Everyone worries from time to time:
-Will I know anyone at the party?
-How will I find my classroom?
-What if I forget what I need?
But sometimes worries get too big or come too often and can begin to get in a child’s way. This is when a parent needs to have strategies to help support that child. Here are 3 beginning strategies for doing that:
1. Help your child express their concern. I try to be mindful of not telling a child not to worry. When has that ever helped you? Worrying doesn’t feel good and for sure, if a child could stop feeling worried, they would. Help your child identify what they are feeling. Ask open ended questions so that the ideas come from your child. (This is part of why I feel so strongly about working with young children to understand when they are happy, sad, angry, excited, etc.) I have a young client who defines it as when he “thinks too much.” You could even help them think about whether the worries are big or small. Keep your tone as calm, supportive and neutral as possible during these conversations. If your tone is heightened, your child will hear it.
2. Validate feelings without reinforcing them. Acknowledging that something is making a child feel worried or concerned can be very comforting for that child. That said, if we focus too much on what is causing a child to feel that way, we can sometimes inadvertently reinforce those anxious feelings. Instead, reflect back what they are saying, and move on to number 3 for focusing on what they can do, instead of what they may have no control over.
3. Help your child develop “tools.” I like to help clients focus on what they know about a situation and what they know how to do, that can make it feel manageable. Maybe they know a few friends at the birthday party or they love the activity. Perhaps a “tool” is the fact that they can talk to a child they may not know and introduce themselves. Some children like to think about the fact that a safe grown up is nearby and can be a “tool.” A child who may feel concerned about another child bumping into them during play may think about saying, “You’re too close,” as one of their “tools.”
Certainly some worrying is to be expected and can on occasion be helpful, but it can be overwhelming for a child when their worries feel too big. There are many strategies for helping a child make situations manageable despite feeling concerned or nervous. If your child worries and you’re not sure how to support them, reach out.