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Sweating the Small Stuff: Helping Kids Handle Worry

Posted by Kelley Gricol, MS Ed on March 22, 2016 at 3:00 PM
Kelley Gricol, MS Ed


Worrying from time to time is natural, even for children. As the caring adults in their lives, how do we approach these worries in a way that helps kids develop positive coping skills? Here are the top five tips I share with teachers and parents:

1.) Listen

Sure, this one may be obvious. When children open up to us, we know that they need to feel heard and understood. But once we get the gist of it, it is so easy to jump in and try to solve the problem or offer our opinion. The next time you’re ready to jump in, remember that it is likely too soon for your child.

2.) Bring the child back to reality

Kids can easily lose perspective and make little deals into big deals. Let’s say a child worries that everyone at school thinks he is stupid because he gave a wrong answer in class. Reframe the situation by pointing out an alternative (and more positive) viewpoint.

What do your teachers say about participating—do they say that you should try, even if you might be wrong? Have you heard other kids give wrong answers in class? And you don’t think they are stupid, right? You put yourself out there and took a risk today. I’m really proud of you for trying.

3.) Help the child look for solutions

At times, kids are worried about a situation where some type of action is necessary. Before you make suggestions about what to do, ask some questions to put the ball in the child’s court. 

  • I wonder what might help?
  • What are you going to do about that?
  • What’s one thing you could try? 

Questions like these are empowering for kids—they show that you have confidence in their ability to solve problems on their own.

4.) Move on to something else

It’s good to be comforting, but don’t lay it on too thick. Dwelling on the problem can reinforce a child’s worrying. Instead, you can help the child change gears. Transition to a new activity or just move on to a less stressful topic of conversation.

5.)  Be calm and remember that we are always modeling

Kids pick up on the emotions of adults. If we often appear worried and tense, we may unintentionally increase anxious behaviors in those around us. Simply put, stress breeds stress. While it is not always easy, a calm approach can make a huge difference.

What if worries become too big and too frequent to handle? There are many useful resources in your community, including your child’s school. At Sanford School, we have an open-door policy with both students and parents. Knowing what’s troubling our students helps us support them and their families, so that everyone can learn together how best to cope when worries arise.

Kelley Gricol, MS Ed, is the Middle School Counselor at Sanford School in Hockessin, DE.

Topics: Health & Wellness