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A Psychologist’s DIY Worry Box Helps Kids With Worry and Sleep

A simple craft to help lower your child's anxiety

Published on: September 09, 2020

little girl cutting colorful construction paper with scissors

What if there was a DIY worry box that helped reduce your child’s distress, improved her sleep, and gave you a fun activity to do together? What if the idea behind the craft was based on research and time-tested strategies that successfully lower anxiety? Would you be interested? Of course!

worry monster boxMore than ever, we all need help reducing our anxiety. Research shows that the mental health toll on children (and their parents) from the pandemic is growing. In other words, our children are showing ever more symptoms of anxiety, not sleeping well, and feeling lonely and uncertain about their future. With the advent of online school, we expect anxiety among our youth to only get worse. In addition, many parents are with their children 24/7 and are desperate for activities that will calm their kids. A DIY worry box offers a way to keep the worries in check, improve sleep and make a fun craft.

As a child psychologist who specialized in work with anxious children, I often had kids write down their worries and put the paper in a worry box. The relief for most children was immediate because they could name their worry, write it down and then put the paper into a closed container. The worry was contained and therefore felt more manageable. Initially, I used a simple box with a lid and named it the Worry Box. With the writing of my children’s book on worry, the worry box was enhanced to be a child-created monster that can be as unique, ugly, crazy or silly as the child wants.

The simple-sounding idea of putting a written worry in a worry box (containment) comes from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is widely regarded as the most effective way to manage anxiety in both children and adults. Before learning to make your own worry box, let’s learn more about containment and why it is so effective.

Containment

Containment is one of the basic principles of CBT. An analogy can help to understand it better. Imagine a yellow dandelion flower. The immature seeds are in the flower head and are contained within the flower. If you pull up the yellow flower, the seeds do not scatter and cannot reproduce. But when the flower changes to a white seedhead with parachute-like seeds, the mature seeds scatter with the slightest puff of wind. You can no longer control dandelions because they are not contained. The seeds spread all over your yard, your neighbor’s yard and far down the road. Soon there are hundreds of new dandelions popping up. What a problem! If only you could contain all those seeds before they spread.

Now imagine that the mature dandelion seeds are worries. With the slightest provocation and without a container, worries can scatter everywhere. The worries can spread to bother a person at night, in school, at work and with friends — really, anywhere and anytime. If you were able to hold the worries in a container, they would feel manageable. You know you cannot contain mature dandelion seeds, but you can contain worries!

How to contain worries

There are numerous ways people have found to contain worries. It is often a matter of naming the worry and then putting the worry somewhere in time and space. Some of the most successful methods include journal writing, drawing. imagining shrinking the worry, setting up a specific "worry time" and using a worry box. In my professional work, I used all of these techniques, both together and separately. I often combined the worry box with worry time, which is described below.

How to make a worry box

Children will feel more in control (and have fun) if they are the ones to make their own container to hold their worries. You can make a worry box out of any kind of container, such as a tissue box, a chip container or a tin can. This worry box is designed to look similar to the big green Worry Monster in the author’s book. The difference between a worry box and a Worry Monster is that the worry box holds your worries for you (a good thing) and the Worry Monster takes the worries in so he can grow bigger and scare you more (not so good).

For this worry box, the supply list includes:

  • A tissue box
  • Giant chenille pipe cleaners
  • Googly eyes
  • Glue
  • An egg carton
  • Acrylic paints
  • Markers
  • A stapler
  • Puff balls 
  • Colored foam sheets 
  1. Paint both the inside and outside of the tissue box.
  2. Next, cut the foam to make teeth and hands.
  3. Stick pipe cleaners into the box sides for arms, and then staple the hands to the arms.
  4. Cut and glue an egg carton for the top of head.
  5. Glue on the googly eyes and whatever else you want to customize your worry box.
  6. Finally, stick a pipe cleaner in attached to a sign that reads “FEED ME WORRIES!” 

That’s it!

Your monster could be any color and have anything added to it. There are endless ideas on the web if you look under “monsters made out of tissue boxes” or just DIY monsters. Let this monster be your child’s creation. The important concept is to have a mouth or a slot where your child can insert a paper with a written or drawn worry.

How to use a worry box

The worry box is ideal for a range of age groups. After the box is made, show your child how to use it. Tell her that when a worry pops up, she can write down or draw the worry and put it into the monster’s mouth. If necessary, you can write the worry for her, but you shouldn’t get into a big discussion about the worry at that time. The idea is that the child is learning to contain her worry with very little adult help. If your child prefers to fold or scrunch the paper before putting it the box, that is fine. The important part is that the worry is being released from the child into a container. Tell your child that the worry can be big or small and any number of worries can be put in at a time.

To help with sleep, have your child write down her worries just before bedtime and then put them into the worry box to be safely held. She can also put the worry box under her bed so she can write down worries that might bother her in the middle of the night.

Combining the worry box with worry time

Should you look at what your child writes? Technically, no. The box is meant to be a safe place where the child can write down anything and not have it “discovered.” Instead, you could set up a worry time when your child can discuss her worries with you. Worry time is also a form of containment because it restricts the time the child can dwell on her worries with an adult. You can set up the time specially for the child, say from 4:00 to 4:20 every afternoon. If at 4:20 your child is not through discussing her worries, ask her to write down the worries and put them into the worry box. Tell her that she can take them out to discuss tomorrow at the same time.

The worries are now manageable, safely held and will not take over all the day and night. They are contained in both time (worry time) and space (worry box).

This article was originally published by DrSallyB.com

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