“Wince, The Monster of Worry has a problem, he constantly feeds his WorryBug. And the more he worries the more the WorryBug grows. His worries are with him wherever he goes.” – Andi Green, Creator of the Worry Woos

Play and storytelling with plush toys are used by psychologists and educators to help children identify, understand and manage their feelings and emotions in a fun, non-threatening way.

“Beating the worry bug” is used as a game plan for children who do not understand the concepts of stress and anxiety. It is a young child’s version of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. This form of therapy, according to Beyondblue, is based on the theory that how a person feels is determined by the way they think (cognition) and act (behaviour).

Headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation state that research has shown talking therapies such as cognitive behaviour therapy are effective in reducing anxiety symptoms in children and adolescents.

According to Beyondblue, once these negative thought patterns are recognised, a person can consciously and deliberately make changes to replace these patterns with new ones that reduce anxiety and enhance their coping skills.

In his new book, Helping Young Worriers Beat the WorryBug, child psychologist Dr John Irvine provides educators and parents with therapeutic ideas and practical activities to help children manage their feelings and emotions in a fun, interactive way.

“When emotions seem too strong to handle and we are at their mercy, these strategies give kids a sense of control over their feelings,” Dr John said.

The book can be used with the “WorryBug”; a plush toy that makes “Wince the WorryWoo”/kids’ lives miserable. These plush toys are used as vehicles to develop strategies to help young worriers, Dr John said.

“Plush toys are an attractive item in their own right. But, they are also something kids identify with and find comfort in,” he said.

“They can recognise yes, I have those feelings. It gives them the feeling that they are not alone.”

Children’s stress levels can be lowered through the use of the following relaxation aids outlined in Helping Young Worriers Beat the WorryBug

  • Soft toys. While a child is cuddling up to Wince or another soft toy, introduce the WorryBug. Explain how the cute little plush is just a soft toy – nothing to be frightened of. You may want to add, “Remember that the WorryBug gets bigger with every worry that you feed him!” Impress upon the child that the goal is to make sure the WorryBug stays small and cute and doesn’t become a needless ’monster‘ that ruins their happiness.
  • Books. Sharing a reading moment and huddling around a story book is always relaxing and something children look forward to.
  • Pets. The role of pets in helping kids to relax is well researched. Choose a cuddly/friendly pet for the home, classroom or centre that makes a child feel loved and valued. If you do this, however, make sure the choice is a pet that you also want, because kids’ promises to feed and look after pets are rarely matched with actions or introduce a roster system.
  • Calming corner. Have a ’calming corner‘ somewhere out of the way. It must be quiet with no noise or interruptions. Anyone can go there when they are stressed to listen to soft music, read a book or magazine, do a puzzle or any comforting action, such as brushing one’s hair.
  • Water relaxation. Most kids love water to unwind their little systems. Add soft music and dim lights if needed, so they can soak up the soothing atmosphere. (To ensure safe water play or bath time, lighting should always be kept at a level where surroundings are fully visible).
  • Music relaxation Make your own musical relaxation collection. Vivaldi and Pachabel may help settle restless kids. Other composers such as Debussy, Copland, Lee, Halpern-Kelly or Stivland are also used for relaxation. Or you can use soothing nature sounds or gentle ambient tunes.

Strategies to help young worriers beat the WorryBug

Here are two examples of the many strategies, games and activities detailed in Helping Young Worriers Beat the WorryBug

The “What If” Worry Winning Game

This strategy teaches kids to arm themselves with ideas ahead of time, rather than anxiously await the fickle finger of fate.

  • Encourage the child to work out, on their own, some ways to handle their fears so that they will become winners. For example, if the fear is; “mommy being late in picking me up from school”, the child would think about what action/s they could take should they be in this position.
  • Add a few suggestions, if needed, after they have given you their ideas.
  • Have them choose the best approach for their situation. If children can come up with confident solutions to their worst fears or “worst case scenarios” on their own, the fear factor drops enormously.
  • Talking things over with you will help boost the child’s self-esteem. Hopefully they’ve learnt that a worry shared is a worry spared.

Face Lifter

  • Draw a circle and divide it into six equal sections. Each section will represent a different mood; happy, sad, grouchy, peaceful, angry and worried. Then hang this ‘feelings’ chart on the wall like a clock.
  • If the child comes into the room with a face that spells trouble (e.g. angry), you can ask him/her what’s on their mind. If they refuse to discuss it with you, as a soft form of time-out, you can then send them back outside the room for a ’Face Lift’. First describe the look that is on their face, be it sad, angry or grouchy. This will, in turn, explain why they need a ‘Face Lift’.
  • Tell the child that they can come back into the room when they choose to wear a more agreeable face. This is also a good exercise to teach young kids to learn how to read other people’s body language and feelings.

Helping Young Worriers Beat the WorryBug is an easy-to-read, practical and fun-filled guide of therapeutic ideas and activities aimed at parents and educators to help children develop strategies to effectively manage their emotions. It is available exclusively from Educational Experience.

Pre-order your copy now