A worried mind is a very noisy mind – it is SCREAMING for HELP the second an unexpected trigger occurs.
“Come on PANIC,” it whispers and then it starts to yell, over and over. Our bodies respond in an instant with anxiety – our breathing gets faster (panting), our heart rate races (palpitations), our muscles tense up, our stomach hurts and we feel dizzy. This is true for ADULTS…. so imagine how children feel when PANIC sets in on them!
Everyone’s body is equipped with the fight or flight response – (Sympathetic Nervous System, Reptile Brain, Internal Emergency Activation System). We need that “little voice” inside our head that reminds us that the burner is too hot to touch, we shouldn’t run in front of a moving car, or that danger is imminent. Healthy stress is actually a good thing!
But too much worry and stress can cause health problems. Insomnia (poor sleep), unhealthy eating habits, frequent illnesses, headaches, gastrointestinal issues (stomach pain), elevated blood pressure – are all common side of effects of too much anxiety and stress.
Kids also have worries and some kids worry more than others. Worry is a normal part of child development. Some kids have specific fears that cause their brain to go into panic overload – crowded places, transitioning from one thing/place to another, getting lost, being left alone, fear of failure, fear of upsetting a teacher/parent/caregiver, the news, pets, TV shows that are scary, natural disasters, spiders, the dark, ghosts, monsters and nightmares – are all common childhood worries.
As children develop and their world expands they become more and more aware of new REAL stressors and experiences. So it makes sense that their worries become bigger as they experience things like fire and tornado drills or talk about stranger safety.
So, What helps children talk their way through FEARFUL and STRESSFUL situations? Self-Talk! When kids talk back to their fears, they feel some control over the situation and therefore they can remain calm enough to try and find a solution to the problem.
A GREAT idea that I found on the internet – is to teach your child about the “Happy Brain” and the “Worried Brain”
The “Happy Brain” is focused on all the things that make a child feel HAPPY, RELAXED, CONTENT and CALM on a daily basis. The “Happy Brain” has the ability to remain calm and stay in control. The worry does not go away – it is still there – just in case it is needed for an Emergency.
The “Worried Brain” is just the opposite, any trigger causes a PANIC – the child feels very anxious and all the symptoms of stress are present (racing heart beat, fast breathing, stomach pain etc.) The “Worried Brain” makes all its choices based on WORRY and the child feels fearful, scared, lonely…
So, Again, What Can Kids do? They Can Talk Back to their “Worry Brain” – this SELF-TALK can help kids cope with stressful situations. Here are some examples of Self-Talk kids Can Use:
- “No ‘Worry Brain’ Monsters are not real.”
- “No ‘Worry Brain’ I will try my best and do well on my math test.”
- “I can ask for help if I need it.”
- “I can Handle This, I have done it before.”
If you child can identify their triggers then they can learn to talk back to their ‘Worry Brain’ so that they can handle stressful situations. If you child is not aware of their triggers – you can help them to identify their triggers through play or art.
Some kids go from “Happy Brain” to PANICKED “Worry Brain” in seconds! – it is important to PRACTICE slow deep breathing – make it fun by blowing up balloons, blowing bubbles, using a Pinwheel etc. Also PRACTICE self-talk statements with them. Also Draw them a picture of their “happy brain” and their “worried brain.” – Understanding how our bodies and brains work can make a significant difference in the mind of a worried child! Knowledge and Practice are Fundamental!