If you have a child that seems to worry all the time, you’ll have noticed that it’s pretty near impossible to say the right thing that will stop the endless concerns about things that have never happened and are never likely to happen. Common childhood worries tend to be about the future: “What happens if I get there and there’s no-one to play with?”or “What if I have no-one to sit next to?”
None of us has a crystal ball. You don’t know what might happen and if you pretend to do so, you could actually make things worse.You could initially empathise with your child by saying something such as: “Oh yes, I can understand how that makes you feel. You felt a little like that when you went to James’s party didn’t you? And then you easily found a few friends to play with.”
Worries are emotional messages that our mind sends to us, in a sense, to look out for or take care of us. For example: the night before going away on holiday you might receive worries about having your passport and tickets to hand – which is a good thing, because then you can take action and ensure that you won’t forget them. Likewise, a worry about an exam will prompt you to do some extra revision.
This is fine provided that it really is possible to take some action but many with many worries this isn’t always possible, so we get stuck with a niggling thought that there’s not much we can do about. Acknowledging receipt of these messages is often all that is needed to make them go away – it’s a way of tricking the mind into believing that action has been taken.
Try this activity with your child and see how much easier it becomes to allay their fears.
THE WORRY BOX
1) Find a box. It can be an old shoebox, or a small, attractively decorated one. Include your child in this selection and tell them it can be any sort of box that feels right for them. Explain to your child that this is going to be their personal ‘Worry Box’.
2) Put a supply of paper and coloured felt-tip pens inside the box. Each time your child gets stuck in a worrying cycle, ask them to have a think about what might be making them feel like this.
3) Take one of the sheets of paper from the Worry Box and ask your child to choose a coloured pen. Having a good selection of coloured pens is useful because you can ask your child what colour he or she thinks their particular worry is.
4) Ask them to write down the worry, or draw a picture that represents it.
5) Once they’ve finished, ask them to fold the piece of paper up and put it into the Worry Box. Put the lid firmly on the box and put it away.
(Hint: it’s best to keep this box somewhere out of everyday sight eg. the top of a cupboard. Don’t store it in the bedroom and certainly not under the bed, otherwise your child will be sleeping ‘on their worries’ and not feeling very good about it.)
6) By writing the worry down, they will have sent an important message to the subconscious mind, letting it know that the emotional message has been received loud and clear and that it’s been acted upon.
7) Each time another worry begins to aggravate your child, follow the same process. Ask them to write it down, fold up the paper and pop it into the box.
8) Over a surprisingly short space of time, you’ll find the worries begin to evaporate and will cease to keep nagging your child.
9) At the end of each week, sit down with your child, open the box and empty out the pieces of paper. Read through the worries together and encourage your child to be as pleasantly surprised as you when you both discover that most of them took care of themselves, without requiring any action from either of you whatsoever.
Remember – most of the things that we worry about never happen!