Worry is a normal feeling that happens to all of us from time to time. As an emotion, it is our natural response to real and anticipated or imagined situations. We worry about something because we perceive it as a threat and worry causes us to focus on the issue or situation at hand. A little worry can in fact be good for us as it gears us towards taking precautionary measures such as checking the road before we cross or putting on our seatbelt when we get in a car.
For some people however, including our children, the focus on something can become so overwhelming that we end up in a cycle of worrisome thoughts, images and self-talk.
Some children are born worriers; they have a temperament that predisposes them to being a ‘worry wart’. For others, they live in a home where worry and anxiety are part of daily life. For most, it is a combination of the two.
How to spot a worrier
So how do you know you have a little ‘worry wart’ on your hands and what can you do to help your child in their worries? Sometimes it is not easy to spot, as children are not always able to verbalise what is worrying them.
Here are a few things that might indicate your child needs help with their worries:
In the morning:
- Wakes up with a tummy ache or other ailment
- Can’t eat breakfast
- Only talks about the bad things that may happen at school that day
- Tell you why they can’t do something well
- Is too frightened to take part in school activities
- Seems stressed and bothered
- Focuses on all the bad things from the day
- Studies far too hard, but probably not efficiently
- Panics when things are misplaced
- Has trouble getting off to sleep
- Has frequent bad dreams or nightmares
- Talks a lot in sleep
- Takes ages to ask a simple question
How you can help
- Make home a haven
Make sure home is a place where children can relax, laugh and play to give a physical relief to their worries.
- Make conversation
Encourage conversation, not as a way of finding out what is worrying them, but to be available to them and to take an interest in the things of their life. Concentrate on achievements and positive events; help your child to see problems as challenges that can be worked on together; use some humour appropriately to lighten the mood; and, most importantly, make sure this time is not rushed.
Encourage activities that are soothing such as listening to music, reading, colouring or drawing; spend time in close contact with your child, young children often like cuddles, older ones may appreciate sitting together while having afternoon tea or a squeeze of a shoulder as you go by.
- Work with them towards a solution
As much as we might like to dive right in and provide a solution, working with them towards a solution is a much better approach and teaches them that they are capable of solving their problems. Work alongside them to brainstorm possible solutions and to guide them through the process of dealing with challenging situations.
- Keep things in perspective
Try to balance the need to not minimise your child’s feelings against keeping things in perspective. Point out that many challenging situations are temporary. Teaching children about perspective, and recalling past situations that were managed, can help build resilience and a ’can-do’ attitude.
- Be a good role model
Children learn so much by what we do. The way in which you respond to challenging situations goes a long way towards shaping your child’s responses. If you are easily worried, upset or angered when faced with these situations, your children will learn that this an appropriate response. Try instead to speak positively and to verbalise optimism about your ability to find solutions.
- Get help
If these ideas don’t seem to be making an impact on your child’s worries, or if you think you could do with some further support, visit your GP or seek the help of a counsellor or psychologist. Once again, doing so, sets a good example to your child to seek help when they need it.
What other ways have you been able to help your child with their worries? Share your ideas below.