BY JANE CHAMBERS, FAMILY SERVICE OF CHAUTAUQUA COUNTY, DROP OUT PREVENTION PROGRAM COUNSELOR
Children worry. Children worry about hurricanes and tornadoes, being kidnapped, fire, parents drinking alcohol, parents smoking, parents using drugs, losing a loved one through death, plane crashes, being bullied, Freddie and Jason and The Bride of Chuckie, tests, moving to a new school, having tonsils removed. Children worry.
As a mental health therapist, I am vigilant of the child who may be having difficulty coping with a normal school day: a child who is withdrawn, who cries easily; a child who hides in the locker or under a desk; a child who is fidgety and distracted; a child who doesn’t want to go to school or a child who doesn’t want to go home. It is necessary to rule out any and all causes of these behaviors; it is these children whose worries may be too much for them. These are the children who may benefit from professional counseling.
Within the school setting, teachers, nurses and school counselors are trained to recognize the symptoms of the highly anxious child and assist in getting appropriate services for them. In many local schools, services may include weekly counseling sessions with a mental health therapist from Family Service of the Chautauqua Region’s Partners for Children Program or Drop Out Prevention Program or from other similar services.
The therapist may help an anxious child learn relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, how to reduce stress through play and humor, or how to release anxiety through drawing and creative arts. (In the most severe cases, the therapist may refer to a physician, psychiatrist or psychologist for assistance with diagnoses and treatment options.) Parents and other adults may also play an important role in helping children reduce their level of worry. Here are some ways you can help:
DEVELOP A ROUTINE Children are creatures of habit and seem to feel most safe when they can depend on a daily routine.
MONITOR TELEVISION, VIDEOS AND INTERNET Children are not equipped to self-monitor…please, please, please do this for them.
DO THINGS TOGETHER Children who feel closely bonded with family generally feel safe.
TALK ABOUT IT Children need to hear that fears are being taken seriously.
SNUGGLE Children respond positively to the warmth of a favorite stuffed toy, also to a nightlight, to help calm nighttime fears.
DRAW IT Children sometimes lack the language to talk about their worries; have paper and crayons available and invite them to draw.
Mr. Rogers once said, “Children need to know that the adults in their lives will do everything they can do to keep them safe. It doesn’t mean we’re always going to be successful, but it does mean we’re going to try.”
Suggested book titles for further reading on this topic include:
When Your Child is Afraid by Robert Schacter
Listening to Children; Healing Children’s Fears by Patty Wipfler
Books for Children include:
There’s a Nightmare in My Closet by Mercer Mayer
Scary Night Visitors-A Story for Children With Bedtime Fears by Irene Wineman et al
Some Things are Scary by Florence Parry Heide
The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown (for the very young child)
Children worry. When a child feels safe, they worry less. Children worry and as caring adults, we have a responsibility to notice that and do what we can to get them outside help if that is what is needed or do what we can to help them feel safe and worry less.