Though we may all experience anxiety from time to time, when it comes to trying to explain to youngsters the ins and outs of how anxiety works, we may be at a loss. When talking to children about anxiety, is important to convey that anxious children are not alone, that aside from the millions and millions of children who have an anxiety disorder, that every child experiences anxiety from time to time. It is also important to convey optimism that with the right strategies, anxious children can learn to overcome anxiety—filter out unnecessary thoughts, create a more accurate version of a situation, and learn to face their fears one step at a time.
When kids are stuck in the spin of worry, it is tempting to simply reassure them that they are fine. But then they wonder, if everything is fine, why do I still feel so scared? Rather than reassuring, if we teach children how worry works, they can challenge and outsmart the worry themselves. This worry wisdom gives kids a sense of power which they can take with them wherever they go.The first step is recognizing the sound of worry, give it a name if you like-worrybug, exaggerator guy, disaster man. The second step is deciding how much value to place on anxious messages. When we hear the "worry story" as an accurate read on a situation, we feel very anxious and out of control. If instead, when we hear the familiar, "what if, and oh nos" of anxiety, we say, "I'm not listening, worry plays tricks, exaggerating risks, underestimating our ability to cope, racing ahead and catastrophizing." Instead of falling for the tricks and worrying about "the worst that could happen in a situation," we can refocus on "what we really believe is likely to happen in a situation." This smart version of the story, based on the facts not the "scaries", is much easier to handle.
Outside of the heat of a worry moment, you can let your child know that worry is the body's alarm system causing false alarms. Maybe a situation is a little bit risky or scary, but worry exaggerates so much that you feel afraid to try at all. It's like your mind is seeing everything through worry glasses, and makes you think of all the things that could go wrong, all the what if's?. Worry makes you feel like those bad things are likely, but just because you're feeling scared, doesn't mean the bad thing is going to happen. It's like your reading a scary story-you're going to feel scared, but it doesn't mean that you are in danger. You can learn to label your worry thoughts and treat them differently from your smart or rational thoughts. Worry is no voice to trust, but you have a choice. What if you heard the worry voice to the tune of "Old McDonald" or imagined a comedian like Adam Sandler saying the worry story-would you feel scared? Once you learn how to recognize the sound of worry, you can begin to feel free to take the power away from it. Overtime, you can turn down the volume on those worry thoughts and your brain will calm down and you will have a direct line to more calm, realistic thinking. If your mind tells you the true story about a situation, you will feel more confident approaching it because you know what the real risks are and that they are unlikely.
From Freeing Your Child from Anxiety by Tamar Chansky, Ph.D.