Worries Are Not Forever: How to Recognize and Soothe Anxiety in Young Children

By Elizabeth Verdick, author of Worries Are Not Forever

Worries Are Not Forever: How to Recognize and Soothe Anxiety in Young ChildrenWhen I tell parents and teachers the title of my new children’s book, Worries Are Not Forever, they often say something like, “I need that immediately” or “Do you have one for adults too?” They laugh a little when they say that, but the underlying meaning is clear: We’re experiencing greater stress in our society, and this stress affects children of all ages—and their families.

The Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics notes that anxiety is rising among America’s young people. The study was based on data collected from the National Survey of Children’s Health for kids ages 6–17, with researchers noting a 20 percent increase in anxiety diagnoses between the years 2007 and 2012. Although the study focused on kids and teens, we know that young children experience stress and worry as well. Because they’re still so young, toddlers and preschoolers have a harder time putting their feelings into words. It’s up to us as adults to notice when young children show signs of stress.

So what can you do if you’re worried that your child is worried? With preschoolers, kindergartners, or elementary-age children, look for body language and behaviors that may signal stress:

  • biting nails, chewing hair, sucking on shirt sleeves
  • being tearful or clingy
  • agitation, pacing, fidgeting, outbursts, aggression
  • appearing tired, sleeping poorly at night
  • inability to focus in class
  • changes in appetite
  • avoidance of school, social occasions, or everyday activities

With toddlers, watch for:

  • increased tears and tantrums
  • disruptions in sleep
  • frequent stomachaches
  • chewing hair or sucking on thumb
  • signs of distress or an inability to enjoy being with family and friends

It’s normal for toddlers to experience moments of being clingy, not wanting to be separated from a parent, or new fears of everyday items—like loud vacuum cleaners, the dark, or the bathtub drain. The toddler years are filled with lots of change and growth . . . and tears. But you’ll sense when a young child’s behavior is more challenging than usual and could be a result of increased stress and worry. What can you do about it? Dig deeper into the situation. Be reassuring. Let young children know that everyone worries, even adults. It may feel like the worries won’t ever go away, but they will. Worries don’t last forever.

Young children (all children) rely on us to be their supporters and role models. Show them they can come to you for help.

Here are some ways you can be a helper:

  • Talk about fears. Young children have difficulty explaining their emotions. Prompts can be helpful: “Tell me what you need.” “Did that loud noise surprise you?” “Do you feel a little shaky?” “Are you jumpy inside?” “I’m here to help.” Let your child know that you’re there for support. If your child is older, encourage him or her to draw the worries or write about them. Are worried thoughts about something that already happened or might happen? Encourage children to reframe worried thoughts, express difficult emotions, and think about what may help.
  • Teach how to self-soothe. You can help your child manage fears and worries by first recognizing the physical symptoms that may accompany these feelings: racing heartbeat, butterflies in the stomach, sweating, tearfulness. Children can take deep breaths to feel calmer, seek a quiet space, talk it out, do a “self-hug” (wrapping arms around oneself and squeezing), get a drink of water, cuddle something soft, use fidgets to distract themselves, or move around to make worries “move away.”
  • Keep them moving. Take a walk with your child, go outside to play, stretch, jump, dance, do yoga, pet an animal—any kind of movement can help the body and mind calm down. If you’re at a desk or table, offer activities to keep small hands busy: coloring, shaping clay, cutting with safety scissors, making a collage, sorting objects, playing with puppets. Children of all ages need daily exercise to stay healthy and strong. But during times of stress, motion is an especially helpful tool for handling the physical symptoms anxiety may produce.
  • Use calming language. Children of all ages can use a refrain to feel more secure when worries take over. Keep it simple: “I am fine. I am calm. I am safe.” Practice these words during peaceful times, and then encourage their use when stress arises. There’s something else to think about: Your words matter. Children are listening—so think before you speak. Avoid phrases like these that may pop out when you’re frazzled and frustrated: “Stop worrying.” “Don’t be a baby.” “You’re such a worrywart.” “Cut it out.” “Tough it out.” “Calm down!”

And speaking of negative phrases, what do you usually tell yourself when you’re worried? Any chance that the words above are similar to the ones you hear in your own mind during stressful times? If so, it’s not a bad idea to change them into something more positive! Be there for yourself, just like you want to be there for your children.

I’m a firm believer in the power of words. (Guess that’s why I became a writer.) Our words can hurt or our words can help. When kids worry, give them language to change their situations and outlooks, and to help keep worries at bay.

Sources

Author Elizabeth VerdickElizabeth Verdick has written children’s books for kids of all ages, from toddlers to teens. She has worked on many titles in the Laugh & Learn® series. Elizabeth loves helping kids through her work as a writer and an editor. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and their two (nearly grown) children, and she plays traffic cop for their many furry, four-footed friends.

Elizabeth is the author of:

Worries Are Not ForeverPacifiers Are Not ForeverCalm Down Time


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Decisions, Decisions: Helping Students Make Good Choices

By Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., author of Self-Regulation in the Classroom: Helping Students Learn How to Learn Part of our Cash in on Learning series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.

Decisions, Decisions: Helping Students Make Good ChoicesAs a child of the ’60s and ’70s, I had three television stations to watch (ABC, CBS, and NBC). Now there are hundreds to choose from. In those days, the choices for water were tap—with or without ice. Consider how many different types of water are at our fingertips now. Toothpaste? Only mint flavored. But now you can get toothpaste flavored like cupcakes, licorice, chocolate, and even bacon. Yes, bacon!

With the increase of options in our daily lives, making good choices becomes more complex and critical. Research indicates that providing students choices in learning dramatically enhances their intrinsic motivation, effort, performance on tasks, and self-efficacy (how students feel about their abilities). To make choices in learning most effective, we must ensure that the choices we offer students adhere to two guiding principles: They are relevant and meaningful.

Relevant
To make choices relevant, be sure to connect the overall content to the skills being developed within the lesson or unit of study. This also means that the offerings should be aligned to student interests, prior experiences, or abilities. Relevance ensures that the student grasps the value of interacting with the material. In other words, relevance is the way the content connects with the learner. To avoid hearing “When am I ever going to use this?” incorporate these two factors to increase relevance:

  • Value: Activities that are not only interesting but also worth knowing for future goals
  • Relatedness: Activities that call upon skills and abilities children know they possess and can implement to accomplish the end goal

Consider this example for a math assignment:

From the data provided, draw a scaled picture graph and a scaled bar graph to represent the data set using several categories.

Choices (based on student interests):

  1. The Naturalist team will analyze data on rates of attendance to Minnesota state parks from 2000 to the present.
  2. The Arts team will analyze data on rates of attendance to Minnesota Orchestra concerts from 2000 to the present.
  3. The Sports team will analyze data on rates of attendance to Minnesota Twins baseball games from 2000 to the present.

Define why you chose the specific activity. How did you connect the content to yourself?

Each group will represent their data in two ways: create a presentation to share the data and write an explanation and interpretation of the data (such as what does the data tell us and what predictions can be made). As a class, we will compare and contrast the overall data to make some future predictions and generalizations about what people are most interested in doing with their free time.

Meaningful
To make options meaningful, be sure to connect the student to the content in three different ways:

  • Using the student’s prior knowledge
  • Using the student’s prior experiences
  • Asking the student to apply the new knowledge to her or his own life, now or in the near future

Content that has meaning is more likely to be retained in long-term memory. In the words of my friend and colleague Rick Wormeli, content is meaningful when it “connects with something already in the students’ daily or past experiences and students can use those connections in new and current ways.” Students are more likely to demonstrate their understanding of the conceptual levels of content when there is a greater level of meaning.

Consider this example of a social studies assignment:

Based on our study of the American Revolution, choose one of the following to share your understanding of the causes, effects, and consequences of revolution.

Choices (based on learner profile):

  1. Creative: Investigate a revolution in the world of art (music, performing arts, visual arts, etc.). Define what led to the revolution (causes), what others felt or believed about the revolution (effects), and how it has impacted the current status of the art form today (consequences). In graphic form, share what you have learned.
  2. Analytical: Investigate a revolution in the field of science (medical, ecological, geological, etc.). Define what led to the revolution (causes), what others felt or believed about the revolution (effects), and how it has impacted the current status of the field of science today (consequences). Share your learning in a debate form, arguing for or against the revolution.
  3. Practical: Investigate a military’s or country’s revolution (other than the American Revolution). Define what led to the revolution (causes), what others felt or believed about the revolution (effects), and how it has impacted the current status of the country today (consequences). Compare and contrast your findings to what we know about the American Revolution.

Explain why you chose the specific activity. How did you connect to the content? As a class, we will compare and contrast the overall understandings of revolutions to make some future predictions and generalizations about the causes, effects, and consequences of revolutions.

Making good choices is a critical skill for success in life. However, to learn how to make good choices, students must be offered good choices. Using relevance (connecting the content to the learner) and meaningfulness (connecting the learner to the content), we can assist students in learning quality decision-making strategies.

References
Patall, E. A., Cooper, H., and Robinson, J. C. “The Effects of Choice on Intrinsic Motivation and Related Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis of Research Findings.” Psychological Bulletin, 134, no. 2 (2008): 270.

Wormeli, R. Personal communication, September 25, 2018.

Richard CashRichard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit Publishing. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.

Free Spirit books by Richard Cash:

Self-regulation Advancing Differentiation Revised and Updated Edition Differentiation for Gifted Learners


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Teaching Kids to Learn from Conflict

By Lauren Murphy Payne. MSW, LCSW, author of We Can Get Along: A Child’s Book of Choices and Just Because I Am: A Child’s Book of Affirmation

Teaching Kids to Learn from ConflictConflict is a part of life. Actually, it is an important part of life. While many people think that conflict is destructive, the truth is that when done effectively, conflict can make relationships stronger. Many adults don’t know what constitutes “effective conflict,” however. Until recently, we have simply seen conflict as something negative and to be avoided. There are few, if any, available classes in how to use conflict or how to resolve it. This leaves conflict with limited outcomes: deny it, avoid it, defend against it, or escalate it. None of those outcomes are desirable. This post takes a look at how effective conflict works and how to help our kids (and maybe ourselves!) learn from it.

Consider some of these positive outcomes of conflict: It helps us determine and clarify our needs, it helps us set boundaries, it teaches us empathy and consideration of others, and, when successfully resolved, it helps us feel closer to people.

Let’s say that Juan and Robert are playing on the playground. Juan sets down his ball and picks up a different toy. Robert, noticing that Juan has finished playing with the ball, picks it up to play with it. Suddenly, Juan sees Robert playing with “his” ball and goes over to take it back. An argument ensues. Juan says, “I was going to play with that again!” and Robert responds, “You were not! You were done playing with it!” We can all imagine the back-and-forth that might take place, perhaps escalating to a physical fight. However, this event provides an excellent opportunity for Juan and Robert to learn about conflict.

When Juan’s parent learns about the conflict on the playground, she can sit down with him to process the incident. Ideally, after Juan finishes telling his recollection of what happened, his parent validates for him the difficulty and frustration of his experience. She avoids the trap of trying to “solve” the situation—which, of course, can’t be solved at this point since it is in the past—or taking sides against Robert. She avoids telling Juan what he or Robert did “wrong” in the situation. Instead, she can focus on Juan’s feelings about the situation, again validating those feelings no matter what they are. (For example, “I can see that you felt really angry with Robert” or “I recognize that you felt really sad and hurt when you wanted to have the ball back and Robert wouldn’t give it to you.”) Then, she might point out to Juan that his strong feelings are his body’s way of sending him a signal that something is not okay. It is important that she not validate his “right” to take back the ball, but instead recognizes his feelings.

At this point, the focus will move to what lessons can be learned from the situation. In identifying the lessons, it is important to introduce or reinforce the idea of empathy. It is not just about asking Juan how he felt about the situation; it is also about asking Juan how he thinks Robert felt. Juan’s parent might ask him if he has ever felt the way Robert did. Usually, a child will be able to relate to his own experience of another’s feelings. If not, parents can discuss and identify some feelings from their own perspectives, giving children ideas about how “someone” might feel in that situation. Juan’s parent can then ask him, “Have you ever felt that way?” It is helpful to discuss children’s feelings in basic terms in order to minimize the chances for misunderstandings. For example, words like mad, sad, afraid, or hurt will be easier for children to discuss than more complex feelings (disappointment, confusion, or frustration).

The key to the lesson is to understand one’s own feelings as well as to relate to how the other person might be feeling. Being able to “walk a mile” in others’ shoes begins the process of successful conflict resolution. This concept of understanding or empathizing with others may seem too ambitious for younger children, but studies have indicated that children as young as two or three can demonstrate an understanding and appropriate response to how someone else feels.

Once children are able to demonstrate that they can grasp how another person is feeling, it is possible to resolve a conflict through that understanding. Once Juan can identify some of the feelings that Robert may have, he may also be able to identify reasons why Robert might not want to give back the ball or reasons why he, Juan, might not want to give it back if he were in Robert’s position. This provides an excellent foundation from which to discuss other ways to handle the situation.

An important tip: Conflict behavior always has fear as the basic underlying issue, so getting Juan to talk about what Robert might be afraid of will help him understand Robert more effectively than will having him focus on Robert’s anger. Juan might say that Robert didn’t want to give back the ball because he wanted to make sure that he got a chance to play with it (fear of missing a turn). Or Juan might hypothesize that Robert doesn’t like him and that’s why he got angry over the ball (fear of not being liked). Talking about fear as the universal force that it is draws Juan and Robert closer to each other in the experience (both were fearing that they wouldn’t get their turn with the ball). It helps them see that they aren’t so different and that they both want the same thing (to have fun with the ball).

From here, we can ask Juan to think about cooperative solutions that will keep everyone from fearing that they will be left out or not liked. Juan can be encouraged to talk about it with Robert (with adult supervision, depending on the age of the participants) or to simply keep this in mind for the next time. Successfully resolving their conflict and increasing their understanding of each other can allow Juan and Robert to repair their friendship or help it get stronger.

The existence of fear in conflict is universal. Recognizing that fear is the basis of conflict and that empathy is the basis of successful conflict resolution is key. Everyone knows what it is like to feel fear. Even if we don’t agree with someone else’s fear, we can relate to the experience of being afraid. It is important to learn how to recognize and express our fear, but it doesn’t matter whether you disclose the actual fear to the other person. It does matter that you can recognize that other people experience fear, too, and that is why they sometimes act the way they do. Empathy clears the way for compassion, and from the position of compassion and understanding, positive conflict resolution is possible.

Lauren Murphy PayneLauren Murphy Payne, MSW, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in private practice with 30 years of experience. She specializes in the treatment of adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, relationship issues, anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. Lauren has been a speaker at local, regional, and national conferences. She is the author and presenter of two video series: Making Anger Work for You and Anger as a Fear Driven Emotion. She is the mother of two adult children and lives in Wisconsin with her husband.

Lauren is the author of We Can Get Along and Just Because I Am.

We Can Get AlongJust Because I Am


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10 Tips for Lesson Time Management

By Andrew Hawk

10 Tips for Lesson Time ManagementDo you find yourself running out of time during lessons? All of us teachers have had lessons that got away from us. Sometimes this happens because students need more support than we originally estimated. Sometimes students purposely try to derail lessons. This is especially true if an unfinished lesson translates to no homework. Reasons aside, instructional time is too precious a resource to waste. Even a few minutes of wasted instructional time a day becomes hours wasted over the course of a school year. Maximizing instructional time helps students reach their full academic potential and helps teachers reach their goals relating to educational outcomes. Here are a few tips you can try if you find yourself running out of time on a regular basis.

1. Pretest Your Students
I write about pretesting a lot. It comes up often since the information gained from pretesting is useful in a variety of ways. In planning lessons, it’s useful because it lets you know if your students have the prerequisite skills to complete a lesson or an activity. If they do not, you are likely going to get stuck teaching a mini lesson about the needed skills and run out of time before you have taught everything in your lesson plan. When I taught fifth grade as a classroom teacher, this happened to me several times during science lessons. One lesson that comes to mind involved measuring the distance an object traveled. Most of my students needed reinforcement on how to measure distance. This nearly doubled my expected teaching time.

2. Build Times into Your Lesson Plans
Most teachers are not required to write detailed lesson plans once they have graduated from college. Be this as it may, all the teachers I have worked with have prepared some type of lesson plan prior to teaching. In the procedures portion of your lesson plans, estimate the time for completing each step of your lessons. If you do this regularly, your estimating abilities will improve.

3.Use a Timer
If you build times into your lesson plans but still regularly miss them, try using a timer while you are teaching. At times, I have even set the timer on my cell phone to vibrate and then put my cell phone in my pocket. Find a timer strategy that works for you and try it out.

4. Consider Dividing Your Lessons
My math methods professor stated in a lecture on lesson planning that it is safest to plan too much and then cut parts out of a lesson while teaching. By “too much,” she meant building in extension activities that could be removed without taking away from the lesson objectives. This way, teachers are not left trying to fill minutes on the fly. Since listening to her lecture, I have planned my lessons with this idea in mind. If you examine your lesson plans and find no part can be cut, you may want to consider splitting your objectives into more than one lesson and then adding some removable extension activities to each.

10 Tips for Lesson Time Management5. Limit Off-Topic Conversations
Most people who completed their precollege education in a public school can remember a teacher who could be steered off course. A question about the teacher’s weekend or maybe bringing up one of the teacher’s personal interests led to perhaps five to fifteen minutes of instructional time disappearing without a trace. I understand that these candid moments help teachers form bonds that make their classrooms successful. However, there must be a balance between letting students see you as a person and surrendering long periods of instructional time. Reflect on your current performance. If you find this is a problem for you, try to limit these off-topic interactions.

6. Avoid Student Monopolies
Every year there are students who try to monopolize a teacher’s time and attention. These students may be struggling learners, or they may enjoy positive adult attention. Either way, find ways to give these students what they need without letting them push your lesson over time. Find times during the day when you can meet with these students to tutor them or just spend a little time with them.

7. Practice Procedures and Routines
Do all your students know what to do when they enter your room? What if a student needs a pencil while you are in the middle of teaching? What if a student comes unprepared for class? It cannot be overstated that well-established procedures and routines save time and assist with classroom management.

8. Organize Materials
When I first transitioned to being a resource room teacher, I usually taught math and reading groups in twenty- or thirty-minute periods. A group of students would come to me, I would pass out their materials, and we would start the lesson. What I realized after a couple of months was that spending time passing out materials makes a big difference if your teaching time is only twenty minutes. I bought a set of student mailboxes and assigned one to each student. Prior to each group, I would place the day’s learning materials in the mailboxes. Students came into my room, grabbed the materials out of their mailboxes, and we would get started right away. Find a system that works best for you and save some time on passing out materials.

9. Plan for Interruptions
Have you ever had a lesson ruined by a fire drill? Does lunch ever run over at your school? When you are planning your lessons, consider what you will do if you are somehow interrupted. Will the bulk of your lesson have to be pushed into the next day? If so, is there a way you can minimize this to save instructional time? Even though interruptions are rarely a daily occurrence (I hope), effective lesson planners think through a plan B while they are planning.

10. Practice Read-Aloud Books
If your lessons call on you to read books or portions of books aloud to your students, always practice and time these ahead of the actual lesson. Some books can be deceiving in how long they take to read. This is especially true if you will have to pause to paraphrase or explain any part of the book.

Andrew HawkAndrew Hawk has worked in public education for sixteen years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher, and for the past five years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. Andrew earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University, and in 2016, he completed a second master’s degree in educational leadership, also from WGU. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


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Enter to Win Resources for National Bullying Prevention Month!

Bullying Prevention Giveaway 2017About one out of every four US students will report being bullied this year, making bullying the most common form of violence experienced by young people in the nation. Many of you are charged with preventing and responding to bullying, and we want you to be equipped with the knowledge and tools you need to effectively intervene and foster a culture of respect. To support your efforts, we’re giving away our biggest bullying-prevention bundle ever! One reader will win a copy of each of these resources:

To Enter: Leave a comment below telling us how you prevent bullying.

For additional entries, leave a separate comment below for each of the following tasks you complete:

Each comment counts as a separate entry—that’s four chances to win! Entries must be received by midnight, October 19, 2018.

The winner will be contacted via email on or around October 22, 2018, and will need to respond within 72 hours to claim his or her prize or another winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way affiliated with, administered, or endorsed by Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. Winner must be a US resident, 18 years of age or older.


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