By Dr. Jennifer Gordon and Illustrated by Rob Bryson.
How do you talk to your kids about anxiety and worry?
Navigating new and uncertain situations is difficult for most of us. For 1 in 9 children, they struggle with worry to the point where it impairs aspects of their daily functioning. It’s the number one referral concern in my practice today.
Worry can be masked as many different behaviors in children. For many kids, anxiety is obvious – we see the child who freezes, trembles, hides, and avoids situations that frightens them. However, worry can also be disguised as irritability, defiance, meltdowns, concentration difficulties, sleep problems, stomach aches, and constant questioning about upcoming events in the day. Some kids are like a swan that appears to be gliding along without any struggle, but really they are paddling like crazy beneath the surface.
So often, caregivers reach out for support when difficulties and feelings have gotten so big that they are impairing their child and family life. Now practitioners are reiterating to families not to wait. We know that building emotional vocabulary should start early, and that talking with kids openly and normalizing feelings can really help to set the stage for adaptive coping and resiliency as they grow up and face the inevitable ups and downs of life. By helping kids understand their feelings and supporting them through their feelings, children become less overwhelmed by their emotional experiences and they are better able to manage them over time.
Books can be a great tool for building children’s emotional literacy, and helping parents and educators to start such conversations with kids. Books provide children with emotional distance, which allows them to really look at their own feelings and experiences, as they listen and relate to the characters and situations they face in a story.
My new book, Nora and the Worry Zoot, aims to do exactly this. It’s an empowering story about overcoming worry and apprehension, as well as building the courage and confidence to try new things. For Nora, worry comes in the form of a pesky little bug that tries its best to stop her from being brave when meeting new friends. Using rhyme, this story addresses symptoms of worry and provides coping strategies that help Nora to find and embrace her “inner strong”. Nora learns that her worry is tricky and that in the end, it was trying to stop her from being brave and having fun.
Externalizing worry (in the form of a tricky little pest) can help to preserve self-esteem (i.e., the child isn’t the problem, worry is the problem). So rather than parents AGAINST their child in a fight to get them to engage activities that worry them, this approach helps to put parents and kids on the same team. Facing these challenges TOGETHER.
I have had so much success with this story in my own practice with children ages 3-8. It is the perfect springboard for talking to children about worry, and it aims to inspire courage, foster resiliency and promote inner strength in kids.
The book is now available on Amazon, Chapter.indigo.ca and barnsandnoble.com. For educators who are interested in using this book for their classroom/school, please let me know as I have an extension of learning worksheet that you can use in your classroom, and I’m happy to send it along.
Dr. Jennifer Gordon, R. Psych., RPT.