Worried About a Worrier

Q: My 13-year-old daughter seems to carry all the worries of the world on her shoulders. If she’s not worrying about a school test, then she’s worrying whether her classmate is really her best friend. If a family member is not well, she starts to say Tehillim (even if it doesn’t seem to be a serious illness).

I am quite concerned about her attitude and fears. If she is like this at age 13, what will happen to her when she’s 20 or 30? There are enough unfortunate things that happen to human beings in a lifetime. If she imagines such things now, how is she going to cope successfully with her life?

A: Certain children are more prone to worrying — be it due to their genetic disposition or a parental or family role model who reflects this faulty coping mechanism. Ways to respond to a child’s fears vary, depending on what triggers these reactions. If worrying is a general response to life’s daily occurrences, one needs to speak to the child and discuss the source of his or her irrational fears. One can explain to a child that whatever a person worries about (in small, less significant matters) often doesn’t happen. For example, since much planning and forethought are involved in planning a simchah, mistakes one is concerned about usually don’t occur. What do occur, however, are things one could never imagine occurring! This attests to the futility of worrying!

Another way to respond to worrying is by focusing on the “worst-case scenario,” which is usually (though not always) something most people can live with. When asking one’s child “What’s the worst that can happen?” one is putting life’s parameters into perspective. A parent can then help a child problem-solve a way to respond to his or her concern, in a concrete fashion. A parent can give examples of how he or she responded to a similar circumstance, and how those responses were beneficial.

To help a child envision his or her worrisome thoughts and let them go, a parent can use the image of a wave rising and falling, and the need to let the wave take its course as part of the ocean’s movements.

It is often helpful to tell a child to hold off discussing stressful thoughts until a designated time. If a child brings up a topic before, the parent should say, “We can discuss your concerns tonight after homework.” A parent can continue to have that time available nightly to discuss his or her child’s agitated feelings. By responding in such a fashion, one shows the child that the worry is containable and doesn’t have to take over his or her life. Fitting it into a time frame shows that it has a beginning and an end and not a life of its own.

Eventually this parent/child time becomes one of discussing life events (not only worries), and the relationship itself will begin to possess a more meaningful quality. If other siblings become jealous of this one-on-one time, it could be a sign that all the children in the family might benefit from a “revamping” of the quality of their parent/child communication.

Stressing the importance of internalizing emunah and bitachon (a living testimony of that emunah) is a means to quiet continual insecurity about living in an uncertain, changing world. This can almost be seen as a “fringe benefit” of all our avodas Hashem. The more that parents emphasize stories of hashgachah pratis, relating their own personal experiences as well, the more a child can better experience these feelings. As always, a parental role model speaks a thousand words.