ONE day Henny-penny was picking up corn in the cornyard when–whack!–something hit her upon the head. ‘Goodness gracious me!’ said Henny-penny; ‘the sky’s a-going to fall; I must go and tell the king.’
The story of Henny Penny, AKA Chicken Little is an age old children’s classic. Written in 1850, it describes a hen who is hit on the head with an acorn and believes the world is coming to an end because the sky is going to fall. I vividly remember being read this story as a three year old. And I vividly remember being up that night trying to figure out what to do in the event that the sky actually fell.
This was just the beginning of my story as an anxious kid. Things that seemed not to bother anyone else bothered me. A sample of my early childhood worries:
I lost a pencil that someone gave me. What if they find out? Will they be mad?
I’m pretty sure that a nuclear bomb dropping in my city is a distinct possibility. What will that be like? Will everyone die? Will I die?
My neighbor is in a wheelchair. Why? Is he sad about it? How does he
My leg hurts. What if I have cancer?
If I get a B on this test, the world will end.
And so on. And so on. And so on.
Despite this, I wasn’t a basket case. In fact, I functioned pretty well. Mostly I kept these worries to myself, only to obsessively think about them after I got into bed at night.
“Don’t borrow trouble’, my grandmother would say. Easier said than done (and didn’t I just hear on the news that there was a suspected murderer that escaped from jail? It’s probable that he could make it to our neighborhood. I need to be on the look out). I have a long history of “borrowing trouble”.
So whats a kid to do? Well, for starters, realize that lots of other kids worry too. Truly.
I never saw a psychologist. Maybe childhood anxiety wasn’t considered such a big deal back then. The real issue was that I didn’t necessarily voice my worries. I preferred to save them up and obsess over them in private. So while my family knew that I was worrier, there wasn’t much they could do when I didn’t tell them about it.
As I grew, I became better able to rationalize things (ex. while Operation Desert Storm is concerning, there is nothing I can do to control things there). I found out about cognitive behavior therapy, a way of dealing with anxiety that allows people to think rationally about their worries. Through this type of therapy, I found out something else; worriers are typically smart, sensitive and thoughtful people. And if they can learn to manage their anxiety, they will be just fine.
If your child is a worrier, what can you do?
*Is the highly news on? Your worried child is listening! Turn it off! If your child did hear or see something troublesome, then explain it but let him know that he is safe. The tsunami in Japan was really terrible and sad. Just so you know, we are never in danger of a tsunami where we live.
*Give information and explanations. To a worrier, more is better. It is the unknown that is troublesome. So don’t try to keep things from your worrying kid. It is terrible to know that something is wrong and nobody will tell you what. It is a bad cycle where adults are trying to protect you from worrying but actually making you worry more.
*Take situations away from your child to the best of your abilities. I know you are worried about your lost library book. I am calling the librarian today to work it out. I will handle it and you don’t need to worry about it anymore.
*Validate your child’s feelings and help him figure out why he is worried. I can tell that you are stressed out. Why don’t we make a list of the things that are bothering you and try to solve them one by one?
*Make a list of the worst things that could happen should a worrisome situation come true. Lets make a list of the worst case scenarios should your library book be lost for good. Whats the worst thing that could happen?
Above all, love and care for your worrier while also empowering him to find solutions to his anxiety. It is not easy to be an anxious child (or adult) and it can be downright exhausting. Try to look at things from your child’s point of view. Teaching coping strategies early will pay off in the end.
Let Them Fly!