5 Tips To Help Your Child Beat Their Worries


Help Your Child Be The Boss Of Their Worry


Little minds can house some pretty big worries. From quite a young age kids, especially anxious kids, worry about everything from getting questions wrong on school tests and not having friends to play with at lunch, to strangers breaking into the house, falling ill, the death of a loved one, and terrorist attacks.

Help your child regain control over their worry

Help your child regain control over their worry

As a parent, your instinct will be to give your child lots of reassurance, but reassurance isn’t always helpful. Promising your child their worries won’t come true might offer relief at the time, but it won’t help your child to build the skills they need to cope with their worry independently.

There won’t be a quick fix for your child’s worry, but helping your child to learn skills to be the boss of their worry will be the key to them conquering their anxiety.

If your child’s worry is persistent, consider seeking additional advice from a child clinical psychologist.

Tip #1: Test Whether Worries Come True

Worries are pretty tricky and they’ll make sure your child forgets all the times where worry predictions haven’t come true. Help your child to start to question their worry by monitoring worry outcomes. Whenever your child has a worry, help them to write the worry down. Once the worry timeframe has passed, go back and note whether the worry ended up being TRUE or FALSE. Being able to see a long list of FALSE worries will help your child start to question the validity of their worries.

Tip #2: Help Your Child Be a Detective

Most worries are anxiety-based not fact-based. Another way to help your child to question their worries is to run a worry fact check. For example, if your child worries about someone breaking into the house at night, help them to make a list of facts about this:

Has anyone ever broken into our house before? No
Has anyone ever broken into the house of someone we know? No
Has anyone ever broken into the house of someone on our street? No
Is it possible for someone to get into our house? No, the doors and windows are locked
Do we live in a safe or dangerous neighbourhood? A safe neighbourhood

Once you have your worry facts, ask your child to think about whether there’s enough evidence to warrant paying attention to the worry.

Tip #3: Run an Experiment

Experience is a powerful teacher, often far more so than verbal instruction. Help your child to see that their worries are false by running an experiment. Say for example your child worries about being away from you in case something bad happens. Help them to test this worry by running a series of experiments (NB: you might need to do some fact checking first to help your child be more open to the idea of an experiment).

The type of experiment you run will depend on the strength of your child’s anxiety, but some example experiments might be: you leaving the house to walk around the block, your child staying home while you go to the grocery store, your child staying home while you go out for dinner – the idea being that each experiment is an opportunity for your child to learn through experience that their worries are wrong.

Tip #4: Run A Worry Accuracy Test

If your child repeatedly worries about the same thing, help them to see their worry more accurately by running an accuracy test. Over a two-week period, have your child keep a tally of the number of times they have the target worry, and keep track of the number of times that the worry proves to be TRUE versus FALSE. At the end of the two weeks, divide the number of times the worry has been true by the number times the worry has occurred to get a worry accuracy rating. Most of the time the worry accuracy rating will be close to 0 and you can use this to remind your child that their worry is wrong nearly 100% of the time.

For longstanding worries, you can estimate how many times in a week the worry occurs, then multiply this by 52, and then the number of years the worry has been around. Divide the number of times the worry has been true by this number and you’ll have your worry accuracy rating. Seeing the total number of worries in and of itself can help your child to start to question whether they should continue to listen to their worries, given that the worry has never proven to be true.

Tip #5: Change How You Respond

Ultimately what will help your child to worry less and feel more confident, is having skills and strategies to challenge worry independently. When your child seeks reassurance, resist the urge to reassure with promises and general statements (e.g. it’s ok, you don’t need to worry about that, nothing bad will happen) and be a worry coach instead. Ask questions that will help to change how your child sees their worries, and use facts and logic for reassurance instead (e.g. ‘It sounds like those pesky worries are trying to trick you again, but what do we know about how truthful they are? What happened last time you worried about this?)

Dr. Sarah Hughes is a clinical psychologist and the founder of Think Clinical Psychologists. She enjoys working with children, adolescents, and adults, and specialises in anxiety, depression, postnatal depression, eating disorders, self-harm, and challenging behaviour.


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