Inside: Make your happy-go-lucky child magically reappear. Ta-dah! Empower them to be a warrior not a worrier. A game, a book, and FREE printables!
My son’s been making a fuss at bedtime for the last few weeks.
“You can’t leave me.”
On and on until he finally falls asleep in my arms.
Yesterday, when he got off the school bus his bottom lip quivered, his chin trembled, and he burst into tears.
It takes a lot to make him cry.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Everything’s MOVING TOO FAST,” he replied.
Not what I expected to hear from my usually happy-go-lucky kid.
I scooped him up. Nothing an early night won’t fix, I told myself. But his words played over and over in my head.
And I couldn’t get his worried little face out of my mind.
The next morning, even after an early night, he still looked drawn and pale.
“How are you feeling today?” I asked, hopefully.
“Everything’s still MOVING TOO FAST,” he replied.
Those same words again. I felt the colour drain from my own face.
“I know how you feel,” I said.
“No, you don’t. You can’t.”
I took a RISK…
Knelt down, looked him straight in the eye, and reeled off a list of anxiety symptoms (ones many of us know only too well):
- Dry mouth
- Clammy hands
- Wobbly legs
- Jittery tummy
- Hard to breathe
- Can’t think straight
- Heart beats too fast
- Ready to burst into tears at the drop of a hat
He stood there openmouthed, eyes wide, nodding his head in agreement.
“Oh, you do get it.”
“Yes, and I know exactly how to help.”
(My bravado surprises even me sometimes!)
How to be a warrior not a worrier?
I gave him a kiss and turned my back on our busy schedule.
“Put your shoes on, we’re going out.”
A brisk walk is one of the best ways I know to brighten anyone’s mood. And its physical and mental health benefits are backed by science.
- Puts your brain in a calm meditative state
- Increases energy levels and decreases fatigue
- Improves memory and attention
- Boosts endorphins that REDUCE the stress hormones
On our way to the park, the colour slowly crept back into his cheeks (and mine).
A walk works wonders, but there’s a fun way to take it to the next level.
Help them get lost.
Nature has a positive impact on our wellbeing. Even just looking at pictures of mountains, trees and lakes can give us a lift.
But getting our children to lose themselves in their surroundings is hard when they’re stuck inside their own heads.
We played a special game from a beloved picture book, Ten Tiny Things. The rules are self-explanatory – collect 10 tiny things! We’ve played it on and off since my son was small. Sometimes it takes longer than others to get his full attention. But it always works.
If your kids are stressed out, this is THE game.
At first, they dash about trying to finish as quickly as possible, but by the time they find their third treasure they s l o w r i g h t d o w n.
And you could be there all day if you ask the right questions. Get them to think about:
Be by their side.
I carried the collection of leaves and pods and grasses on my outstretched palm. Then it hit me – the season had changed. Why hadn’t I noticed? Yep, you guessed it, my wretched phone.
What else had I FAILED to notice? I switched it off right there and then, and joined in the search.
I don’t have a picture of us carefully selecting the ‘piniest’ pine cone (believe me, it’s a thing) and the reddest leaf and the nobbliest piece of lichen, but this quote from Ten Tiny Things captures our experience perfectly:
Whatever you do, do not make eye contact.
There’s something about NOT being face-to-face which makes it easier for our kids to confide in us.
Whether you’re in the car, sitting next to each other at lunch, or out walking, ‘sideways listening‘ is scientifically proven to be more effective than staring at them and saying, “Let’s talk!” in your perkiest voice.
On the walk home, my child told me exactly what’s worrying him.
He talked about our imminent house move:
- Where will he go to school?
- Will he make new friends?
- Why didn’t we ASK HIM if HE wanted to move?
Not only does being side-by-side make it easier to talk, recent research suggests it improves our ability to listen, too. The study found people are more able to interpret the emotions of a speaker when they’re NOT face-to-face.
This is certainly true in my case. I finally HEARD what he’d been trying to tell me with his bedtime begging and pleading.
The move is a lot to cope with but LACK OF A SAY is the real problem.
Create a mess.
Later that day, I asked him what HE WOULD LIKE to do.
“Make a donkey.”
NOT the answer I expected!
I’m usually reluctant to get out the craft supplies towards the end of the day. Because the idea of getting him to clear up when he’s tired goes in the too hard box.
But this time I said, “Yes!” If we can’t give them choices about the BIG things, we can give them a say in the little ones. And I’m glad I did, for two reasons:
1. A recent article puts forward creativity as a cure for stress and anxiety.
[W]hen we partake in creative activities we are engaged in what experts describe as a sense of ‘Flow’.As psychologist Elaine Slater explains: ‘This can put us in a near-meditative state where we lose track of time and feel removed from the stressors of life.’
We all need a break from reality now and again, particularly when we’re overwhelmed.
Distraction is a fine thing. But what can we do to help them work through their worries?
Arm them with …
For regular readers, you know what I’m going to say here … Yes, PICTURE BOOKS!
We dug out everything we have on moving house (It’s not the first time we’ve done this to him), curled up on the sofa and read.
According to neuroscientists who mapped the brain:
[R]eading fiction taps into the same brain networks as real life experience. When you are engaged in reading a fictional story your brain is literally living vicariously through the characters at a neurobiological level.
In other words, reading stories about characters moving house helps my son work through the process, from the safety of his own home.
When there’s something BIG going on in your child’s life, head to the library and check out every book you can find on the subject. They’ll help put everything into perspective.
And, reading is the most effective way to reduce stress. Even better than walking. (Bonus points for those of you who can read and walk at the same time!)
Pull out your secret weapon.
It covers EVERYTHING your child needs to know to get their head around anxiety:
- In-depth explanation of what causes it (It’s easy to understand but doesn’t talk down to them.)
- Why it makes us feel the way it does
- What we can do to overcome it
And all the time it makes you feel like someone’s holding your hand.
Have you heard of the amygdala? We hadn’t. It’s the part of our brain which prepares us for fight or flight. It’s also the part of our brain which creates anxiety.
Sometimes there can be a teeny, tiny problem. The amygdala doesn’t check anything out. It’s a doer not a thinker – all action and not a lot of thought – so sometimes it thinks there is danger when there is really no danger at all.
“So how do we tell our amygdala to relax?”
Hey Warrior gives two ways to “make yourself the boss of your brain again”.
1. Think powerful thoughts.
we’re okay. You can relax now.’
‘Thanks for looking out for me,
but we’re all good here.’
Unprompted, my boy repeated it back to me, like a mantra. Yes!
2. Breathe strong, deep breaths.
I’ve been telling my son (and myself) for ages to breathe whenever anxiety hits, but it never made much sense (to either of us). Until now.
Hey Warrior explains it perfectly:
Part of the reason you feel the way you do is because fast shallow breathing has changed the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your body.
We already knew this, but something about the way the book is laid out, and its focus on feelings AND physiology, turns this piece of information into an ‘Aha!’ moment.
And, RELAX …
There’s even a step-by-step guide to breathing strong, deep breaths. Like I said, this book contains EVERYTHING children (and adults) need to get to grips with anxiety.
Informative, EMPOWERING, and wonderfully reassuring.
It ends with this gem:
Always remember, anxiety is a sign that you’re about to do something really brave.
So true! We both SMILED.
Night, night, sleep tight.
At the end of the day, my son happily trotted off to bed, Hey Warrior tucked under one arm, Donkey under the other.
But when I went in to switch off his light he said, “Don’t leave!”
Here we go again, I thought. I needn’t have worried.
“Donkey’s helping me practice my breathing. Cool, huh?”
He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and was FAST ASLEEP in no time.
Very cool, indeed. And a good night’s sleep is the final step to be a warrior not a worrier.
How to be a warrior not a worrier in 7 Simple Steps
- Walk in nature
- Talk about it
- Create something
- Read about it
- Think powerful thoughts
- Breathe strong, deep breaths
- And sleep well
Hopefully, your happy-go-lucky kid will magically reappear. Just like mine did.
Go the extra mile
We won’t always be by their side when everything’s moving too fast, so I made a Brave Warrior card to help them combat anxiety on their own.
What you need:
- FRONT: 6″ x 4″ picture, postcard or photograph taken in nature
- BACK: Free BRAVE WARRIOR printable (choice of 2)
- We used cardstock to make it stronger
- Dab of glue
- Sticky back plastic (aka clear contact paper)
Glue the front to the back then cover the whole thing with sticky back plastic. Take a deep breath, give your child the card to put in their bag, and pack them off to school. Then breathe out. Slowly.
Want to be a warrior not a worrier, too? Like the idea of solving your parenting problems with picture books?
Some other articles you might find useful:
- When is the RIGHT TIME to STOP Reading Aloud?
- How to STOP Your Little Ones LYING to You Forever
- How to Raise GRATEFUL Kids in an Ungrateful World
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Let’s raise HAPPY literate humans.
Do you have a worrier child? Any tips and tricks you can share with us would be much appreciated. Thank you!