Are the holidays the most wonderful time of the year? Maybe not for all. Many children look forward to a fun-filled holiday season shared with family and friends. However, way too many children become stressed and worried because their routines are disrupted, their food intake is changed, and bedtimes are later. We also know that kids are very sensitive to the stress their caregivers are experiencing. One perfect way to lower your child’s holiday stress is to schedule a Worry Time.
The best anti-stress strategies come from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and include talking back to the worry, containing the worry in a Worry Box, and Worry Time. This article outlines the use of Worry Time so anyone can take advantage of it.
Thinking versus Worrying
First, let’s look at the difference between thinking versus worrying. Thinking is a good thing. It can involve reflecting, reasoning, and problem solving. It can lead to purposeful action which allows the mind to move on.
In contrast, worrying is problem solving gone amiss. What starts out as a concern, ultimately turns into an unhealthy preoccupation. The mind obsesses over problems without resolution and gets stuck in the worry mode. Worrying is very common during times of difficulty or change (like holidays).
Steps for Scheduling Worry Time
The goal for Worry Time is not to stop worries, but to reduce the time spent on the anxious thoughts. The steps are a template for training your child to contain his worries within 15-20 minutes a day. Of course, it will take regular practice, but it is a very achievable goal.
Step 1. Schedule Worry
Set up a daily Worry Time where you will sit quietly and listen to your child talk about his worries for 15-20 minutes. Worry Time should be the same time everyday. Ideally there should be no interruptions from siblings, no phone calls, and no distracting noises. This is your time to focus on your child and whatever he has to say. Some people find it useful to schedule it late enough in the day that your child actually has worries built up, but not within an hour or two of bedtime. Many parents find that scheduling Worry Time just before cooking and eating dinner can be an effective way to end the Worry Time.
Step 2. Explain Worry Time to Your Child
Tell your child that you and he are going to start having a special time together called Worry Time. It will happen from 4:00 to 4:20 (let’s say) and he gets to tell you everything and anything about his worries. You will listen closely, because this is his time to talk. You should not say that any of his worries are silly, but instead you will mostly accept what he has to say. When Worry Time is over (maybe you set a timer), tell your child that you really appreciate all the concerns he has told you and you look forward to Worry Time tomorrow.
Step 3. Teach the One Rule
Teach him that there is only one rule with Worry Time. You will not listen to his worries when it is not Worry Time. You know this will be hard, but you will give him other things to do with his worries. Tell him that eventually his worries will be smaller because of Worry Time.
Step 4. What To Do When It Isn’t Worry Time
Discuss other ways to contain his worries. He can write them down and put them in the Worry Box, he can write or draw his worries in a notebook, or he can imagine putting them in a safe and locking them up. At the next Worry Time, he should pull out his Worry Box or his notebook and share everything that is in there.
Tell your child that another thing to do with worries is to do something else (distract). How about going outside, playing ball, running up and down the stairs, reading a book, or calling a grandparent? You and your child can have fun writing down all the things he can do while he is waiting for the next Worry Time. He can also read the children’s book, Shrinking the Worry Monster, to learn ways to talk back to the worry on his own.
That’s it! Worry Time really is a clever strategy that contains your child’s worries in time. When it is combined with a method to contain the worries in physical space like a Worry Box or a notebook, it is a very powerful anti-anxiety tool. And it is so easy that every parent may want to give it a try. Holidays can be an anxious time for all of us. Having good tools in our parenting skill set seems imperative.
Sally Baird, PhD is a retired child psychologist and co-author of the book Shrinking the Worry Monster, A Kids’ Guide for Saying Goodbye to Worries. See her website and blog at www.drsallyb.com. She is available for zoom events throughout the year.