Helping Kids Cope with Worries

All kids (and grown-ups!) worry sometimes.  Helping our children learn how to effectively cope with their worries is arguably one of the most important skills we can teach them.  As the mother of a self-proclaimed worrywart and classic over-thinker, here are a few tips and tricks that have worked for us.

Make A Worry Box

Help your child decorate a box, jar, or any kind of container that they can open and close themselves.  My daughter painted a wooden box that we purchased from Michaels, but even something as simple as using an empty tissue box could work.  Explain to your child that this is their Worry Box.  When they feel worried about something, no matter how big or small, they can write or draw a picture about their worry, and then put it inside the box—naming and containing it.  This is a physical representation of taking the worry out of their head and setting it aside for later.

The most important part of this technique is scheduling a time to go through the Worry Box with your child when you can give them your undivided attention.  Let them share with you what they feel comfortable with.  By the time that they sit down with you to talk, they may even find that many of their worries seem much smaller!

Talk Back to The Worry Monster

Teach your child about The Worry Monster.  The Worry Monster is a little monster or creature that lives inside your child’s mind.  The Worry Monster likes to snack on your child’s worries, so he says things to trick them into worrying.  This helps your child to visualize their worry as something outside of themselves.  You can even have your child draw a picture of what they think their Worry Monster looks like and give him/her a name.

Then, teach your child how to talk back to their Worry Monster when he is trying to trick them.  My daughter thought it was hilarious that I was giving her permission to be sassy to her Worry Monster.  Phrases like, “you’re not the boss of me” or “I’m not listening to you” help empower your child to defy their worries.

Practice Breathing and Mindfulness

There are so many kinds of mindfulness techniques that are suitable for kids.  For kids of all ages, breathing is probably the most simple and effective method.  Dr.  Dawn Huebner has a wonderful guide on teaching your child how to use their breath to calm their body.  She says, “It might seem silly to practice breathing with your child, after all, she breathes just fine most of the time.  But learning to take long, slow breathes in the midst of a highly emotional state is a skill that doesn’t come naturally.  An added bonus: it will work wonders for you, too”.  Both of my kids respond very well to the visual of smelling a flower and then blowing out birthday candles.

Another go-to mindfulness technique in our house that will work for older children, is the idea of “changing the channel”.  Talk to your child about how their brain is like a TV, and their thoughts are like the different channels or TV shows.  When they are watching a “worry show”, they can change the channel to the “unicorn show” (my daughter’s favourite) or whatever topic makes them feel happy and positive.  This technique will only work if your child is able to acknowledge their worry before they change the channel—otherwise they are just stuffing down their emotions—so encourage them to utilize their Worry Box, talk back to their Worry Monster, or ask for support from an adult before changing the channel.

Validate—Don’t Accommodate

As parents, we want to protect our children, so of course our instinct is to accommodate our child’s worry.  Maybe that means giving your child constant reassurance about their worry or allowing them to skip activities that are causing their worry.  However, accommodating only perpetuates the worry because it affirms to your child that you agree—whatever they are worried about is a real threat.

Instead, you can validate your child’s worry by letting them know that you can see they are feeling scared—maybe sharing with them a time when you felt worried about a similar situation.  Focus your validation on how your child is feeling, not on the event causing the worry, and support them in utilizing tools to calm themselves.  For instance, “I see you’re feeling very nervous about the first day of school tomorrow.  That sounds like your Worry Monster talking.  What could you say to your Worry Monster?”.

Talk To Your Family Doctor

According to, “Sometimes worries become worse with time.  When kids worry too much, it’s hard to enjoy school, activities, or friends.  Worries can start to affect sleeping or eating.  They can lead kids to feel anxious or afraid, and to avoid things they might enjoy.  Worry like this could be a sign of an anxiety disorder.  If your child has worry, stress, or anxiety that seems too hard for them to handle, talk with your child’s doctor or a mental health doctor.  Childhood anxiety can get better with the right treatment and support”.