The youngest went to school in such a state today, because the other two had frightened the living daylights out of her about her first swimming lesson. I was so cross with them - especially as they've both been anxious about the very same thing. In fact all three of my children are worry beans - and it started me wondering whether children are more anxious than they used to be?
I can't remember fretting about my family or school or the world. It might be the rose-tinted glasses, but I know that as a child I had more freedom than I give my kids. Surely that's because way back then, my parents didn't worry quite so much, which meant I didn't either? Nowadays it's hard not to be anxious about your children. There's no escape from rolling news and a lot of it is grim. If we worry about what's going on in the world, then isn't it very likely to rub off on them?
I hate thinking of my kids worrying about everything - this should be the happy, carefree part of their lives. I know it's more complicated for them because their dad is away in places they hear about on the news. But it's not just him they worry about. When my oldest son asks me what happens if the ferry sinks, or starts getting stressed in town because he's convinced the others are going to get run over, you've got to wonder...
Does your child tend to see the worst possible scenario? Mine often does - so how do you turn it around?
There are quite a few of books on the subject but I found the WorryWiseKids website to be a good place to start. This service, based in America, helps families with children who have excessive fears and anxiety - two of the most common recognised conditions being Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Separation Anxiety Disorder. These are extreme cases but a few of the pointers sound familiar, like 'worrying about everything and anything', 'a need to know details of what's happening', 'trouble sleeping on their own and trying to sleep with a sibling', 'shadowing parents around the house'. I remember the time my son rang 999 in a panic because he couldn't find me. I was upstairs!
The website has some great tips on how you can help an anxious child see that being afraid is not the same as being in danger.
Rather than constantly reassuring them, parents are encouraged to help their child recognise their worry thoughts, 'the worst thing that could happen' - and focus instead on what they really believe is likely to happen.
One technique suggested is getting them to see a situation not only through their 'worry glasses' but also their 'smart glasses'. This is apparently a good way to help turn down the worry thoughts and turn up the rational ones.
So tonight I'm going to be more understanding when he gets out of bed (and he will). Instead of telling him everything is fine and to go back to sleep, or getting frustrated and cross - I'll listen and see if we can work out how to get those worry glasses off.