In the first installment of my three-part blog series on Worry and your child, we talked about the definition of worry. In my second installment, we discussed the various types of worry. In this final installment, I will share with you a great tactic to help your child start tackling, and taking down, the Worry Monster.
Now that you understand the effects of worry on your child, and your child understands that they are dealing with something that is perfectly natural (although really scary), your job is to help your child create a plan to conquer the Worry Monster. Part of this plan involves creating a tool box of strategies your child can carry around in their mind at all times to help when episodes of worry arise. One of these tools is to make a Worry List and recognize what the Worry Monster tells him to make him feel scared.
Making a worry list is more fun than one would think, especially if you do it as a family. The goal is for you and your child to make an exhaustive list of everything they worry about. It is a basically a brainstorming session. For example, you child might say “taking tests…going to a party…recess.” Remember to remind your child that the Worry Monster doesn’t like us to talk about him or how he works, so the more you put on the list the better.
Once you have made the list, ask your child to apply a scare ranking for how each thought makes him feel. You can teach him about how his ranking will tell you which things are scariest, and which are least scary. When the scare rankings decrease, this will be a way to show that he is getting stronger than the Worry Monster.
As you read off each worry or fear, ask your child to give it a “scare” rating on a scale of 1-10 using the following scale:
· 1-3 Mild discomfort– Uncomfortable and apprehensive
· 4-7 Moderate discomfort– Scared and anxious
· 8-10 Severe discomfort– Very scared and anxious (almost panic)
Once you have done this, put the worries and fears in order starting with the most powerful (severe) at the top, down to the least (mild). You have just created your priority list of which worries and fears to tackle first. You are going to start with the least scary ones first.
Now tell your child that you and he are going to start making the Worry Monster weak by uncovering his strategies and tactics. You are going to expose his secrets by writing down what he tells your child to make him worried and scared. Read each worry and ask your child what the Worry Monster tells him about each one. Again, make as exhaustive a list as possible.
Take the top 1-3 worries or fears that your child is willing to work on. Remember you can use incentives if you need to (we all need motivators to do things that are scary or we don’t want to do). Make a list of the scary thoughts that your child identified (i.e. what the Worry Monster said) related to each fear, and then next to those thoughts, help your child choose new thoughts that are more realistic and more adaptive. Here are some useful questions to ask your child both while you are helping to change his thoughts during this exercise and in real time when the Worry Monster is visiting:
· What are you thinking?
· What is the Worry Monster saying to you? Is he saying that you are going to fail? Is he saying that everyone will laugh at you? Is he telling you that you aren’t smart enough?
· Is the thought realistic– is it true? Can you state evidence to prove it’s true or not true?
· How can you think about this differently?
· What can you think instead that is more true and realistic?
Particularly at first, you will need to help your child come up with contradictory evidence to her fears and alternative ways to think. For example, if your child is afraid of tests, you may help them change her thinking to “I don’t like tests, but I usually do fine” or “I studied, so I am prepared.” Over time, your child will be able to do it on her own with your prompting, and eventually without needing you to prompt her at all. In this example, the goal is for your child to take a test without feeling so worried before or during the test.
Once she conquers her test-taking fear, she is ready for the next one, and then the next, and the next. Once this list is confronted on a regular basis, your child will be able to see how this sort of confrontation of a worry and change of thinking towards that worry will diminish the actual worry. Now, she is armed with an important tactic in overcoming her anxiety obstacles and learning how to become a victorious warrior in life!
This blog originally appeared on Patch.com. The content was adapted from Chapter 10 of my book Make Your Worrier a Warrior: A Guide to Conquering Your Child’s Fears, now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and your local independent book store. A companion book written just for children is also available — From Worrier to Warrior: A Guide to Conquering Your Fears.
Dan Peters, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and co-founder of the Summit Center, which provides educational and psychological assessments, consultations, and treatment for children, their parents, and families.