I came across this very informative article about anxiety in children written by Daniel B. Peters, Ph.D. for the Huffington Post:
Anxiety has become a regular part of our society and daily lives for
our children (and ourselves). Worry and fear cause our children to feel
bad, often cause parent-child conflict and stress, keep our children
from fully experiencing life, and fully reaching their potential. As a
psychologist, parent of worriers, and a pretty good worrier myself, I
have learned that there are simple and effective strategies that kids
(and parents) can learn to drive the Worry Monster away. Teaching kids
about how fear and worry work in their bodies, and specific thinking and
doing strategies to fight the Worry Monster, empowers them to take a
stand against this bully.
It's time for us to take the Worry Monster down once and for all and turn our worriers into warriors.
Here are the 10 steps to do it:
Step 1: Teach How Our Brain and Body Work When We Are Scared
We all have a "fight or flight" survival response that is designed to
keep us alive. We have a tiny ball of neurons called the amygdala
(ah-mig-da-la), known as our fear center, that runs our in-body security
system. When it senses danger, it sends adrenaline through our bodies
to make us run fast and fight with one goal, survival!
Step 2: Identify Body Feelings
When your amygdala gets activated, you will feel the physical
sensations of worry and fear in your body, especially your head, chest,
stomach, and throat. This is because your heart has to beat super fast
to get extra blood from your brain and stomach to your arms and legs so
you can fight and run fast. The blood leaving our brain and stomach
makes us feel light headed, have headaches, have stomachaches,
butterflies, and make us nauseous. These feelings are our signal that
the Worry Monster is messing with us! Any of them sound familiar?
Step 3: Externalize the Problem
Label your worries and fears as the "Worry Monster" who is a bully
who is responsible for making you (and all of us) think worrisome and
scary thoughts. The Worry Monster's job is to keep us from enjoying
life. He gets joy from picking on children (and adults) and making them
worried and scared. The more you talk about the Worry Monster and gang
up on him with your allies, the weaker he will get and the sooner he
will go away.
Step 4: Make a Worry List
Make a list of everything your child (and you) worries about. The
Worry Monster doesn't like us to talk about him or how he works, so the
more things you put on the list, the better. Once you have done this,
put the worries and fears in order starting with the most powerful
(severe) at the top and least powerful (mild) at the bottom of the list.
Step 5: Make a Success Ladder
Choose a behavior from the worry list and make a success ladder by
breaking it down into baby steps, or rungs, with the ultimate fear or
goal at the top of the ladder and the least scary behavior at the
bottom. You will need to decide whether you can start with a single fear
like swimming or whether the task needs to be broken into parts
(looking at a pool) so that you can gain confidence by becoming used to
each baby step along the way to conquering your fear.
Step 6: Identify Worrisome and Fearful Thinking
Think about what the Worry Monster tells you to make you feel worried
and scared. Take out your worry list, and expose the Worry Monster's
secrets by writing down what he tells you to make you feel scared and
worried. For example, next to the worry "being left alone," you may
write, "I might get left at school." Uncover what he tells you for all
your worries and fears -- you are exposing him.
Step 7: Change and Modify Thinking
Next to the list of what the Worry Monster tells you, write down new
thoughts that are healthier and more realistic. Ask yourself, "What am I
thinking? How can I think about this differently?" For example, "I
might get left at school," gets changed to, "I have never been left
before" and "Something bad might happen to my mom," gets changed to, "My
mom is strong and can take care of herself."
Step 8: Practice, Practice, Practice!
Choose behavioral practice activities to tackle the Worry Monster
head on. Go to your Success Ladder and start doing the first thing on
the bottom of the list until you are bored of it. For example, if you
are afraid of dogs, look at a book about dogs until it is not scary and
then go to the next rung on the ladder (looking at dogs from far away).
Keep moving up the ladder and work your way to the top. Sometimes it
goes quickly and other times you may have to practice something over and
Step 9: Develop a Coping Toolbox
Make a personalized toolbox to help you take on the Worry Monster
when he shows up. This toolbox usually consists of strategies like deep
breathing, understanding where in your body you feel the worry and fear,
knowing what makes you start worrying or feeling scared, questions to
ask yourself to challenge your thinking ("Is it true?), statements to
use against the Worry Monster ("I can do this!"; "Take a hike, you
cowardly bully!"; "So what?"), exercise, and activities that distract
you and help you relax.
Step 10 -- Don't Give Up!
Like all bullies, the Worry Monster does not give up easily. It takes
a ton of courage and persistence to drive him away. You have talents to
show the world and lots of life experiences to enjoy. By using these
strategies, and working as a team, the Worry Monster doesn't stand a
chance. It is time for him to pick on somebody else. Don't give up. You
are a warrior. You can do this!