A Kid’s Guide for Saying Goodbye to Worries

Once there was a big, green Worry Monster who loved to make kids worry and feel bad. He did this by whispering mean things to them and then growing bigger and bigger by gulping all their worries! The kids who listened to Worry Monster always felt terrible. Their heads hurt, their hearts thumped, their eyes filled with tears, and they didn’t know what to do. Sometimes they had so many worries, they didn’t sleep a wink. Can Worry Monster be stopped?

As a retired child psychologist, I co-authored this book as a guide to give children and their families tools to manage worry (anxiety). In my practice of over 20 years, well over 50% of my clients were children who presented with mild to severe anxiety. I soon learned that the most effective technique to help these children came from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a research-based practice with the main idea being that worry thoughts are based on “faulty thinking” and once the faulty thinking is corrected, we can “shrink” the worry. To put this into children’s terms, once we discover the Worry Monster’s secret, we can more easily diminish or eliminate the worry. Sounds simple? It can be. Does it work? Research shows that CBT is the most effective method in reducing anxiety.

How prevalent is anxiety? Many sources say there is an anxiety epidemic among us. Research tells us that more children (and adults) worry now than ever before, with anxiety being the number one mental health concern nationwide. Children’s worries range from minor and infrequent thoughts to incapacitating anxiety preventing a child from fully engaging with school, friends, and activities. A worried child may display symptoms such as restlessness, tiredness, distraction, irritation, tension, and sleep difficulties. The child can even become “stuck” believing that his or her distorted worried thoughts are true.

What is causing all this worry among our children? It is an anxious time for all of us, but researchers often categorize sources of childhood stress and anxiety into four areas: family, school, media, and society/world. Examples of family’s causing stress can be high levels of conflict, high expectations, and too many activities. Schools can cause stress with issues like bullying, testing, and just not fitting in. Media is increasingly in the spotlight as a source of stress. Video games, TV and movies expose children to ever-increasing violence. Children who are exposed to media over 2 hours per day are noted to be more fearful, more aggressive, and less sensitive. And finally, our society appears to be in great turmoil which makes parents stressed which leads to children feeling stressed.

So what is a parent to do? Just telling a child not to worry is not enough. There are a number of tools which can effectively reduce worry for many children. Some simple ideas can be breathing slowly and calmly, talking about the worry to a trusted adult, engaging in exercise, and going outside to play. Families can help set some structure by having dinner together, setting a bedtime routine, stopping all screens an hour before bedtime, and greatly limiting screens.

However, one of the most effective strategies to decrease worry is to use CBT techniques. This theme has been adapted for children in this delightful story where two brave kids overcome their fears and find out Worry Monster’s big secret. The book includes an introduction and three appendices which will offer effective CBT tools for caregivers to use to help decrease their children’s worries. In this book, you and your child will learn how the Worry Monster grew to be a giant, but then how kids were able to shrink him down to the size of a wrinkled raisin!

Originally published in Southside Living Magazine, November 2019.

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