How to reduce anxiety in your children – Part 4 of 5 – Problem-solving and Worry Time

Anxious child

This article is Part 4 of a 5-part series on How to reduce anxiety in your children. If you missed the first three parts, you can find them below:

In the last article, we talked about thinking errors, how they affect our behaviour when dealing with anxious thoughts, and the importance of taking our thoughts to court.

In this article, we are going to discuss the following:

Problem-solving your thoughts


We often don’t give children the opportunity to solve problems for themselves, but they can solve a problem just as well as adults. So, when they are experiencing a difficult problem or worry, they need to think about how they are going to solve it, by coming up with different solutions about what they can do.

Problem solving works when you have a realistic worry that you have control over. Some examples of realistic worries are:

  • What if I’m late for the bus? A practical solution would be to look at the bus timetable
  • What if I forget something at school the next day? You can solve this problem by checking your bag the night before.

You would only need to start taking your thoughts to court if you are still worried about your realistic problem after you’ve problem-solved.

Some examples of unrealistic worries where you need to take your thoughts to court are:

  • What if my teacher will shout at me tomorrow? You have no control over your teacher, so you can’t control what he/she will do
  • What if I can’t do my homework? You haven’t tried yet so how would you know?

Problem-solving your realistic worries and taking your unrealistic worry thoughts to court are great ways to deal with your concerns head on, but not if you’re doing it all the time. Worries can occur at any time or place, often when you are unaware of their exact triggers. These worries can interfere with your daily life, so it’s essential to postpone your worry to a particular time [1], so that you are not riddled with concerns every minute of the day and you can focus on the more pleasant things that are happening to you right now.

Postponing your worry until Worry Time

Postponing your worry allows you the time to think about your worry later and not right that second. This way you are in a better position to deal with your worry during a designated worry period. You can postpone your worry by writing the concern briefly on a piece of paper, and placing it in a Worry Box or a Worry Monster (which my two boys have at home) so the monster eats their worries up until we have Worry Time.

Worry Box/Worry Monster

My boys' worry monsters
My boys’ worry monsters

When you have a worry, you write it down on a piece of paper and put it in your Worry Box (or Worry Monster) until you have Worry Time. If you don’t have a Worry Box, you can create an imaginary Worry Box in your head and lock it in until you are ready to open it up again at Worry Time.

Worry Time

Worry Time is a designed place and time, often around ten minutes, where you are allowed to talk about your worries as much as you want. Here are some tips on creating Worry Time at home:

  • Choose a specific time, place and length of time for worrying.
  • The time should be convenient so you can all follow through every day
  • Make the place unique, comfortable, and free from distractions. Assign somewhere you don’t normally go to all the time so it can be your special worry place. Make a sign so that everyone knows this is a special Worry Time area
  • Settle comfortably in the Worry Time area and take some time to reflect on the worries that you had written down earlier
  • Make sure Worry Time is not close to bedtime
  • Only worry about the things you wrote down first
  • If some of the worries are no longer bothering you then you don’t need to talk about them at Worry Time
  • This is a protected time, so no phones, gadgets or other distractions!
  • Stick to the Worry Time. If you scheduled 10 minutes, don’t go over. Parents, be strict!
  • Think about problem-solving and taking your thoughts to court during Worry Time

If your child comes up to you and says they have a worry now, you can acknowledge them, but you ask them to put the worry in their Worry Box because they’re not going to deal with it now. You will deal with that worry later and there will be no talking about worries outside of your Worry Time. This might sound scary, but it helps to reduce the amount of time children spend thinking and talking about their worries. Worry Time helps you to be the boss of your worries and keeps you in control.

As you practice Worry Time, you will slowly learn to postpone your worries, and even though it may seem strange now, it will become easier the more you practice. This is a new skill that you are developing, and it will take some time so give yourself time.

Flowchart Of Postponing your Worry, Worry Box and Worry Time

Flowchart of postponing your worry, Worry Box and Worry Time
Flowchart for you to print on Postponing your worry in a Worry Box until Worry Time

Feel free to print off the flow chart above and stick it on your wall, so you don’t forget the process of postponing your worries to a Worry box until Worry Time. Remember, acknowledge that your child has a worry, but ask them to pop it in a Worry Box, whether this is imaginary or real, and then you all can discuss it at Worry Time. If it is someone else’s worry, ask the child to give the worry back to that person. It’s not their worry, so they don’t need to deal with it. If it is a realistic worry, go through the process of problem-solving your thoughts, as above, and if it is an unrealistic worry, then take those thoughts to court!

Again, by learning to postpone your worry until Worry Time, you will find your thoughts will be less intrusive on your life and you can start to manage your worries more effectively while you’re in control.

In the meantime, if it isn’t Worry Time, turn your focus onto the present moment and the activities you are doing here and now, which will help you to let go of the worries until Worry Time. Practising mindfulness is a great way to help you forget about your worries in temporarily and be present in the moment.

Mindfulness

Often our thoughts are about what has happened in the past or future. But it is important that we bring ourselves into the here and now. Mindfulness is all about trying to be present in the current moment, and there are lots of different ways that you can practice mindfulness, which helps to improve anxiety and concentration. [2] Mindfulness is particularly helpful for people who are always on-the-go.

Mindfulness exercise

In Week 3 of the Multi-Family Anxiety Group Session (MFAGS) hosted by Step2 CAMHS, we practiced mindfulness with a Skittle.

Here is a simple mindfulness exercise using a Skittle – or any small food that you can hold in your hands.

  • Hold the Skittle in your hand
  • Look at the Skittle
  • Concentrate on the colour
  • Concentrate on the shape of it
  • If you put it to your ear, can you hear anything?
  • Smell the Skittle. What does it smell of?
  • Pop it on your tongue. How does it taste?
  • Eat the Skittle

The trick during this mindfulness exercise is to tune into your senses because our brain gets all of its information from our five senses. If your thoughts start to wander, bring yourself back to the here and now.

Below are some other great mindfulness exercises from www.TherapistAid.com.

Mindfulness with food

  • Pick up the food
  • Notice the weight
  • How does the food feel against your skin?
  • Roll the object between your fingers and/or in your hand
  • Look at the texture. Is it rough, smooth, slick, soft, or firm? Does it have any other properties?
  • Hold the food to your nose and pay attention to its smell.
  • Place the food in your mouth and on your tongue, but don’t eat it.
  • How does it feel in your mouth?
  • Does the texture feel the same when it was on your hand?
  • What do you taste?
  • Roll the food around your mouth and pay attention to the feeling
  • Finally begin to chew your food. Notice how your teeth sinks into it. Does the texture feel different when you’re chewing?
  • Pay close attention to the flavour, how it spreads across your tongue
  • How does your body change? Does our mouth fill with saliva? Is your tongue hot or cold?
  • Continue to chew your food, paying attention to as many sensations are you can, as you finish.

Your five senses

Use this exercise from www.TherapistAid.com wherever you are to bring yourself to the present moment when you are short of time. The goal is to notice what your five senses are doing in your surroundings.

What are the 5 things you can see?

Look around you and notice five things that you didn’t see before. Maybe the light reflecting on a particular surface, a particular object as it lays still or light reflecting off the wall.

What are the 4 things you can feel?

What can you feel where you are? Feel the pressure of your feet on the floor, the temperature of your skin, pick up an object and note the texture.

What are the 3 things you can hear?

Pay close attention to the background noises. Perhaps the birds chirping outside, the washing machine in the background, cars driving on a distant street.

What are the 2 things you can smell?

What can you smell, pleasant or unpleasant? Maybe you smell the exhaust fumes in the air, the smell of freshly cut grass, the aroma of coffee or food being made in the oven.

What is the 1 thing you can taste?

Pop a piece of gum in your mouth, sip a drink, eat a snack if you have one, or just merely notice how your mouth tastes the air on your tongue.

You can change the pattern to do more or less of each sense. Try this activity while you’re doing something else, like washing dishes, going for a walk or listening to music.

Other popular mindfulness exercises

  • Eye spy
  • Looking at posters
  • Jenga
  • Balancing on one foot
  • Simon Says

These games allow children to concentrate in the present moment.

Mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness meditation is a great way to centre yourself when you have a had a tough day.

  • Find a place where you can sit quietly and you won’t be disturbed
  • Set a timer for around ten minutes
  • Begin by bringing your attention to the present moment
  • Pay attention to your breath as it enters and leaves the body
  • Your mind will begin to wander, pulling you out of the present moment. That’s ok. Notice what your thoughts and feelings are doing like an outside observer and then allow yourself to return to your breathing
  • If you’re feeling frustrated and bored, note that you’re having these feelings
  • Notice where your thoughts are going and accept what’s happening
  • When you are able to, return to the present moment and concentrate on your breathing.
  • Continue this process until your timer rings or when you are ready to be done

Body Scan

  • Pay close attention to the physical sensations that are happening in your body
  • Notice whether you are stressed or relaxed – become aware of the feelings you are having
  • Pay attention to the sensations in your feet. Notice whether you can feel any warmth, coolness, pressure or pain running over your skin
  • Slowly move up your body to your calves, then in order of the following:
  • Thighs
  • Pelvis
  • Stomach
  • Chest
  • Back
  • Shoulders
  • Arms
  • Hands
  • Fingers
  • Neck
  • And then, finally, your head
  • Spend some time on each of the body parts, paying attention to the sensations around them

After you travel up your body, begin to move back down and go through each body part until you reach your feet again

Mindfulness exercises for children

The feeling exercise

  • Collect some interesting objects such as feathers, play dough, stones or anything else that might be fun to hold.
  • Give your child the object and ask them to spend a minute noticing how it feels in their hands.
  • Ask the child to describe what they felt

The seeing game

  • Ask the child to spend one minute looking around the room
  • Their goal is to find things that they’ve never noticed before
  • After the minute is up, ask the child to share the most interesting things they noticed.

Ocean breathing

  • Ask the child to lie down or sit in a comfortable position
  • Tell them to breathe in through their nose slowly and then out through pursed lips as if they are blowing through a straw.
  • Point out that the slow and steady breathing sounds like ocean waves gently crashing on the shore.
  • Let the child continue breathing and making the ocean sound for one to two minutes

The power of listening

  • Ring a bell, or wind chimes or anything else that creates a long trailing sound
  • Ask the child to listen and quietly raise their hand when they can no longer hear the sound
  • After the ringing ends, ask the child to continue listening to any other sounds they can hear for the next minute.
  • When the minute ends, ask them what sounds they heard

Build a stress ball

  • Provide your child with a balloon, flour and funnels to build their own stress ball (you may want to double layer the balloons)
  • You can use other filling options like rice, small beads or leftover dots from punched paper.
  • Once the child has built their own stress ball, try using them with the feeling exercise

The body squeezing exercise

  • Ask the child to sit or lie down in a comfortable position
  • Ask them to press and relax each of the muscles in their body one-to-one.
  • They should hold each squeeze for about five seconds.
  • After releasing the squeeze, ask the child to pay attention to how it feels when they relax.
  • Use examples so children understand how to perform each action easier, for example
    • Curl your toes tight like you are picking up a pencil with your feet
    • Tense your legs like you are standing on our tippy toes, trying to look over a fence
    • Suck in your stomach as if you are trying to slide through a narrow opening
    • Make fists with your hands and pretend like you are trying to squeeze all the juice out of an orange
    • Pretend like a bug landed on your nose, and you’re trying to get it off without using your hands. Try to scrunch your face and move your jaw to make it fly away

The five senses exercise

  • This is a great activity outside when the weather is nice
  • Ask the child to lie quietly on the grass
  • Begin to call out each of the five senses in turn (sight, smell, sound, taste, touch) and ask the child to notice everything they can using that particular sense, until you call out the next one.
  • This exercise also works well while walking too

The purpose of mindfulness is to bring you back to the present moment so your child is not thinking about their worries until Worry Time. In Part 5 of 5, we will look into strategies to managing our behaviours and tackling our worries head on to reduce that anxiety once and for all! Click here for Part 5 now.

Resources

  1. http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au
  2. https://www-emeraldinsight-com.ezproxy.herts.ac.uk/doi/full/10.1108/JMD-09-2015-0127
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Leyla Preston (575 Posts)

Leyla Preston is the owner and Editor of Motherhood Diaries global magazine for parents. Leyla is a busy mother of two even busier boys; Aron, 8, and Aidan, 6. When Leyla isn’t feeding, managing a gazillion tasks or cleaning the infinite mess at home, she is busy working on this magazine and a new cooking channel coming very soon – no rest for the wicked! You can follow Leyla on Twitter (@M_Diaries) or join the busy Motherhood Diaries Facebook group where all mums get together and share stories and solutions with one another: https://www.facebook.com//groups/motherhooddiaries/