It may seem like your child worries a lot of the time and about everything. Children can worry about all sorts of things, such as safety issues, tests and school work, friends, family, health, the planet, and more. They may seek reassurance and ask you questions repeatedly about their worries. By asking you about their worry, your child may feel better for a short while, but then some time later, you may notice that your child asks you again about the same worry. This tells you that your child’s worry did not go away (as you had thought or had hoped). Click here for more information on children’s anxiety.
In a previous post called Help for the Anxious Child, Anxious Teen, and Anxious Parent, I introduced breathing techniques as a good foundation for the toolkit to cope with anxiety and stress. I also presented in another post about the “What If” Game the idea of distancing yourself and gaining a new perspective over worries by recognizing the ‘game’ the mind is playing and calling it like it is. Learning about how the brain works and how to regulate one’s emotions through mindfulness practices will further help you and your child manage big feelings. You can read more about it in My Brain Team: What To Do When Emotions Run High.
In this post, I will share with you about the worry jar, which is one of my favourite techniques to help an anxious child contain their worries.
Let’s together build on the toolkit to overcome anxiety and worries that we have started. In my clinical work, I have found that being creative and making the strategies concrete and come to life improves their effectiveness and usefulness, especially with young children. I encourage you to do the same in helping your child.
The Worry Jar
A Worry Jar is a place for your child to put their worries so that they do not need to keep thinking about them. It is like storing them or putting them away for safe keeping. Just knowing that their worries are contained in the jar can free your child from having to replay them in their minds.
Create a worry jar with your child. Find a real glass or plastic jar. Have your child decorate it (which is the really fun part) and then label it with a name (e.g., ‘Johnny’s Worry Jar’ or ‘My Worry Jar’). Once the jar is finished, help your child write down all his or her worries in a list on paper. You and your child can then cut each worry into its own strip of paper. Fold each worry and put it in the jar. Once all the worries are inside, have your child close the jar.
Schedule Worry Time
The next step is to schedule “Worry Time”. Worry time is a set time of day when your child has permission and is encouraged to worry as much as he or she wants. This specific time serves as another way to contain the worries. The key is to remember that when worry time is over, you and your child know that the worrying must end for the day.
Choose 10-15 minutes a day after school or after supper (but not right before bed) and write down when worry time is on the worry jar (e.g., 4 PM to 4:15 PM). You may want to set a timer or alarm to notify your child that worry time has begun. Once worry time starts, your child can open the worry jar, look inside, and proceed to worry all he or she wants. Your child can choose to review all the worries or focus on one or two each day. Depending on the child and your child’s developmental age, worry time can be spent alone or with you. To end worry time, have a timer or alarm sound to indicate that worry time is over for the day. Your child should close the jar to put his or her worries away.
Of course, it is normal for worries to come up at other times during the day. After all, your child may be an expert worrier (like so many of us). If a worry appears at another time, you or your child can write it down and “save the worry” for worry time. That is, remind your child that it is not the right time to worry and he or she can think about the worry at the next worry time.
By using the worry jar, at some point your child will likely tell you that he or she is no longer worrying about something he or she had previously put in the jar. This is the exciting part for your child as this discovery represents success at overcoming a worry! Celebrate these moments together and make a big deal out of it. Have your child remove the worry and rip it up.
Similarly, you may also notice that your child decides to skip worry time some days as he or she feels they don’t need it. This is another sign of success to be reinforced and recognized!
What do you think about this tool? In my experience, anxious kids really get into this technique and find it very helpful. Will you try it? Please let me know how it goes.
I welcome your feedback, questions, and comments!
P.S. I recently wrote the book My Brain Team: What To Do When Emotions Run High with an introduction to mindfulness practices for children ages 6 and older, which can be very helpful for managing anxiety and worries. I am very proud of this work and am hopeful that you will benefit from reading it. For more information, read this post.
P.P.S. Another resource worth checking out is Sam’s Big Secret. I wrote this book to help teach children cognitive-behavioural skills to cope with fears and phobias. You can read this post to learn more about my favourite little turtle who is afraid of water and gradually overcomes his fear!
P.P.P.S. Sometime ago I wrote the foreword and collaborated with author Elaheh Bos on A Spot of Blue, a story for young children about anxiety, in which this coping technique and others are shared. You may want to take a look!
Post last updated July 12th 2019.
Image at top courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net