The Worry Box

I share the following story to show how messy, involved, exhausting–and ultimately joyful–inspiring a child can actually be sometimes.

Summer’s here. Kids are out of school. Everyone’s rearranging their schedules to match their new-found summer freedom.

For us, that means Cub Scouts moved from 3:30 in the afternoon to 11:00 in the morning.

No big deal, right? Not for Lima Bean!

His eight-year-old mind likes things structured, orderly, predictable. He likes to know what the entire day will look like when he wakes up in the morning–and he thrives on a routine that stays pretty consistent from day to day and week to week.

So I knew this change was going to be a challenge. I tried to prepare him. When the first 11:00 a.m. scout day arrived, I told him first thing in the morning. I explained that it meant he would not have as much learning time in the morning as he usually enjoys. He seemed to be okay.

But when the timer went off reminding me to tell him to put on his scout uniform, he lost it. It started with a exclamation of disbelief, moved quickly to adamant denial that “he didn’t want to go” and “I hate scouts!” and landed squarely in tears and sprawling on the floor when I insisted that he really did need to go. (I insisted because I knew his issues were all about the change in schedule and not because he doesn’t like scouts!)

I know that sometimes just getting him moving toward a goal helps, so I told him that he just had to get dressed for scouts and then we would talk. He stomped off to his room, and I could hear him crying and raging and banging around. A few minutes later he reemerged–mostly dressed–with red swollen eyes and nose slime dripping down his face.

He still insisted he wasn’t going.

Dang, this was going to be harder than I thought.

Then life upped the ante. Other boys going to scouts started to walk past our window. Lima Bean asked me if scouts had started. I told him “almost.”

He started crying all over again. Now he wanted to go, but he was too embarrassed because all the boys would see that he was crying.

This is the point where I get really frustrated. He’s not rational. He moves from one issue to another. I can’t keep up, and I can’t talk to him. He just spirals out of control, until I lose it, send him to his room, and spend the next twenty minutes taking deep breaths.

This day, I didn’t send him to his room. But I did try to send him to the front porch. In my mind, I wanted to believe that if I could just get him outside, watching the other boys go, he would just suck it up and go to scouts. But as he wailed that he was “too embarrassed,” I knew that wasn’t the solution.

So I took him to the backyard instead. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but his emotional outbursts were affecting everyone else in the house, and I knew that wasn’t fair to them. Plus, he was embarrassed they were looking at him, and that wasn’t helping him calm down at all.

On the deck, he started asking me, “Am I late?” When I answered yes, the tears gushed again. “I don’t want to be late . . . but I’m too embarrassed to go.”

At the moment, the mommy-warning bells really started to go off. I realized that he was stuck in the worry death spiral, and he was going down fast. He’s been there before . . . lots of times . . . and it’s never pretty.

Then, in a moment of pure inspiration, fed by past experience, conversations, and research, I had an idea. I knew that Lima Bean has a hard time regulating his emotions and organizing his experiences. I realized I needed to help him. So I created a worry box.

“Lima Bean,” I said, “I have a box.” I held my hands up in the air, pretending to hold a shoe box. “Inside it has compartments, kind of like an egg carton.”

He crying turned to a whimper and looked at me, intrigued.

I leaned in a little closer to his face. “You’re really worried about a lot of things, right?” He nodded.

“I want you to tell me all the things you are worried about. We’re going to take each thing and put it in one of the compartments in this box.” I half-expected him to completely dismiss this idea, but he actually decided to go along with it.

“Well,” he said, “I’m embarrassed because I’m crying.”

“Good, let’s put that in the box.” And I pretended to place a small object in one of the compartments. “What else?”

“I’m afraid the boys will laugh at me. . . . I’m afraid I’m going to be late. . . . I’m afraid that I’m going to miss something.” Now his hand held each worry, moving to a new, imagined space in the box each time he spoke.

“Are you also afraid because the schedule is different?” He nodded and placed that worry in the box too.

We kept going until he ran out of worries (there were ten–he counted!). Then I said, “Now, we’re going to close this worry box up. Will you help me?” He took both hands and shut the imagined lid. “Now I’m going to leave this worry box over here. You can come get it when you’re done with scouts if you want, or you can leave it. It’s your choice.” His eyes followed my hands, as I placed that imaginary box, heavy with all his worries and fears, on the table next to me.

At that moment, there was a knock at the door. It was two of the other boys, asking if Lima Bean was coming to scouts.

Light as a feather, Lima Bean leapt through the house, jumped down the stairs, and ran out the door, his blue scout shirt flapping behind him.

The worry box is still sitting outside on our table.

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7 Comments

Filed under Examples and Stories

7 responses to “The Worry Box

  1. Carolyn

    This is great! I have had two children much like this (18 years apart, thank goodness!). Your insight is very helpful! I will use this idea and hope it works as well; my youngest with this personality is also 8.

  2. taperkey

    Good luck! I’d love to hear how your child responds. Each kid is so different so the more ideas the better!

  3. Rebekah

    What a great idea! I’m going to try that one with my 4-year-old, who has Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). She’s always worried about the craziest things, and it’s sometimes impossible for me to figure out what she’s afraid of and how to help her.

    • taperkey

      I’ve had some interaction with kids who have RAD, but I haven’t had to personally manage them much. I can’t imagine how difficult that must be at times! I’d love to hear how she responds.

  4. Dani

    Genius. Pure inspiration.

  5. I just came across your blog and reading this nearly made me cry – you could have been writing about my son- I love your idea and I’m ‘inspired’ to try it. We have been through some tough times when there are changes but I think the worry box may help us! Thank you for sharing!!

    • taperkey

      I’m so glad you found it helpful. My heart goes out to any parent whose child struggles with these issues. It can be a daily challenge!

      The “worry box” is a cognitive diffusion technique. This is the technical term that psychologists use to describe techniques that help individuals to compartmentalize concerns, worries, or other issues. In lay mans terms, they are ways to “deal” with problems and not let them overwhelm you. My study of these techniques has been immensely helpful in working with my son.

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