Worrying. It’s something we all do to a greater or lesser degree and at times occupies 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 of us have spent a restless night wrapped in more than just a duvet but weighed down by anxiety and worry. Quite often these thoughts can spring from a set of questions that recycle and recycle in search of some answer we’ll find in our heads: “if only I had..” or “what if..” causing us to spiral and find no peace.
These feelings can be trickier on 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 many children who worry too much might show are:
• Sweaty skin, noticeable heart rate increase
• Anger, irritable or 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, not sleeping at night
As these thoughts revolve around they compound and often the original concern has gained momentum and builds up into worry then further into anxiety. Deepening the feelings and increasing the child’s stress.
A physiological change will help immensely in shifting the worry and begin to notice solutions that they’d not yet seen.
As much as we’d like to as parents 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 not be a restriction to you helping them manage and deal with whatever is on their mind.
How to Beat Worry
If you do notice that your child is worrying too much you may find the following tips useful in helping overcome them. As I mentioned above, worrying is something we all do and is a normal part of life so these tips won’t evaporate the worries entirely. What they can help your child achieve is a way to distill and slow down the intensity and persistence long enough to get some space to manage them.
Top Tip #1: Notice
One of the most powerful therapeutic tools is simply to notice that you are worrying. Becoming aware that you’re worrying is one of the best first steps to coping with it. I encourage people to simply say “this is me worrying”. This awareness is great as it does two things very well:
1. You have taken a little distance away from the ‘I’ and moved it to ‘me’. This distance separates you from being ‘in the moment’ 1st person experience.
2. 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. Just become aware that that is what’s happened without any pressure to change it.
Working with your child simply get them to notice they are worrying or feeling upset. There’d be no need to delve any further into what it is that’s worrying them. Help them to begin to get curious about what they are experiencing. Once we become aware, we are in a far better place to do something about it.
Top Tip #2: Stop!
It may seem silly however you can get your child to say “stop!”. Ask them to see themselves putting their hand in front of them, palm out as though halting traffic. You can play with this idea and get them to imagine ‘freezing’ this worry in motion. A neat trick is to then take it a step further and get them to drain all the colour from what thy are seeing. This can reduce the intensity of the worry in super quick time. Or get them to think of something else that is more fun, relaxing and enjoyable; something that will occupy their brain.
Top Tip #3: Make Time to Worry
Suggest that your child can have some ‘worry time’. Agree that there can be a set time of the day they can spend worrying about what’s on their mind. A safe, acknowledged time when it’s okay to worry, of no more than 15 minutes.
If your child worries at a time when they have to do other things (homework, bedtimes, lessons etc), ask them to tell themselves to stop and that they’ll be able to worry about it as the set time.
Top Tip #4: Flip the Self-talk
It may be the case that your child worries about one or two things on a constant basis. For example, “I’m not good at football and I’m a terrible player”. Get them to write down the opposite positive statement, “I’m 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. Perhaps suggest that they keep the phrase somewhere they can see it easily to help them keep it in their mind.
Top 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 ways to cope with it. If not, have your child work through these steps:
Step 1: Write down the problem as specifically as they can. If they need help ask, “what in particular ..”
Step 2: Either on their own or with you, brainstorm all the ways the problem can be sorted. Go as wild and crazy as possible as it’ll allow more, probably more achievable, solutions to come through.
Step 3: With the list get them to write down the pros, the cons and the consequences for each solution. List out all the reasons for what is good about the solution, then what is bad followed by what will happen if they chose that solution.
Step 4: Decide! Get them to choose a solution and then help them go do it!
Step 5: Review: when they have taken the necessary action work with them to review the problem. Has it gone? Is it different? Has nothing changed? Repeat the process if they need to.
Top Tip #6: Relaxation
There will be some things that your child knows helps them relax. A few suggestions below are a great way to relax as they are helpful in reducing the worry and anxiety. Meditation too is a good life hack to get your child to start. 5, 10, 15 minutes a day can have a tremendous on a child’s wellbeing.
1. Take a walk, go out into the garden, just find a place to get away from the worry. Even for a minute a change of environment can help, and this is deepened if some physical activity, such as walking, is added in.
2. Breathing. Help your child focus on their breathing. Nothin strained. Simply get them to notice themselves inhaling, feeling their lungs fill up, and then exhaling naturally. Their mind will probably wander back to what’s bothering them, just ask them to notice that and then bring it back to the breathing again.
3. Help your child relax their muscles. They can stretch out, extending their body as far as they comfortable can, and then become super relaxed and 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, kick around with a football, running around .. anything that creates a physiological change will help immensely in shifting the worry and begin to notice solutions that they’d not yet seen.
PS: This all work’s with adults too.
Originally Published on The Parent and Pupil Coach
Photo: Getty Images