How to Help Children with Worry by Playing a Game: 3 Steps
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Get the whole family involved in games to provide extra security.

From behaving good or bad to fearing a shot at the doctor's to wanting a more beautiful world, you'd be amazed at what young children can and do worry about. As a parent, you want to comfort your child, but if you've already validated her fears and tried to assuage them directly, and she's still upset, try looking to distraction to help her. Playing games will not only take her mind from the problems, it will also help her put them into perspective later, when she realizes she has the ability to think about other things, even during times of turmoil.


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    Utilize distraction-type games with no board and no rules, and use your imagination. Often times, children worry about the stress of the confines around them -- things they do not have control over, says child development specialist Karen DeBord of North Carolina University. If you give your child a pretend scenario to dip into, you allow him to tweak his make-believe world however he wishes, giving him the power he is so desperately seeking in his real life. You could grab a paper towel tube and say, "Hey, let's play pirates, yar!" Even if he's not into it at first, start looking for buried treasure, spot an enemy ship and enlist his help. Then make him captain. Any game where he can eventually take the lead will work well, including space explorers, king of the castle or jungle warriors. You could also place him in the "giving help" role. Have him be the doctor, checking you for booboos and making them all better, or the teacher, showing you how to write or color in the lines.
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    Incorporate familiar toys to ease a worrisome situation. Young children can experience acute worry attached to a specific action set to take place, such as receiving shots at the doctor's office or having to learn to swim. These events are scary to a child, and the best way to soothe her fears is to validate them, according to child psychologist Debbie Minden from About Kids Health. You can assure your child that the water won't kill her or that the injections won't hurt that much, but don't harp on it. Instead, show her that you will be there every step of the way for her. You are familiar and comforting and she trusts you. Bring a favorite toy along for the ride. When things get intense, pull it out, and engage it in a game. Allow your child to imagine with you and feel the support her old toy can bring her. If she's got a network of support, and that network is allowing her a bit of control and distraction, the actual task may go down more easily. In this instance, distraction is a tool of comfort.
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    Anticipate the problem with board games and learning tools. In an off moment, when your child is not actively worrying, you can start teaching him how to control his own emotions with board games and flash cards. You can make these yourself, showing the different feelings people can have. Instruct your preschooler to act out or describe how those feelings can make people act. You could do a charades-type game, or make up a play or puppet show where your kid can act out his fears and emotions by placing them upon another toy or object. You could also use one of many games specifically targeting this problem, culling from resources like Parentbooks (see Resources).


  • If your child exhibits symptoms of worry and stress for long periods, consider taking her to a doctor. Lashing out physically, nail-biting and uncontrollable crying are just a few of the symptoms of chronic child stress.

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Categories: Education and Communications

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