Mental Health Awareness Week: Helping a child gain control over their worries
As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, DYT Consultant Teacher Kelly Challis takes us through her top tips for a child who may be experiencing intrusive or worrisome thoughts.
We all get concerned and often distracted by worries that seem so important they can impact on everything we try to do and say. Helping a child experiencing intrusive thoughts can be hard. The language needed and abstract nature of worry may make understanding how they feel difficult.
Language and worry: I just feel angry
For children with language difficulties, closely related feelings such as frustration, sadness, tiredness and anger can all feel the same and the solution offered by a teacher or parent may not be the right one. This might, in turn, lead to unwanted behaviour and further upset.
Exploring those feelings using pictures and key words will help increase the child’s self-awareness. It will also help them explain to an adult the problem. This may be crucial if the disclosure is of a safeguarding nature.
Self-control is the end goal
Although the most important thing is to acknowledge the worry and not dismiss it, it can’t be given too much credence as the end goal for the child is to manage their busy mind and take control over their thoughts.
Top tips to manage worry and tame the mind:
- Scheduling Worry Time
Agree a time with the child when they can think about their worries with the understanding that the worries stay away until that time. Give your child phrases, to say to themselves, such as ‘At * O Clock I will think about you but until then, I’m busy’ Or ‘ I hear you but I can’t deal with you right now, wait until later’ The intention is that some worries will be forgotten and others will have lost some of their strength.
This could work well at the start of a lesson when a child needs reassurance. Giving them a slip with a promise of 5 minutes of your time at the end of the lesson/lunchbreak/day will mean you are able to start the lesson on time and yet haven’t dismissed or ignored their problem.
- Interrogate the worry
Encourage the child to interrogate the worry. The use of rating scales might help them put it into perspective. On a scale of one to five, how life threatening is the worry? Will it be important tomorrow, next week, next month? Do I need to share it? Who can help me or can I help myself with this worry?
- Making sense of the abstract concept of worry
A helpful strategy is to explain to a child how if the worry was a person, that they could see and talk to, what kind of person would the worry be? Would they want them to be their friend? If the answer is no, ask them why they listen to them? Why they would accept advice from a mean, negative person instead of their kind friends and family?
It is so easy to allow our thoughts to dictate our actions and for children, reflection is a skill which comes with time and maturity but the more they recognise unhelpful thoughts, the easier this will become.
When a child becomes more proficient in separating internal, unhelpful dialogue from genuine concern it will be easier for them to ask for help.
Don’t worry worry until worry worries you.