Is Your Child a Worrier? Teaching Anxious Kids Self-Control

Is your child a Worrier? Anticipating the future is a mixed blessing. Some children are overwhelmed with anticipatory anxiety, in which they worry about events they cannot control and that have not yet occurred. Thinking too much about the future is frequently unhealthy for younger children, as it may prevent them from trying new activities and being creative.

Conversely, other children are so focused on the present that they ignore the future. This lack of concern can be equally problematic if the child has homework due the next day or needs to prepare for a presentation in front of the class. For these children, the inability to look ahead and consider how they might handle stressful situations can result in maladaptive behavior, overreaction, and an inability regulate their feelings.

Here are strategies to help your child appropriately recognize and anticipate stressful situations.

Flip the script. It’s important for your child to learn that disappointments happen to everyone.  The ball does not swish through the net every time one takes a shot, and people do not hit a homerun every time they step up to bat.  It would be unrealistic to expect to get every job for which one applies or to “ace” every test one takes.  Talk to your child about the regular and routine disappointments that occur in life and how “understanding and accepting” these disappointments can result in happiness rather than frustration. Identify stressful situations ahead of time in preparation for coping with difficult situations in the future. Having a script to follow could help your child cope with difficult situations in the future and manage his emotions.

There will be consequences. Discuss possible consequences for your child’s emotional outbursts. Thinking about the consequences beforehand can lessen the number of emotional outbreaks. Ask them to remember past natural consequences to inappropriate behavior.  Because they may not understand what constitutes “appropriate” behavior, have clear and concise rules about behavior both in the classroom and at home.  Defined expectations for each location offer a sense of predictability and control and can facilitate emotional modulation.

At the root. Clarify the triggers leading to depressed mood, frustration, anger, and anxiety. Youngsters who have problems regulating their mood often see symptoms worsen in certain situations such as when they are overwhelmed by heat or stimulation, hungry, or very tired.  Work with your child to learn to identify the triggers for feeling sad or depressed so that he can develop ways to avoid and manage them.  For instance, he could be encouraged to go into a different room to divert his attention when triggered.

What’s your story? Use personal and realistic stories to help your child understand and manage anger. Well-presented anecdotes about anger and other emotions can validate children’s feelings and provide information about anger. You might describe having been upset when a neighbor’s dog dug up your vegetable garden and how you handled your frustration about this.  Help them to develop stories or narratives to explain his own and others’ behavior. Encourage them to talk about their feelings. “I’m angry because my brothers always tease me when I lose,” is a much better alternative to wailing, screaming, kicking and throwing. Role-play hypothetical scenarios such as getting blamed for something you did not do, being left out by your friends, or having to do someone else’s task at school because he didn’t do it and discuss various reactions to the situation.

Exposing your child to frustration can be good immersion therapy for teaching self-control skills. For more strategies, see our Self-Control Activities page.


Featured image: Flickr user Sarah Joy

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