Talking about Worries

Talking about Worries

It’s so hard when you know that your child is feeling worried or anxious but nothing that you are trying is relieving the feelings. This blog provides my 3 step approach to developing a shared language and understanding of your child’s worries working towards beating the ‘worry monster’.

In my practice, I regularly meet families who have tried everything they can think of to make things better and help their child overcome these difficult feelings. I dive into my professional toolkit to find something in my knowledge bank that will be the key that helps unlock the stuck position and helps the child to talk about whatever is bothering them. Find the key – the language – that makes sense to the child and you give them the resources they need to start to talk.

1. Separate the problem from the person

I always start by inviting the child or young person to start thinking about the problem as something separate to them. It helps to remove them from the ‘problem’ and positions me alongside them in playing detective to figure out what is going on. I find that this is a hugely helpful approach for parents as it gives everyone a different focus for all the emotions that might be floating around.

A great way to do this is to invite the child to create a character that personifies the problem and get them to name it. Be as creative as you can be at this stage and take time over constructing the character:

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The naming process can also be important. Often instead of them calling the character something generic like ‘Mr Worry’, the name can provide another insight into the type anxiety the child is experiencing. ‘Mr Don’t Know’ and ‘Miss You’re Wrong’ are two characters that children I’ve worked with recently have constructed.

Spending time going through all these questions and really designing the character will provide a huge insight into the experience of anxiety for your child.

2. Understand the actions of ‘Mr Worry’

Once you have your character it’s then time to understand the impact that it has on your child’s life. You can now work together to understand what kind of things ‘Mr Worry’ says, what ‘Mr Worry’ makes them do, and what changes in your child when ‘Mr Worry’ is around.

For younger children you can turn this into a detective game. Help your child to notice when ‘Mr Worry’ is around; invite them to share what it is saying and help them to notice what is happening in their body and in their behaviour. At this point the emphasis should be on ‘collecting evidence’ so no challenging, contradicting, or exploring what your child is bringing. Phrases such as ‘I think Mr Worry might be bothering you right now’, ‘Is Mr Worry causing trouble’, or ‘What is Mr Worry telling you right now’ can all be helpful.

What can also be really helpful at this point is understanding what makes ‘Mr Worry’ grow and shrink. What makes it turn up (in whatever way it moves) and what helps it to go away again. Slowly, by gathering this evidence you are helping to move the power away from this very scary, unpredictable character to you and your child – Knowledge is Power!

3. Learn how to fight back against ‘Mr Worry’

Once you have gathered the ‘evidence’ you can begin to use the knowledge to continue to work together to start to fight back against ‘Mr Worry’. There are many ways to do this however one approach is to imagine that ‘Mr Worry’ is like a bully so you can: tell them they’re wrong, ignore them, or tell an adult.

Talking back

The character will be saying things to your child that is making them worry such as: ‘you’re not good enough’, ‘you’ll get it wrong’, ‘everybody will laugh at you’, ‘something bad will happen’. Start encouraging your child to notice these statements and engage with them by saying ‘You’re wrong because…’. Finding evidence that disproves ‘Mr Worry’ will be the most powerful way of talking back so encourage them to think of reasons why ‘Mr Worry’ might be wrong. Perhaps they have done that activity before, they know the answer to the question etc.

Distraction

From the knowledge you have learned about what makes ‘Mr Worry’ get smaller, start to create a ‘toolbox’ of activities that your child can dip into to make ‘Mr Worry’ go away. Perhaps they have realised that it disappears when they read a book, jump on the trampoline, do some relaxation breathing. Help them to use this by guiding them to their toolkit when you notice worry increasing and perhaps even join them in the activity.

Worry can be a hugely complex emotion and there might be may different Characters that are causing trouble in your child’s life. By creating a shared language based on their lived experience, it can help unlock  the opportunity for conversation and working together to ‘beat the bully’.

 

This is just one way of thinking and talking about worry which I hope is helpful for you and your child. I’ve created a free printable worksheet that you can download and print off that guides you through this process. It can be followed or used as a template to help guide your conversations as, over time, you work together to begin to reduce the presence of ‘Mr Worry’ in your child’s life. This technique can be used with any ‘problem’ so feel free to adjust for other difficulties such as anger or sadness.

Do get in touch with me if you’d like to talk through any of this or ask any questions. Comment below if you have found it helpful, or if there is anything that you feel I have missed!

Good luck in your quest…

Chartered Clinical Psychologist at | [email protected] | Website

Louise is a Chartered Clinical Psychologist specialising in Child and Adolescent Mental Health and Mindfulness. She set up Calm Strong Minds in 2017 to help families to access information and ideas on using mindfulness to develop resilience, confidence, and inner strength. Louise also works in a specialist London NHS hospital with children, young people, and their families.

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