Sometimes the best way to learn a subject is to teach it. That was certainly the case last weekend.
I took a group of 10-year-old girls to see the movie, “Heaven Is For Real.” I walked away from the big screen inspired that maybe there is no anxiety and depression in the afterlife, that if I can summon the courage to live as gracefully as I can in this life, I might enjoy some repose when all of my struggling is over. One of the little girls I took, however, did not leave with a warm fuzzy.
“How do you get kidney stones?” Rosie asked me before we were even out of the theater.
Todd Burpo (Greg Kinnear), the main actor of the film, has kidney stones. There is a scene where he is locked in his bathroom screaming bloody murder as he is trying to pass one after another, and another scene when he starts to pass one as he is giving a sermon in church and collapses in pain.
“I’m not sure,” I said, thinking that she would just drop the topic if I didn’t feed her much information.
“What percentage of people get kidney stones?” she asked. “Why are they so painful? What is happening when a stone passes?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
More questions came during the ride home.
Finally we were home, and I thought we were done with kidney stones. I was working from my laptop in the living room when Rosie came up to me and asked, “Could you please look up whether or not kids can get kidney stones?”
I looked it up and saw that, yes indeed, kids do get kidney stones — and then lied.
“Nope,” I said. “You’re good! Kids don’t get kidney stones.”
Then I shut down my laptop and retrieved my copy of “What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety.” A child psychologist I worked with a while back told me that she uses it with many of her anxious kids.
I asked Rosie to sit down next to me.
“Do you have worries?” I asked her.
“Let’s see what this book says about how to get rid of them.”
The author, Dawn Huebner, Ph.D., has done a superb job of writing about anxiety in a language kids can understand. Her playful concepts and analogies allowed me to have some fun with the topic, approaching it in a fresh way, not only for Rosie, but also for myself.
After comparing anxiety to a tomato plant that will grow taller and stronger the more you tend to it, Huebner lists some practical ways to make the worries go away:
1. Use logic.
“Let’s look up some facts about kidney stones that will make me feel better,” Rosie said.
I wasn’t sure this was a good idea, as I had just lied about kids never getting them. I did it anyway and shared these helpful facts: In the United States, 8.8 percent of the population (or one in 11 people) have had a kidney stone, and the male to female ratio for kidney stone disease is 4:1.
“So if there were a hundred people in a room, about eight of those people would get kidney stones?” asked Rosie.
“Yes, and only two of the eight would be female,” I said.
“That’s GOOD,” she said, feeling much relieved.
2. Designate a worry time.
If you allow yourself 15 minutes of pure worrying every day, you can tell your worries that they aren’t allowed to bug you at any other time. When they pop up during math class, at your piano lesson, or at the movies, you can say, “Worry, I am happy to hear what you have to say, but it will have to wait until our appointment,” and then go on with whatever you are doing. You could take this a step further and imagine yourself locking up your worries in a worry box only to be opened during worry time.
3. Talk back to the worries.
Worries can be like bullies, so sometimes it is appropriate to talk back to them. In Huebner’s book there are several blank pages in which children can illustrate their worries or other concepts.
“Use your imagination to picture what a worry bully might look like,” Huebner writes. “Is it a mean, ugly creature with smelly breath and long claws that perches on your shoulder and whispers worry thoughts in your ear? Or perhaps the worry is a dark blob, like a cloud person who keeps raining worries down on you?”
Rosie drew a picture of her worry and then started to yell at it. That was pretty cool.
4. Get active.
After a worry has made your body feel bad (such as speeding up your heart rate or making you sick to your stomach), you need to reset your system. The best way to do this is by getting involved in something active and fun: riding your bike, jumping on the trampoline, chasing your brother in a game of tag.
Huebner writes, “To get things to go back to normal on the inside, you need to burn off some of the extra energy that is making your body feel strange.”
Sometimes getting active isn’t possible, so we have to reset our bodies in a quieter way: through relaxation.
Begin by tensing and relaxing all the muscles in your body. Huebner says, “Squeeze your fists. Make your legs stiff like boards. Scrunch up your face. Keep your body tight while you count to five in your head. Then relax your whole body by letting your muscles go.”
Next take five deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
Finally, choose a special memory to think about. Rosie chose the time her mom took her and two friends to Georgetown Cupcakes in Washington, D.C. She remembered the way her chocolate mint fudge cupcake tasted and the way the icing stuck to her lips. She recalled all the flavors that she and her friends could choose from, all the colorful cupcakes displayed in the window as she waited in line to order.
Huebner writes, “Just thinking about your favorite memory will help you feel the way you felt that day. It takes practice, but soon you’ll notice that you don’t just remember feeling happy or excited or proud, you actually feel that way.”
We finished the entire book. I was about to declare victory when Rosie asked me, “How do you know when your appendix is about to burst?”
Originally posted on Sanity Break at Everyday Health.