There has been a lot of news lately that I’m finding hard to understand and comprehend myself, let alone explain to my child, who often overhears and tries to process it in her own childlike way.
Catching a flight not long after the Germanwings tragedy had one little lady in my small family unit concerned for my return, which caught me completely off guard. Being unsure of how to explain that I was going to be fine, and that she had nothing to worry about, had me worried. She had caught the Worrybug much earlier than I was prepared for and I didn’t have the cure.
Renowned child and family psychologist Dr John Irvine is sadly seeing the rise of children who worry more than the generation before and believes that we should be worried about it. Thankfully he has some simple solutions for the little worriers who have caught the Worrybug.
Dr John, why do you think this generation has more worriers?
It’s a huge problem and it is getting bigger. We insist and thrive on hearing bad news. When I was on Sunrise (the television program) I asked producers to do more good news stories on what kids and families are doing and they declined. We feed on the anxiety and we are tuned to crisis information, which is OK for adults because we can process it and put it into perspective, but for little kids they don’t know what’s happening. They don’t understand where it is happening, they don’t have a time or geographical perspective, and it can become big news for them, especially for little worry-warts and sensitive kids who internalise things. They are worrying so much more because of the news they are being fed and because there’s more technology available to deliver the news at more times of the day. Busy families on the go don’t have time to stop, take deep breaths and explain that they are safe.
I find these days even our fairy tales can be confronting for children; someone always dies or is evil or has an element of darkness. Is that a problem?
Generally in the fairy tales things end up with a happily ever after, but when it comes to life in the news, there is rarely a happy ending and no good news at the end of it. Kids swallow that harder. Parents need to turn off the telly and get out and do real life fun things together to help kids and play with them to relieve stress and create happy memories for them away from the bad news of technology. At night, turn the TV off and talk about the day around the dinner table, play some nice music, even burn nice scents.
So our mums were right when they hollered “get outside and play!!”
Absolutely! Play is good for both mental and physical health. They need to get out and laugh and take a few risks, and we need to spend more time doing that with them. We seem to have twice as much money and half as much time for them and it’s sad.
So what are some simple things we can do to stop kids worrying?
It’s so important to have family meetings, take stock and ask if they are worried and why. Another thing is to point out all the good news that is around them. Good news stories are everywhere; we just need to look for them. Make sure your kids know of those stories, that there is a happily ever after and that schools, other parents and other kids are doing great things everywhere.
How do you spot a child who is a worrier?
There are lots of ways. They may be quieter; they don’t go out and play. They may not sleep well, go off food, or even complain of some physical problems like a headache. You need to work with their teachers and other carers to assess if their systems are under stress and look out for them and help them let the pressure out somehow.
I have a friend who has a little worrier and so she started dancing after dinner with her children each night, and it is so much fun. They turn the music up and all let loose and it seems to help. Is that something you could do?
I am a big fan of your friend; this is an excellent idea because you get your endorphins up and that is nature’s natural anti-depressant. It helps build serotonin in the brain and we could all do a little more dancing with our kids to remind us that fun is what keeps families happy and healthy and together.
Helping Young Worriers Beat the Worry Bug is Dr John Irvine’s new book. For more information, visit worrywoos.com/.