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Thoughts about Worrying – Hopefully Helpful Information from Tara Wicks

Very often parents and teachers alike will come to me with concerns about a child’s anxiety. “She worries so much about the little things”, “He’s so anxious he can’t focus”. These are valid concerns. Most adults don’t wish any childhood to be siphoned away by constant worry.

Recently I asked a group of third graders what they worried about. These were the most common topics: being liked and having good friends, and being in a hospital/losing someone (or pet) that they loved. There were one or two that claimed they never worried, but further into the discussion it was clear that all kids have worries. However, not all worrying bothers all kids. As one child said, “some worry is good”. He is absolutely correct. The heightened awareness that comes with healthy worry helps us focus and concentrate on the task at hand, allowing us to perform our best, and also can protect us from harm (i.e.) being concerned about falling on our bike, thus we wear a helmet.

Understanding worry is part of being able to cope with worry. Here are a few key points to consider when helping your child cope with worry:

Worrying is not all bad. Children learn to cope by having an adult acknowledge their concerns and then guide them to understand that there is a time and place for worry. Worrying all the time is not helpful.

Children’s worries should be different than adults. If a child is worried about friends, that is normal, if a child (n Maine), however, is worried about being killed in a tornado, it might be time to turn the television off. Certainly a child worrying about paying the bills is not appropriate.

Media plays a huge part in children’s view of the world and how comfortable they feel about life. Children are bombarded continuously with information that is not age-appropriate: violent images in news, TV and movies; sexual innuendo in music, on the screen and in print; and negative language. The access (and excess) of information nowadays leaves kids vulnerable to trying to figure out very complicated input without an adult’s assistance. Parents have to work harder than ever to be up-to-date with technology and ready on a daily basis to help kids process all that they hear and see.

Too much information is just as bad as no information. Asking about your child’s worries is a parent’s job and usually a welcome conversation. However, it‘s easy to overwhelm your intelligent, world-wise youngster with more than they need. Always err on the side of keeping things upbeat. “Yes, grandma has cancer and she will not be feeling well for a while. Yes, she may be in the hospital. Today she is home and you can make a card for her if you’d like.” If a child doesn’t ask about details, don’t give them. In most cases it is best if a child learns about a difficult situation close to the time the family has to cope with it.

Children are more likely to do as you do, not as you say. If a parent worries about “little things” than a child will learn to do that also. If a child hears a parent talking about people’s behavioral being anxiety provoking, than that child will become overly sensitive to others. On the other hand, if a child sees adults handling worries with a positive attitude, seeming to be in charge in a healthy way and willing to adapt to the unexpected, a child will more likely be able to cope with their own stress as they mature.

Children thrive with structure and activity. Putting any anxiety into action will help a child feel more empowered. Sketch books, journals, gift making, and outdoor projects all can refocus a kid’s worrying into positive production. Simple chores, especially by age 8, can really help kids feel like they are making a difference. It is important to teach children to be able to adapt and “go with the flow”, however, too much change, chaos, and choice will create anxiety. Try to have certain times of the day, or even days of the week have a consistent routine.