Help your children worry less and sleep better
If you have a child who is kept awake at night with anxiety or worry then you’re not alone. The Good Childhood report 2019 revealed that “…children in the UK are the least happy they have been in a decade…” but how can we help them to deal with the daily stressors of life and lead a happier existence?
Here our resident sleep and wellbeing expert, Natalie Pennicotte-Collier, shares her story of how she helped her daughter to manage feelings of stress and offers some tips you can do with your own family to encourage a sleep free from worry.
Below, Natalie draws from her expertise as a child and teen therapist specialising in anxiety and mental illness recovery.
Sleep Worry Coaching Technique for Children
When my daughter Darcy is feeling worried I have some simple tips to alleviate anxiety and help change her mind set when she feels this way.
I started by teaching Darcy how her brain works and that the part of her brain that works to keep her safe is called the amygdala - we nicknamed it the ‘Worry Brain’ (sometimes it works well to give it silly name or a persona so that it’s easy for children to relate to and understand). I explained that when she has trouble sleeping and feels scared, it’s because her ‘Worry Brain’ has shown up and taken over.
It’s important to encourage your child to recognise these feelings and notice when their ‘Worry Brain’ is active so that they can talk back to it and rationalise those emotions they are experiencing.
When Darcy wasn’t feeling anxious, she knew that her fears were unfounded, but when the ‘Worry Brain’ showed up, it was hard to remember that. So we came up with a list of phrases that Darcy could say to her Worry Brain to give it the “all clear”, such as “I don’t need you here, Worry Brain” or “Go back to sleep, Worry Brain, I’m safe and I’m going to a happy place in my dreams”.
Parents try to reassure children when they are already feeling worried and this can fail because the assurance is aimed at the more logical prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain isn’t actually working when the ‘Worry Brain’ or the amygdala has taken over – so instead, arm children with the tools outlined above to manage it themselves.
Keep in mind that the ‘Worry Brain’ will show up from time to time so it’s important your child has the tools to control and combat it with a sentence such as “Here you are Worry, you always show up at bedtime and in the middle of the night. Go away! Thank you!”. This can help them to manage those feelings themselves and empower them to take charge of their emotions.