Helping Childhood Anxiety with a ‘Worry Box’

The prevalence of childhood anxiety has more than doubled in the last twenty years.

And while we all experience anxious feelings at times, certain children will suffer more greatly, with their anxieties interrupting the functioning of their daily lives.

This could mean that it affects their sleeping, their socialising, or their ability to concentrate at school.

We’ve discussed a number of techniques for dealing with childhood anxiety on the blog…

But a useful tool for very young kids dealing with anxiety can be introducing a ‘worry box’ into their daily routine.

A ‘worry box’ acts as a metaphor for the things that are making your child anxious.

In most instances, anxious feelings are ‘irrational’, in the sense that the feelings of anxiety don’t lead to any actual outcome.

That is: the feelings don’t serve any purpose. Anxiety won’t improve, change or disrupt the course of the things that are causing the anxiety.

(What some psychologists have said is the result of an ‘evolutionary mismatch’.)

So a worry box helps to symbolise the idea that these anxious feelings are simply thoughts that we can distance ourselves from.

It works like this:

Source and decorate a small box, such as a tissue box.

Then, perhaps each night before bed, write down the child’s worries onto a piece of paper.

Have them fold the piece of paper and put it in the box.

The next day – take the notes out of the box and see if your child still has those worries.

If they do, place them back in the box; if they don’t, have them rip up the paper and throw it in the bin.

This concept was discussed in a recent article that features contributions from our staff psychologist Danielle Kaufman.

Dani says that the worry box serves the important purpose of ‘externalising’ your child’s anxieties:

‘Telling children not to worry squashes their feelings. It’s more helpful for them to have something they can actively do to process it.’

So instead of reassuring our children about their anxieties, we should be helping them to process them in age-appropriate ways.

The worry box is particularly beneficial for young children, because it helps them to understand their thoughts and feelings, and give them control over them.

And the symbolic nature of the worry box helps to show kids that their thoughts are just that – thoughts – and negative ones won’t have an impact on the future.

The act of decorating and creating the box shows the child that they can have ownership and control over their thoughts and feelings.

The ritual of writing the worries down helps them to acknowledge and address those feelings.

And the disposing of the worries helps to symbolise their release of those problematic emotions.

These activities all serve to create action from anxiety – and your kids will feel good about it!

In Dani’s sessions, she works on externalising her patient’s anxieties with other similar concepts, like drawing the worries, or conceiving of a ‘worry bully’.

But the worry box is an easy and helpful solution for trying at home.

With older children and adolescents, an analogous process of identifying and dealing with anxious feelings comes from principles of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and mindfulness.

But for young kids, these principles can be difficult to comprehend.

That’s why the worry box is a great way for young kids to start understanding and identifying their emotions, and dealing with them in a purposeful and productive way.

If you think you need some professional help in dealing with your child’s anxiety, call us for a consultation.

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