All children worry sometimes. When children worry they focus on what will happen if things go wrong at a future event, such as failing a test or a parent dying. Some children also worry about what they have said or done in the past, such as an argument with a parent or sibling.
Worry that primes positive action, such as practising for a test or learning to cope with a challenging situation, is healthy.
Worrying, however, can become a problem when it is frequent or excessive or when it consumes all thoughts or overwhelms the child’s emotional resources.
Behaviours of children who excessively worry
Children who worry excessively may:
- seek reassurance from others while contending nothing is wrong
- ask if their answer is correct or incorrect
- present with a worried expression on their face
- bite the skin on their fingers or fingernails
- twirl their hair around their fingers
- procrastinate and be slow to engage in activities
- watch others in the room and have closed body language.
Negative impact of worrying excessively
The negative impacts of excessive worrying on a child can include:
- difficulty sleeping
- difficulty concentrating in class
- being overly anxious to please
- neediness and dependence on others
- wanting to ‘mother’ other students
- avoidance of activities
- withdrawing from social, family or school activities
- frequent school absences
- increased susceptibility to illness or feeling sick
- difficulty starting and completing class work
- decreased academic grades.
When to seek further assistance
Worrying becomes a problem when it begins to impact negatively on the child’s life. Children’s worries should be taken seriously. Short discussions can often dispel typical everyday concerns of children and help to prevent the development of excessive, escalating or ongoing worry.
If a satisfactory solution cannot be found with the child, the teacher should discuss these concerns with a senior person in the school such as the principal. The teacher should also talk with the child’s parents with a view to suggesting the child be referred to a psychologist or counsellor. Without effective intervention, ongoing worrying can become an anxiety condition.
Referral to a psychologist or counsellor with the parents’ consent, may be required if the child:
- is worried daily about many little issues
- has worries that appear to be escalating
- has worries that are disproportionate to the circumstances
- indicates a recurring theme to their worries
- has headaches or feels sick
- is frequently absent from school
- has mood changes
- is generally well behaved but seems withdrawn or anxious.
Strategies to support the child who worries excessively
Children cope best with worries when they are reassured, informed and proactive.
- Acknowledge the child’s worries. Listen to the child’s concerns. What are they? Are they something you can assist with? Ask the child if they have discussed the concern with their parents or another trusted adult and, if they haven’t, encourage the child to talk to their parents or a senior staff member such as the welfare coordinator or the deputy or assistant principal.
- Do not dismiss the child’s worries. Using statements such as ‘Don’t worry about it, it’ll be fine’ or ‘That is not going to happen to you’ are unlikely to reduce the child’s worries and are likely to add to their inner confusion.
- If the child cannot express their worries verbally, create opportunities for developmental and imaginative play. The child may not have a good understanding about the source or cause of the worry. Young children may not be able to articulate or make sense of their worries. If this is the case, provide opportunities for the child to express themselves through creative play, art, music, dress-ups and dance. Non-verbal activities can help the child explore and share emotions that are troubling them. Using play-dough, finger painting, water play and other tactile activities can help a child express their worries and can soothe and sometimes help to relieve these feelings.
- Put the child’s worry in perspective. You can do this in the following ways:
Copyright © Murray Evely and Zoe Ganim 2011
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|↩1||(2007, no author) ‘Behind the news surveys Australian children and asks what they worry about’ sourced from www.abc.net.au/tv/btn/teachers/…/0227finalBTNpress%20kit.pdf|
This article is an excerpt from the ebooklet Worry excessively.
Download the complete ebooklet for full access to strategies and resources, including:
- Put the child’s worry into perspective
- Coping strategies to assist the child who worries excessively
- Whole-class coping activities