My Little Worrier – Happythoughts and Worrythoughts (Giveaway)
** Giveaway has now closed. Congratulations to the winner, Kellie Muskett!! **
I’m not even sure where to start with this issue. I guess it’s something that I have hoped and prayed would fix itself over the years. I’ve been optimistic when well-intentioned people tell me “it’s just a phase”, and “he’ll grow out of it”. To be honest I still count on that happening to some extent. But right now, I have to face the fact that my son suffers from anxiety.
From when he was a baby, I just knew he wasn’t going to be one of those peaceful, calm and contented little people. From day 1 he hated to be rocked when he was held. He wanted to be perfectly still. Family would visit in hospital and start swaying as they held him – not even aware they were doing it. I felt like a crazy Mama asking them to stop moving when they held him, but I knew that the swaying movement would cause me hours of crying and distress after they had left.
So right from the word go – my son wanted absolute and full control of his surroundings. He loves structure and routine which certainly has its benefits, but when that routine is altered or if he is put in an unfamiliar situation, then he finds it very hard to process his feelings of fear and worry. The ugly side of his anxiety is that it often manifests itself in anger – sometimes leading to an uncontrollable rage or in the worst cases, a complete meltdown. It is at these times, when I feel completely and utterly lost. I feel helpless and hopeless.
Thanks to a series of sessions with our school psychologist, I am learning how to help him with his anxiety. It means constantly thinking ahead – what we are doing, where are we going. Does he know about that? Is he familiar with it? Will he be confident enough to handle it? How can I prepare him NOW for what is about to happen?
Some days I can’t even believe it myself. My son – the boy who calls out to neighbours, chatting happily by the fence. Stopping to greet the teachers, and maintenance staff at school – asking them how their weekend has been. This happy, charismatic, affectionate, beautiful boy – but underneath bubbles a little worrier, always looking for reassurance, always wondering if he is competent, capable, good, clever, talented, or strong enough.
A little while ago, a friend mentioned that she had heard about some books that were written especially to help children with anxiety. Well I couldn’t get my hands on them fast enough. Go Away, Mr Worrythoughts! and Happythoughts are Everywhere… are written and illustrated by Nicky Johnston. They tell the story of a little boy that is haunted by an ugly monster “Mr Worrythoughts”, and his superpowers that help to keep these worrying thoughts out of his head.
From a practical perspective, they have some brilliant techniques that children can understand and use, to help them gain control of their thoughts, and how to focus on the things that make them happy.
I found the books so useful, and such a rare and necessary tool for children with anxiety that I contacted Nicky to ask her a little more about her story and the books.
How old was your son when you first suspected that he experienced anxiety? What were the symptoms that you saw?
After the birth of my first son, I suffered severe Post Natal Depression. I think he ‘learned’ a lot of my anxious responses as soon as he was born. I was quite ill for his first 12mths and when I look back at photos, he showed quite a bit of anxiety even that early. As a toddler, he wasn’t keen to investigate new things, he was fearful of new people, new places, it was like something was holding him back. It was in his year of 4yr old Kindergarten that I truly saw his anxiety grow. In a room of 20 something children, he was different. He didn’t like to join in the singing, dressing up, having a go at new things, painting or drawing. He liked to do what he always did – play with the Lego or trains. He didn’t push himself outside his comfort zone at all. Socially, he was quite unaware of friendships, or social happenings around him.
When he started school, his demeanour worsened, and it began to affect his ability to learn. He was consumed by worry thoughts, they ruled his world. I initially took him to the paediatrician for an ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder – or Aspergers) diagnosis. While he ‘ticked’ a couple of the tendencies of ASD children, he didn’t register on the spectrum, and it was Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) that he was diagnosed with.
Do you remember the moment when you decided to write your first book?
As soon as I found out there was a ‘real’ issue to deal with, I went in search of resources and books to help him. While I found lots of books for parents of children, I found only one children’s book (but it was about a girl!). I was driving in my car when my first book “Go Away, Mr Worrythoughts!” came to me, and I wrote the skeleton of the story on a car park ticket while sitting at traffic lights. (You can’t control when the writing ‘muse’ comes to play) As soon as arrived home I wrote frantically the first draft of my book, and of course spent weeks editing and rewriting.
What has been the most significant change that you have seen in your son, since he began to get a grasp on his worrythoughts?
This book for us (even before it was a ‘real’ book) was a turning point in my son understanding anxiety, and how to manage his worry thoughts. Along with the ‘externalisation’ concept of the book, we have done a lot of work in teaching him communication skills (ways to verbalise his feelings) as well as enhancing his own self-awareness and evaluation. Practice of these skills means that now, at age 13yrs, he is able to identify a worry thought, deal with it and move on, quickly and more importantly on his own. These resilience skills are so very important to have, to take charge of worry thoughts.
What advice would you give to parents who have an anxious child? Any tips or tricks?
For those who suffer anxiety (both adults and children) it is involuntary and the reactions to anxious thoughts, the negative feelings these anxious thoughts create, are very REAL. Children especially do not make it up, regardless of how ‘silly’ or ‘minor’ the problem logically seems; the physical responses are very real. Communication is the key. Build a vocab for your child, to help them identify the differences between feeling ‘worried’ and ‘sad’.
Let school teachers know of any anxiety behaviours at home, especially those that affect sleep. Sometimes children can use all of their energy being in control at school then ‘lose it’ at home, or they can act out at school, with the teacher being unaware of the contributing factors of anxiety.
What changes would you like to see in our school systems, that would better support the mental health of our children?
I am extremely passionate about raising awareness of mental health issues in young children. To date, there are no agencies that focus on supporting young children (suffering anxiety/depression). The fantastic agencies such as Beyond Blue, Headspace, Sane etc… only deal with 12yrs and over, providing excellent resources and support for teens and adults.
I would love to see an agency take a focus on young children (under 12yrs) incorporating teacher/curriculum education in understanding and managing children with mental health issues with specific support for parents and support groups for the ‘little worriers’ too.
Nicky has very kindly offered a pack of signed copies of her two books: Go Away, Mr Worrythoughts! and Happythoughts are Everywhere for one reader. I cannot recommend these books enough, and if you don’t have a worrier in your own family, then these would make an excellent addition to your school or childcare’s resource library. They are also available to purchase (along with additional resources) from the Happy Hero website.
You have until next Thursday 28th June to enter. Australian residents only.
** On a positive note, Nicky’s first book “Go Away, Mr Worrythoughts!” has been adapted into a professional theatrical production (produced by Frankston Arts Centre) which is in its second year of touring primary schools in Victoria. In 2011 it performed in front of over 8000 students and the response from parents, teachers and students has been phenomenal. They are looking at potential opportunities to take this tour nationally making it a first of its kind. It is an innovative approach in educating children in emotional well-being and resilience through the Arts.