Living with Mr Worry – tips from a mum

Like many families, we have several of the Mr Men in our home.  Mr Grumpy, who arrives with my son (and husband) when it's time to wake up every morning; Mr Naughty, who does several things around the house that no one else will admit to and Mr Sleep who we search for every evening, usually in vain.  During our work with CAMHS, we have recently introduced Mr Worry as a way of helping our children to cope with their own worries.  Mr. Worry is someone who many of us will be familiar with.  He is responsible for many tears, much heartache and many hours of "what are we going to do" chats.

Watching your child learn to cope with worry can be heart breaking.  As parents, we just want to make it better but how do you help them to stop worrying?  Today I am sharing some tips that have worked for us.  I am not writing this as an expert in psychology or an expert in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy; I am merely writing this as a mum who lives this daily.  Not all of my suggestions will work for you, maybe none of them will or maybe, hopefully, one or two will.

Mr Worry133672491_nBest thing/Worst thing:

We sit down to dinner as a family every evening.  If we can't all sit together, I will sit with the kids while they eat their dinner.  After getting fed up of asking "How was your day at school" or "What did you do at school today" and getting "good" or "nothing" in response, we came up with two different type of questions.

What was the best thing about today?  What did you enjoy the most?  What made you happy?

What was the worst thing about today?  What was your least favourite thing?  What would you rather not do again?

Not only did we ask the children, we also had to answer the questions ourselves.  The results were great.  Suddenly, I was finding out what my children enjoyed at school (J enjoys tests!) and also what they didn't like.  Some of the things they didn't like really surprised me, for example J told me he didn't like bread rolls at lunch, he preferred bread cut into triangles.  Such a small thing, an easy thing to change and the next day his favourite thing was the triangle shaped sandwiches.

We found out that my daughter was struggling with a group of friends and that my eldest son wasn't happy that we had extended his bedtime.

What didn't we do?

On a Sunday evening, at dinner, we ask them the usual favourite/least favourite thing but we also introduced "What didn't we do this weekend but you wished we had?"

It's really useful to find out what activities they like at weekends.  My eldest son has always given the impression that a trip into the local town is the most painful, boring event ever.  However, during one of these chats, he told us that he actually wished we had gone into town to a certain coffee shop that sells chocolate bars.  If a chocolate bar in a coffee shop means I can get out of the house more often, then it's a price I am willing to pay.

Mr Worry

Mr Worry is a fairly new arrival to our evening chats but we now ask "Did Mr Worry visit you today?"  If he did, we ask why.  Sometimes the responses are amusing, for example J told me last night that he was worried that Mr Grumpy was going to stay with him all day - not as worried as I was, believe me.  However, some of the answers have really helped us.  My son told me he was worried about something at school.  He had been invited to a weekend activity and didn't want to go and he was worried that the teacher would be angry with him.  I knew the teacher was fine but my son needed the reassurance so I was able to contact his teacher who was then able to reassure him.  The next day, his favourite thing was the teacher assuring him he wasn't angry with him.

We also have fun talking about we can make Mr Worry really small or how we can squash him.  We have talked about thinking of something funny, thinking of something delicious to eat, thinking of something we like to do, having a stress ball which we pretend is Mr Worry and we physically squash him, etc.  However, having a house where bodily functions are currently the most amusing thing in the world, my 9 year old is convinced that if he "bottom burps", Mr Worry will make a quick exit.   He's probably not wrong.  It may seem gross but do you know what, if it works for him then I can deal with gross.

We have also chatted about how Mr Worry does sometimes play a good role.  One example we gave was if mummy was driving down the motorway and because she was stressed, she suddenly started to meditate (e.g. hands in the air, fingers clasped and eyes closed), then Mr Worry should arrive and he should be huge.  We then chatted about how we made him smaller - e.g. shouting at me to open my eyes, put my hands on the wheel etc.

Time to cool down

One of the issues we have faced is when emotions run high suddenly.  We all know that often it will be a little thing that triggers a quick response.  We wanted the kids to have a technique they could use anywhere to help them to calm down before they reacted to something. Searching through Pinterest, I came across an idea on Childhood 101 called Take 5 breathing.  Basically the idea is that your child using draws around their own hand whilst breathing.  I was a bit sceptical to be honest but we had the opportunity to use it this weekend and it actually worked well.  Having to concentrate on breathing and tracing their fingers, helped them to calm down.  Not totally and it didn't make the issue go away but they calmed down significantly.

What techniques do you use?

I hope that sharing our family experiences helps some of you.  Like I said, it won't help everyone, some of our children won't have the cognitive ability and some parents won't have time but I really hope it helps one or two of you.

What do you do?  What techniques work for you?  It would be great to hear from you about what you do with your child.  Sometimes, we don't need a two-hour assessment, we just need some ideas of something different to try.

Debs Aspland
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  1. From Leigh Taylor:
    Excellent post Debs. I think the sensory aspect of the Take 5 tracing fingers ‘strategy’ will really appeal to the child I support. Just focussing on being in the moment is also a brilliant distraction and i think it’ll work like a brain break.

    ‘My child’s’ go-to-strategy if he is worried is to think and say aloud ” What’s the worst that could happen? Is it likely?” I adapted it from Tony Attwood’s Exploring Feelings: Anxiety CBT programme Thinking Tools section. It has taken him about 18 months of verbally prompting him to explore using it ( otherwise he’d freeze & shut down/ cry/ hide his face etc), making a prompt card for him to refer to and with support from parents at home to him using it as completely independently whilst learning to row last week. Instead of panicking that his boat would tip him out, he asked himself,
    ” What was the worst that could happen? I’ll fall in.”
    “Was it likely? No.” Not even when he tried to rock it violently, which was what they had been encouraged to do! Such a fantastic moment.

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