Reading the newspaper, listening to the news or watching the daily bulletin on TV can be a stressful exercise for anyone. Bad news in all its graphic detail is flashed before the viewer’s eyes: violent storms, terrorism, crime, fatal accidents, human rights abuses and more. Watching, hearing and reading this sort of content on a regular basis could cause anyone to worry about what’s going on in the world. However, children are particularly susceptible to negative impressions, tending to overvalue images and information not only because of emotional vulnerability, but also because of a lack of knowledge, experience and perspective. In addition, some children are particularly vulnerable to the impact of the media because they are natural born “worriers” to begin with. Once exposed to distressing information, these youngsters may run with it: “Will we die in a tornado?” “Are we going to have a war?” “Will the robbers come to our house?” “Professional worriers” can obsess about, talk about and even dream about world problems like terrorism, war, famine and natural disasters. .
If your child worries excessively about the world situation, consider the following tips:
Address the worry directly by inviting your child to tell you about it. Your child’s worry may be exaggerated, but very real and distressing for him or her to experience. You can help your youngster release some of this fear by welcoming his or her thoughts and feelings without judgment or correction. This form of listening is called Emotional Coaching. It consists of naming and accepting feelings, and summarizing what your child is saying. For instance, if your child says “I’m scared of the terrorists” you can say, “I’m glad you’re telling me. Yes, terrorists are scary because they hurt people.” Even though you are acknowledging your child’s fear – and his right to be afraid – , you will still be helping him to calm down just by listening and naming his fear. Because you are not avoiding it or trying to talk him out of it in any way, the child experiences your lack of fear of his fear. This is what calms him down: your ability to name his feeling calmly. If the child asks questions like, “are terrorists going to come here?” you can name his feeling and speak the truth as you see it: “I know you’re scared that terrorists will come. I don’t know if they will or not but I hope they don’t. It’s really up to God. We will do the best we can in any situation in which we find ourselves.” In other words, you are not making false promises. If there is only a tiny chance statistically of certain kinds of disasters happening in your geographical location, it’s fine to say this as well. For instance, “I know you’re afraid of earthquakes. Our area is very unlikely to have one because it’s never had one yet. And there’s nothing we need to do to prepare for one. Therefore, when you find yourself thinking about earthquakes, you might be better off putting your attention on a happier thought or idea.”
Children who worry obsessively (think too much about the world situation and its potential negative consequences) may benefit from the Bach Flower Remedy White Chestnut. This remedy helps to calm a noisy mind (in both children and adults). Two drops in any hot or cold liquid, 3 or 4 times a day, can be taken until the negative obsessing stops. If worries return, start taking the drops again.
You can also teach your child how to use EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) to put a stop to worrying. There are many online resources teaching EFT and there are also many therapists who can offer both treatment and training. EFT helps children of every age learn how to use acupressure to effectively eliminate all kinds of stress and anxiety, including worrying about the world situation.
Another technique to offer your child is to help your child refocus his or her attention when worries come up. Talk about the fact that worries don’t solve the world’s problems but they do cause personal stress. Explain that we can choose which thoughts and feelings we will pay attention to and that we don’t HAVE to pay attention to a thought that pops into our mind if that thought is not making us feel comfortable. Instead, we can put our attention on a completely different, very good feeling thought. For instance, instead of thinking about possible terrible events, one can think about one’s pet or one’s favorite ice cream cone! It’s important to focus attention on the better feeling thought for a number of moments.
Books and internet resources can also teach children and teens (and adults) techniques to help stop worrying.
If these self-help measures are insufficient to reduce your child’s worries, a mental health professional may be able to provide further help in relieving your child’s worry habit.
Activism vs. Helplessness
A child’s worry about world events is often wrapped in feelings of helpless and/or overwhelm. The feeling of being a potential victim is indeed disturbing. However, parents can help empower their kids through inculcating healthy attitudes toward factors outside of one’s control. Instead of just brushing off a child’s worry with “we can’t do anything about those things, Honey”, or “we already have more problems than we can handle without having to worry about what’s going on halfway around the globe!” parents can take the opportunity to instill in their kids social awareness and social concern. By teaching children that there ARE actions that they can take, parents give children a way to take some control of their lives and the world they are living in. This sense of control is, itself, an antidote to worry. There are lots of books in the public library about children who were able to make a difference in the political realm simply by raising money or writing letters. Parents can inspire their kids by reading these stories to them. Parents can actually teach children how to write a letter to government officials or how to give charity to help victims of terrorism or natural disasters. In other words, parents can convey the message that when there is a problem, people of all ages must step up to the plate to help solve it.