Helping Kids Cope: The Worry Box

By Bonney Elliott on May 6 / 2020

[Cancer, Cancer Coaching, Caregivers, Families]Comments

If your kids seem to be more worried than usual right now, they are definitely not alone.

Even at the best of times, children can have many worries. They overhear snippets of adult conversations and draw their own conclusions, and can intuitively pick up on the feelings of people around them. However, kids don’t always have the words to articulate their concerns, so their unexpressed fears may come through in the form of acting out, restless sleep, nightmares, or saying they have vague physical symptoms like stomach problems or headaches.

At the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation, we run a six-week group for children called CLIMB (Children’s Lives Include Moments of Bravery). CLIMB uses guided play and crafts to help children identify, express, and cope with the many feelings associated with having a parent living with cancer. However, many of the strategies these kids learn can be applied to other challenges in life: given that many children are experiencing added stress and disruption to their regular lives due to COVID-19, we thought we would share one of our most popular group activities from CLIMB: the worry box.

Making a worry box is quite simple, and easily done with things you already have at home. Follow the instructions below with your child(ren) to help them better understand and cope with the challenges they might be facing.

STEP 1: Start by finding a box with a lid to hold the worries. We have used the small, unpainted wooden treasure boxes with hinged lids sold at craft stores, but any sturdy opaque container will do. Shoeboxes work quite well too!

STEP 2: Find something your children can use to represent their worries. Anything smooth that has a bit of weight will work – marbles, stones, and so on (having stones of different sizes is good too, as some worries feel bigger than others.) If the stones are big enough, kids may even want to write words or symbols on them with markers. An alternative to using stones is for children to write or draw their worries on pieces of paper, that can then be folded into smaller squares.

STEP 3: Find something soft to wrap around and protect the worries within the box. We have used fine sand, coloured feathers, bits of fabric or wool, or tissue paper. Even Kleenex or toilet paper would work.

STEP 4: Lastly, decide what your child might use to decorate the outside of the box. Go with things that represent their strengths: we have used stickers, cut out and glued on pictures from magazines, glitter, paint, and markers. Kids may even want to use small toys or objects such as seashells or feathers, or create figures out of clay to stand on top of the box.

As your child is working on their worry box, use this opportunity to talk with them about how everybody worries (even grown-ups!) and our worries can come out in different ways. Some people get quiet, others get cranky – worries can give you a stomach ache, or bad dreams, and keep you awake at night. Explain to them that the box is a place to hold their worries and keep them safe, and that they can open the box anytime and notice whether their worries have changed. Be sure to also talk about how their strengths are there to help them cope with their worries.

However, try not to lead them too much in this activity. We find that even very young children are able to identify worries, grasp the concept of naming them and putting them in a safe container, and then begin exploring their strengths. They do not always want to say exactly what their worries are, and that is okay: some worries are private. Occasionally in the group, children pass the stones around so that others can hold their worries for a moment, and bring their warmth and loving energy to them before they get tucked safely into the boxes.

We give the kids ample time to decorate their containers. Most kids find it quite empowering to explore their strengths, and the resources they use to cope with worry. They come up with great ideas such as big hugs, spending time with pets, listening to music, talking about their worries with a close friend or trusted adult, writing down their feelings, participating in activities they enjoy and excel at, and doing nice things for others.

When your child is done creating their box, ask them to find a place where they would like to store it. Some may want to display it on a shelf, while others may prefer to tuck it away somewhere safe and secure.

Creating a worry box is a simple and powerful activity that we hope you will enjoy doing with your children at home…you may even want to make your own! If you’d like more information about tools like the Worry Box or you’d like to meet with a Cancer Coach, please email coaching@ottawacancer.ca.

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