Covering parenting and child development issues
"Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight." (Benjamin Franklin)
Do you have a worrier at your house? This time last year, I was conducting three "worry groups" - two comprised of second graders, and one made up of fifth graders. We were working through What to Do When You Worry Too Much, a book written just for kids by clinical psychologist Dawn Huebner. In a wonderful combination of stories and activity pages, Dr. Huebner walks kids through the concepts of worry and anxiety and introduces strategies to teach them how to keep their worries from growing like a tomato plant. This book was a lesson plan for my second graders, and a springboard for discussion with my fifth graders.
My worry group kids were smart and imaginative. In fact, we had a discussion in the fifth grade group about how imagination could be a double-edged sword. The same kids who were creating fantastic stories, poems and pictures were also able to imagine all sorts of horrible possibilities that most of us never consider.
At first, I was worried that all of this discussion of worries would increase anxiety in my group members, but together, we all discovered that quite the opposite was true. For most of my group members, talking about worries helped to normalize fears.
To a certain extent, worries and fears are a normal part of growing up, and even a protective mechanism. Fear of the dark. Fear of being left alone. Fear of strangers. But for some kids, worry is like constant static in their minds, a low-level annoyance that can spike to a distraction big enough to keep them from concentrating and even sleeping. These are the kids who need to talk through their worries - to bring them out of the recesses of their imaginations and into the light where they can become less frightening and more manageable.
As parents, we help our kids learn to manage these fears by reassuring them and giving them tools. Night lights that pierce the darkness. Reassurance that we are there, and ways to contact us when we are not. Understanding the difference between a stranger and a friend, and learning to perceive signs that should make us wary.
As our kids get older, we share the strategies that we use in our own lives. Logical thinking. Turning our attention to other things. Prayer.
Like anger, worry is a natural feeling - one that we need to learn to manage. In her book, Huebner compares worries to tomato plants – the more we tend to them, the bigger they become. Neglect, on the other hand, can cause both plants and worries to shrivel up and wither away, an outcome that’s obviously more desirable in the second case than the first.
If you have a worrier at your house - or if you are the worrier at your house, check out Dr. Huebner's book. Another great resource is Dr. Tamar Chansky's WorryWiseKids.org website. All of these resources are upbeat and designed to empower you to "put your voice of reason on your speed dial," as Dr. Chansky says.
As spring draws closer, keeping in the sunlight sounds better than ever.