KIDS AND STRESS

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What do you do when you see your child get nervous and stressed?

Are you equipped to a) Identify when they are having nervous thoughts and feelings, and b) Do you have the right tools to help?

Many parents might sometimes say statements like, “Oh your fine,” or “It’s no big deal.”

As parents, we need to have a better plan than this.

Having four children ages five and under, Kendra and I are working on our “Mr. Worry” Tool Kit. We have noticed that our five-year-old son Baylor deals with Mr. Worry weekly, and his younger sister Bellamy had a “worry episode” at preschool last week that sparked Kendra and I to research strategies to help them. 

Kids and Stress

According to the 2015 Child Mind Institute Children's Mental Health Report, looking at children and teens, “Anxiety and depression are treatable, but 80 percent of kids with a diagnosable anxiety disorder and 60 percent of kids with diagnosable depression are not getting treatment.”

Anxiety disorders affect 1 in 8 children. Research shows that untreated children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse (Anxiety and Depression Association of America).

Anxiety is even more prevalent in teens. According to Scott Goldman, a licensed psychologist with the  Sports Science Institute, “Nearly one in three adolescents in the United States (31.9 percent) meet criteria for an anxiety disorder. Of those, half begin experiencing their anxiety disorder by age 6.”

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What can you do? 

Below are four strategies that we have used to help our children quiet Mr. Worry.  

Acknowledge the fear

Fear breeds off of isolation. Instead of down playing your child’s worry, acknowledge it and sympthize with their feelings. No one should worry or win alone. Normalize their anxieties.

For example, when Baylor says he is “going to miss mommy” while at school – instead of telling him, “there’s nothing to worry about” – say, “I know bud, mommy is going to miss you too...I don’t like to be away from you either.” The lesson is that sometimes we have to do hard things, but if we can acknowledge the source, and work through it together, we will be better able to cope and overcome. 

Expose them to concepts and strategies that speak their language  

I love education and personal development. Knowledge is power at any age. That is why Kendra and I expose our children to educational material that they enjoy. We love shows like Magical School Bus and Daniel Tiger, where there is always a practical lesson that grows their knowledge or gives them a tool to use in real-life situations. (“Use your words...use your words”). 

Other great resources we have seen be effective are books:

And the guided meditation called the Worry Bus, which we play for them at night before they go to sleep. These helpful mental lessons have inspired these wise comments from our children:

  • Bellamy told me yesterday, “Daddy, worries are just in my brain...they are not outside or real.” 
  • Baylor said recently, “Mom, when I go to school today, I’m going to leave my worries in my backpack and hang them up outside my classroom...I won’t bring them in with me.”

Insert me doing an ugly cry here. 

We can learn so much from children. These statements made me so proud. We also play gratitude games where we share what makes us happy or excited each day. We call these games Happy Breakfast and Happy Dinner. These rituals infuse optimism and thankfulness each day. It’s been said that gratitude is the antidote to worry and fear, thus we make this a daily practice. 

Empower them to work through their fear  

One thing we’ve learned to be effective is to equip our children with solutions or steps to deal with their worries. Instead of allowing the fear to grow and build by letting our irrational brain take over (we call these ANTs: automatic negative thoughts), we have taught them to run through a checklist to help calm their nerves. Below is a checklist for Baylor when he is worried about going to school:

  • Have you applied your brave oil (Baylor has a Valor essential oil roller)? 
  • Will Bella be at school with you? Yes. 
  • Momma is here and will be back in just a few hours.
  • Do you have something to give Ms. Mary (Baylor loves to give his teacher a little treat or small gift)?
  • Is there anybody sick in your class?...no (Baylor has a fear of getting sick...after a bad norovirus episode last year). 
  • Who do you want to play with at recess? 

Being a high performance coach, I believe in the power of self-talk. What we say to ourselves is 10 times more powerful than what anyone else can say to us...even with children. Knowing this, preemptively come up with what performance psychologists call an “If-then” plan...as in you already have a plan “if this happens (what causes worry), then I’ll do this.” 

What areas in your life or child’s life do you need to come up with an If-then Checklist when Mr. Worry pops up?

Utilize professionals when necessary 

Kendra and I have an unfair advantage in this space. Kendra’s mother has a master’s degree in social work and is a licensed counselor. My dad has a PhD in psychology and is a clinical child psychologist. We have a village of mental health support to help us through our journey. You might not have this level of expertise at your immediate disposal. However, I’d encourage you to work with a professional when appropriate. Whether you seek counseling services through your child’s school, your local church, or through a private therapist, mental health is just as important as physical health. 

There is no shame in seeking guidance and support in this area of your child’s development.  

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Kendra and I definitely do not have all the answers and we have our fair share of ups and downs with attitude, not listening, and worry tears. However, we have committed to being proactive with our children’s mental health and have seen first hand the benefits.

What strategies have been successful in your parenting journey? Please share. It truly does take a village and let’s help raise the next generation to have self-awareness, humility, courage, and tools to deal with Mr. Worry. These skillsets will have a huge impact on them now, when they are teens, and adults as well. 

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Collin has authored the personal development books Project Rise and the Rise Journal. Click here to learn key habits to become the best version of you. 

Collin Henderson