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What To Do If Your Child Worries Too Much

By Lucy Schrader,
former HES Associate State Specialist and Building Strong Families Program Coordinator, University of Missouri Extension

My daughter worries at bedtime every night. She always asks, ‘Will you check on me soon? Will you check on me after you go downstairs? Will you check on me before you go to bed?’ I always tell her I’ll be close by, but it doesn’t seem to help. What can I do?”

Some of this is normal worry. Children want to be reassured and they want to know they will be safe. Some need extra reassurance, and routines and traditions can help calm them. Some children, however, will not be calmed by your answers. It doesn’t matter how many times you reassure them or how many times you check on them, they still worry.

Children who have these kinds of worries might struggle in other situations, too. They may not want to meet new children or go to other kids’ homes because of their worries (for example: “What if I need something?” or “What if I don’t know what to do?”).
It’s easy for adults to say, “Don’t worry” or “Stop worrying so much.” Just saying these things, however, does not work. There are strategies that can help, and these strategies can give your child a way to gain control over the worries.

These strategies are from Dr. Dawn Huebner in her What to Do When You Worry Too Much workbook (2006):

  • Contain the worry
  • Set up a worry time
  • Create a worry box
  • Put the worry outside of the child
  • Do something else
  • Make a list of things to do.

Here are some ideas:

  • Take three deep breaths
  • Run up and down the stairs five times
  • Draw a picture
  • Read
  • Play music
  • Sing a song
  • Play a game
  • Help a neighbor with yard work
  • Take a pet for a walk

These strategies take practice and time. Give your child positive messages and tell him that you believe in him. You may want to get help from a school counselor or a licensed therapist/counselor.

Also, if you as the adult tend to worry, your child may have the same tendencies as you. These strategies can help you, too. You and your child can practice these strategies together.

In answer to the question at the beginning of this article, work on some of the ideas listed here.

To read the full version of this article in more depth, go to http://missourifamilies.org/features/parentingarticles/parenting103.htm.
To find local Missouri Mental Health Centers, you can call Missouri Department of Mental Health at 800-364-9687 or go to dmh.mo.gov
To find a counselor in Missouri use the search feature on the Missouri Mental Health Counselors Association website www.mmhca.com.

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