6 Ways to Help Kids Conquer Worry
Is your child a worrywart? Mighty Mommy has 6 expert tips on how to help your child work through and conquer their worries and fears.
In 1988, you couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing Bobby McFerrin’s hit song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” This catchy (or perhaps annoying) one-hit wonder urged people to never worry about anything, and just be happy instead. One verse of the lyrics is:
There is this little song I wrote
I hope you learn it note for note
Like good little children
Don't worry, be happy
It was definitely a peppy little tune and certainly good advice.
Unfortunately, the majority of us just can’t seem to leave worry behindwhen we’re faced with stressful situations. As grown-ups, we know how challenging it can be to figure out strategies to ease our stress. But for children, it’s far more scary and uncertain, especially when they don’t understand the situations that might be causing them worry, never mind knowing how to deal with it.
How many times have you heard your own friends and family say “Don’t worry about it” when you anxiously mention that your company is contemplating layoffs or perhaps your 3-month-old baby hasn’t rolled over from back to front yet. Do you actually take their advice and put the concern out of your mind or do you push the worry down a little deeper and struggle with it anyway?
Our kids are no different. It’s natural for them to worry at times. And making light of these worries only makes them worse. Instead, help your child build the skills he needs early on to conquer smaller worries before they turn into unnecessary problems. Here are 6 tips and activities you can try to help your child conquer worry:
Tip #1: Ask “What’s on your mind?”
School-aged kids tend to worry about things such as going to school, new teachers, asking for a new pet, riding the bus, talking to strangers, getting invited to birthday parties, and many other issues. Pre-teens and teenagers carry their share of worry over peer pressure, fitting in socially, puberty, making the sports team, boy/girlfriend relationships, terrorism, school shootings, and other disturbing things they see on the news.
Make it a habit on a very regular basis to casually inquire as to what’s going on in their lives and then give them the opportunity to share without rushing them. Ask for details and listen attentively. Sometimes just sharing the story with you can help ease their load. And be sure to hear all about the good stuff that’s going on in their lives, not just their troubles. This way they will become much more comfortable sharing the whole package with you.
Tip #2: Find Solutions Together
If worry about not having any friends to sit with during lunch has your daughter worked up, be sure and validate the situation but then jump right to finding some solutions—together. Resist the urge to fix the problem for her by letting her suggest an idea first, and then you can offer a solution such as suggesting she look for a familiar face or two when she enters the cafeteria so that she can approach and ask if she can join their table for lunch.
Tip #3: Make a Worry Jar
When I was a young girl, I remember having a little box of “worry dolls.” My grandmother brought them home for me from her trip to India. The object was to keep the dolls in a place I would see them and if something was bothering me, I would place one of the dolls in the box and wish my worry to go away. Although that was a fun ritual, it wasn’t necessarily constructive.
Instead, we have a Worry Jar in our house. If someone (including my husband and I) have a worry, we write it up on a piece of paper and place it in the jar. The concept of a Worry Jar is to have a safe place to store your worries until you have a chance to sit down and either figure out whether it is truly something to be concerned about, or to stash the worry away and hopefully forget about it. Usually, you'll find that most of your "worries" never even happen!
Tip #4: Learn to Embrace Change
Even as adults we know that change is sometimes not easy. For young kids, even tweens and teens, change can be very stressful to the point that it affects eating, sleeping, and other daily habits. Perhaps your child is stressing over the intense gymnastics program you’ve enrolled her in because she doesn’t want to follow what her older sisters did but instead wants to play basketball. By being in tune to what makes your child tick as an individual, you can reduce their levels of stress and worry immensely.
Tip #5: List Their Worries
A powerful solution that has helped reduce worry in our house is list making. Whatever the concern might be, we sit down with our kids and have them write the concern at the top of the page and then we list all the things that they can do to squash the worry. For example, last summer my 16-year-old daughter was petrified she wasn’t going to pass her Driver’s Education class. There was so much information that she was overwhelmed and ready to give up before the class was half over. We sat down and listed down specifics about what she thought she couldn’t master and then made flash cards which we used every night for drills for the 4 weeks prior to her exam. She aced the test and now she uses homemade flash cards for any subject that she needs extra help with.
Tip #6: Be a Good Role Model
The most powerful lessons we teach kids are the ones we demonstrate. How you handle worries can go a long way toward teaching your kids how to deal with everyday challenges. If you're worried that you won’t get that promotion at work, the last thing you want to do is rant and rave around your kids about it. Children learn what they see, and if they see mom or dad reacting in a certain way, then they will think that is the appropriate response for this type of situation.
Instead, look on the bright side of things and voice optimistic thoughts about how you would really like to get the promotion and will be disappointed if it doesn’t happen. But at least you have a good job that you love and another situation will surely come along if this one doesn’t pan out. Responding with optimism and confidence teaches kids that worries are temporary and with a “can do” approach to life, anything is possible!
If you have a question regarding anything in this episode, or have a suggestion for a future Mighty Mommy topic, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or post it on the Mighty Mommy Facebook wall. You can also follow me on Twitter @MightyMommy.
Don’t worry, be happy and as always—happy parenting!