a house and grieving the loss. It is just hard to watch because anxiety is a plague in my family in general. Is this TMI? Yes I am sure it is…

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