Since she was a young child my daughter has been troubled by anxiety. A spelling test used to tip her into a blind panic, birthday parties were stressful situations where days and nights were lost worrying about what to wear and what present to take. If she said something even slightly out of turn to someone, hours would be spent going over and over the conversation again and again, trying to decipher where she went wrong and what that other person might have thought. On occasion she would tiptoe downstairs late at night with a belly ache to tell me about a playground disagreement, that might or might not have been interpreted badly by somebody who very likely didn’t give two hoots!
Spotting an anxious child
It isn’t easy. You would never ever know it to look at my daughter that she is an anxious child; she is beautiful, funny and smart and appears super-confident. She is sensitive, emotionally aware and (mostly) a happy smiling girl. She is the first to make people laugh, the child with a kind comment or a funny quip. She is what my mum calls a ‘joiner-in’ type. You would never know that under that calm surface was a worrier, a nervous kid with a highly charged desperation to get things right.
She takes after her mum
Not in the ‘beautiful, funny, smart’ list of character traits, I’m not that vain, but when it comes to the ‘confident to hide anxiety’ bag of tricks, I’m the Head Coach.
One of my best friends also has an anxious child. He’s a super confident little chap. A cheeky Jack-the-lad with a wicked sense of humour. But, faced with a new situation, one where he feels slightly out of his depth and doesn’t know quite what to expect, he panics. There aren’t many people who would ever single him out as a worrier though.
This coping mechanism is really common – ‘If I look confident, people will leave me alone to get on with it’. This is all well and good in adulthood, the ‘fake it till you make it’ attitude gets many of us through a rocky patch here and there. But if is masks an anxiety problem in childhood, if the child underneath the confident mask is actually in a flat spin then they don’t get the attention they need.
I don’t have all the answers.
What I do have is years of experience and a few tricks up my sleeve.
Tricks and Tips
1 – Make bedtime a good time for sharing worries
We read bedtime stories, switch off the lights and have a good old chat about the day. My kids know that this is a good, safe time to share concerns and questions. Be prepared for crazy questions that go on for hours though, it is far too common to shift from ‘So and so was mean to me about my hair today’ to ‘why do snakes have no hair, you can’t be mean to a snake about their hair’.
2 -Give the worry to someone else
When I was little I had a set of ‘Worry Dolls’. I loved setting out these simple little dolls and telling them my worries, believing firmly that they would take them away. Nowadays there are so many options to encourage children of all persuasions to give their worries away. Worry Monsters are really popular and so is the newly released Irish Fairy Door Company ‘Worry Plaque’ which changes to a green light when the fairies have heard your worry. NB – I haven’t tried the Worry Monster and my daughter is way too old now for the Worry Plaque but I know friends whose lives have been transformed by the
3 -Write it down.
A worry written down is often a worry destroyed. Leave a worry to grow in your mind and it often morphs into something way bigger than it is.
We use a simple ‘Worry Notebook’. My daughter writes down what is worrying her in her book. If she wants to share the worry with me without talking about it, she leaves it on my bedside table at night with the page paper-clipped ready for me to take a look at. If she just wants me to read it, I simply slip the book back into her room at night and she knows that the worry has been shared. If she wants me to reply then she leaves a little note asking Mummy to ‘please write back’.
4 – Try this Book
For older children we had huge success with ‘What to Do When You Worry Too Much‘. This brilliant practical workbook has dozens of suggestions, exercises and coping mechanisms for older children to try. I worried (there you go – I worry about worry books!) that this would be unsuitable for my 11 year old and thought she would find it too ‘babyish’ but she was delighted with it and quashed the worst of her worrying routines in a very short space of time.
5 – Operate an ‘Open Door – Open Mind’ policy at home
I make sure that my children know that they can tell me anything, anything at all. I have to confess that it has opened me up to questions I had never expected and one or two rather awkward/embarrassing/bold conversations (so be sure you have the bottle for it).
6 – Try Simple Remedies
We love lavender oil to calm and relax. Try a drop on a small piece of cloth under a pillow. We also swear by ‘Rescue Remedy’ for calming anxious minds and frayed nerves.
7 – My Hand to Your Hand
This simple trick is sweeping the instagram world right now. You draw a picture or symbol on your inner palm and draw the same symbol on their inner palm. Before school or bed (whenever the worry time tends to hit hardest) you clasp your hands together to share the worry. Then, later at bedtime or during an anxious moment at school for example, your child can look at the symbol on their hand and know they are not alone. Such a lovely but simple trick.
We would love to hear about any tricks you use to keep the worry monsters at bay!