Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fighting the Worry Monster

Recently we brought our youngest to the therapist because we’ve been concerned about his behavior. It’s been a long list of stuff for a while, but we’ve been busy battling bigger issues with our oldest. After our appointment, our therapist concluded that our little one, who is 6 years old, has some anxiety issues. He believes that it’s probably inherited and then agitated by his brother’s disorder. Here’s an example of what we’ve seen:

  • he’s had night terrors
  • he tells us that he’s scared a lot
  • last year he went through a period of regression in areas that were previously mastered
  • he’s overly sensitive to others and tends to overreact to other kids at school, expecting the worst
  • he has a lot of stress over change and acts out with anger
  • he appears on edge a lot
  • he has nervous habits such as chewing fingernails down to the end
  • when he was a little younger, he only drew people with scowling faces
  • recently he went through a phase where he would repeat all of his sentences in a whisper right after he spoke
  • he has a strong need for order and becomes very upset when things aren’t “just right”
  • he has extreme anxiety over teeth falling out, shots and getting haircuts 
  • he has meltdowns over things like his shoes getting wet and batteries dying, worries excessively
  • his anxiety leads to melt downs, defiance or aggressive behavior, usually mimicking his older brother’s behavior (though it’s not a rage—it’s like he’s imitating what he’s seen)

I know that a lot of kids may have similar issues, but it’s the total list and the negative impact it’s having at school and at home that’s made us concerned.

So what’s the therapist’s solution?

“Fighting the worry monster!”

Now if you’re like me, you might be thinking... why would you introduce a monster to a child that’s scared all the time? Well according to our therapist, we need to help our little one externalize his anxieties so he can acquire skills to fight it. He can’t fight it if he thinks it’s a part of him.

So here’s how it works (I know you’re dying to know):

My son tells us he’s scared to go to sleep. We’re suppose to remind him that he’s listening to the worry monster and he needs to fight it to make it go away. We then have him draw a picture of the “worry monster” then once done, he’s suppose to tear it up, stomp on it, completely destroy it and put into the trash. After that, we give him a ton of praise for fighting the “worry monster” and give him a certificate of bravery or words of praise.

So that’s what we’ve been working on. So far our son seems to participate and it seems to help him forget whatever anxiety he had at the moment. Othertimes, he just yells at me, “stop talking about the worry monster!” I think only time will tell if this is going to work.

So, how have you handled your child’s anxiety?


  1. One of my son's diagnosis (the first one that was diagnosed at age 7) is Generalized Anxiety Disorder. His therapist also works with him to talk back to the Worry Monster. Just this week my son visualized what the WM looks like and visualized putting him in jail (my son's desired way to get rid of him) and talking back to him. He's been working on this for 1.5 years and honestly when my son is stressed he can't do any of that. We continue to work on his coping skills and hope one day he'll get to the point that he can use them before he blows.
    I feel so badly for how my son has to live....he worries about everything. When I tell people he has anxiety and they ask me what worries him...I say life.

  2. Jewell-Thanks for sharing, your poor son has to experience life in a way that most of us can't even fathom, sometimes I reflect on all my oldest has been through and sit in awe of him for he goes through so much, yet puts a brave face, trying each day over and over despite how difficult it is. These are some special kids!

  3. Carter's therapist uses a similar technique. I think it's based on a book that they use during his sessions. It's sort of helpful, depending on the specific fear. For going-to-bed and being alone fears, it seems to help. For the constant, niggling fears that are more amorphous, it's mostly useless. But then, Carter has multiple disorders. I have an idea that for a child with simple anxiety, it could work pretty well.

  4. My 6 year old has an anxiety disorder and her p-doc just started her on Buspar. it is extremely safe for kids because it is non-addictive. And it helps greatly calm anxiety. You may want to discuss this with your theapist.

  5. sounds like your son is having some first signs of bipolar disorder ,do you have any close relatives with bipolar or aspergers? as aspergers and bipolar is very close .Family history is very importante,would be good to check with your relatives.

  6. Well if you are referring to our youngest (who I wrote about in this post) his oldest brother (who this blog is about) is being treated for bipolar disorder symptoms. It will always be in the back of my mind as my youngest grows, but for now, I try to keep in mind that he has suffered a lot of stress by living with a brother that rages violently. There is a family history of bipolar disorder outside my immediate family, so I know that it is a possibility, but I also know having an anxiety disorder may be even a greater possibility. The other thing I keep in mind is that my youngest doesn't show the "predatory behavior" that his oldest brother shows. If only I had a crystal ball to know what it all is...

  7. i know what you mean ,as i have 3 sons ,the first one is 9 years old possible bipolar 1 since the day he was born,second one 4 years old showing signs of aspergers ,then the last one showing all the signs of bipolar and aspergers.How iam dealing with all that for the older he has therapy 3 times a week ,multi vitamins ,fish oil ,iron etc..and a lot of activities after schooll,the homework is done in schooll to avoid meltdowns at home ,for the other one almost the same ,so for the younger we will do the same ,we are also considering a shadow teacher for them..hoping all this helping them before trying meds.

  8. Anonymous- Wow you're hands are more than full. I hope you find success with the therapy and teacher. For me I'm glad we tried all we could before starting medication, I have a peace about it and now know without a doubt that medication is the best thing for my oldest son. Other times I wish I started sooner, but if I did, I probably would always wonder if something besides meds would've worked.

  9. hi mama bear , i have been reading your post for some time ,sorry about all you have been throught ,but there is one thing that is on back of my head is you say your older son is bipolar ,now the other one is showing the same simptons or starting to ,have you and your husband been for an assestment with a psychologist ? because mood disorders or bipolar is extremely genetic ,as you have more than one child showing signs ,now the thing is if there is any mood disorders or personalities disorders in the family your kids chance to have one of those is very high ,any way you must be considering look into your other son simptons .I know that you tried everything before medication but ,you will have to medicate them for the rest of their lives .

  10. Anonymous-Good question, thank you for asking. My husband and I do not have a mood disorder, though within the family tree there is a history of bipolar disorder and other mood issues in multiple individuals. I do have anxiety about flying on planes and worry about my kids, so I don't doubt that I too have some issues with anxiety. I did check with my mom and she confirmed that I did not have any issues as a child.

    In the beginning of my oldest son’s illness we looked into our family history on both sides to show the psychiatrist the genetic possibilities that existed for our son. Because neither my husband nor I have a mood disorder, the genetic link is not as strong compared to those that have parents with mood disorders (depression or Bipolar Disorder).

    For those interested about heredity here is what I learned from Stanford this year:

    Dr. Singh discussed the “Goodwin” study among a few. This particular study showed that when one parent has bipolar disorder, there’s a 30% chance that the children will have a mood disorder. When one parent has bipolar disorder and the other parent has mood issues, there’s a 70% chance that the children will have a mood disorder.

    As for my youngest, he seems to have more anxiety issues, though I can't deny some of the similarities when it comes to sensory issues. Only time will tell if he develops more symptoms as he ages, which is very possible. It is also possible he may only struggle with anxiety.

    There is a clear difference at this time between my two sons that is hard to describe. My oldest gets a look in his eyes, a physical change happens that we don't see in my youngest. Also, my oldest has more predatory behavior where he seeks to harm others when he's in an off mood and has had long periods of irritability that we don't see in our youngest. He also has true rages, where our youngest seems to have more of meltdowns. I know to some it may seem like the same thing, but when you witness it in person, there is something very different. My youngest also doesn't show any depression.

    So that is where we are at with it. I don't know what will happen in the future, it does make it very difficult at times, yet I like holding onto hope. I know for certain that our youngest has something he’s struggling with, but as the doctors are always telling us, only time will tell.

  11. There is a terrific article on Psych Central about CBT for kids with anxiety. Unfortunately I'm having a lot of trouble trying to find it, you might have better luck. It's essentially an expansion of the 'worry monster' where you ask your child to put into words what the worry monster is making them think, then state the evidence for and against these thoughts. There is almost always more evidence against a worry thought, which makes it shrink in size.

    For example:
    "The worry monster is making me think that I won't have any friends when I go back to school"
    Evidence for: I have had trouble making friends in the past
    I have previously been bullied at school.
    Evidence against: Tom will be there and he's my friend, we have played together over the break.
    Although I sometimes find it hard to make friends, I have made friends In the past, there is no evidence that I won't make any more friends in the future.
    I am nice to my classmates.

    It does take practice, it can be hard coming up with rebuttal at first, but it gets easier over time (to the extent that you no longer have to externalize the thoughts). The worry monster isn't as powerful when you can see all the ways that he is wrong.

  12. Alana-Thank you so much, I'll have to check this out!

  13. Thanks for this information! My son was acting so weird and I'm so worry about it. This post help me a lot. Keep sharing please.