So a couple of months ago, when we were in the midst of a terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad sleep phase over here, I posted a photo of Leo’s Worry Basket on Facebook. The response was incredible! Had I known you guys would like it so much, I would have made the Worry Basket look a little prettier (I mean, technically it’s not even a basket– it’s a plastic tub!). I received so many messages asking about what the Worry Basket contained, and how we use it at home. I promised everyone that I would write a post about it, and today I am going to show you how to make your own worry basket.
First, a little background. Our son, Leo, is a world-class worrier. He has conquered a number of fears in his almost-seven-years on this planet including but not limited to: crickets, bath tubs, extinction, thunder storms (this one might be a work-in-progress), swimming, bees, tsunamis, the dog escaping, automatic toilets and hand dryers, meteors, green wolves (yes, green), John (the creepy guy who mows my friend’s lawn), praying mantises, hurricanes, mourning doves… Folks, I could go on and on and on. Over the years, we have used a number of strategies to combat the worries, many of which I learned when training and working as a school psychologist. Some have worked brilliantly and some have failed miserably. Some work for one worry but fail for another. One thing I’ve learned is to keep trying and see what sticks to help my little worrier. This last worry, which reared its ugly little noggin’ in January, was a doozy. Leo worried that I would leave in the night. We tried endless reassurance, snuggles, love letters, and signed contracts, and nothing seemed to calm his woes… that is, until we created the Worry Basket.
Leo’s Worry Basket was assembled out of desperation, during the height of our January worry-induced-sleep-deprivation and it worked! It contains myriad of calming objects and coping strategies, and today I am sharing them with the interwebz in the hopes that the Worry Basket will help restore peace and calm to other homes where worries are currently lurking and wreaking havoc.
Make Your Own Worry Basket:
I don’t just plunk the Worry Basket in Leo’s bedroom and expect it to perform magic- although certainly I’d love for it to be that easy! The Worry Basket is one part of a larger whole. I do not think one can overestimate the importance of nutritious meals, exercise, nature, and sleep when it comes to the happiness and overall health of our children. My children are their happiest when they are eating well, sleeping well, and when they have oodles of outdoor play time, so I make these things a priority in our home. And, when it comes time for bedtime, I am a huge fan of routines. Children thrive on routines as they provide a sense of calm and order. During these bedtime routines, I encourage calm. Our children tend to ramp up and get wild when they are tired, so I’ve worked really hard to create a calm space at bedtime. Some activities that have helped us to calm the kids down at bedtime include:
- Soft music during bath time,
- Writing in our gratitude journals and reflecting on the positive moments of our day,
- Read alouds,
- Yoga, guided meditation, and/or progressive muscle relaxation.
We keep Leo’s Worry Basket in a cozy spot in his bedroom, in an area where he usually snuggles up to read a good book, or listen to an audiobook.
Also, I like to keep the Worry Basket fresh and so I don’t include everything in it every night but I pick and choose items each evening. Some items are in the basket at all times, but the majority are rotated in and out to keep life interesting.
What to include in your Worry Basket:
Everyone in our family has a sound machine for sleeping. Schizz and I started using one when we lived in Boston, to drown out the sirens and traffic at night. Then, we used them with both boys who were not good sleepers when they arrived on the scene. Our children now associate the sound machines with sleep and the machines are part of our routine.
In some cases, and especially for kids like Leo who struggle with SPD, worries can begin with noises. These noise-canceling headphones have been a huge help for us over here. They tune out the stress-inducing noise and allow you to find your inner calm. I’m still dying for some of my own. If you see Schizz, please tell him my birthday’s a-comin’!
In our family, a lot of the nighttime worries come from darkness. In addition to a nightlight when needed, I included a small flashlight in Leo’s Worry Basket. The light calms him when he hears a sound, and it makes him less fearful of traveling to the bathroom by himself in the night.
Leo, T, and Seuss have CD players in their bedrooms. My children love to listen to audiobooks during their quiet times. It is a great way to sneak in some reading time while also allowing those kiddos to rest their tired little bodies! Plus, mama can sneak in a cup of coffee and read for a bit, too!
Do you know how certain songs never fail to make you happy, or to transport you back in time to a wonderful memory? My children love the movie The Snowman. It is one of their all-time favorite movies. Because of this, the music instantly relaxes my children and that is why I keep a copy of the soundtrack in Leo’s Worry Basket.
Leo has several guided relaxation CDs in his Worry Basket including the following: Indigo Dreams Relaxation and Stress Management for Children, Indigo Ocean Dreams, Indigo Ocean Dreams, I Can Relax!, and Dreaming of Ponies. In addition, I’m planning on making my own guided relaxation CD for the kids (just like how I made audiobooks for the kids). It will not only save some cash but I also think it will be comforting for the kids to hear my voice when they are afraid at night.
When Leo was participating in occupational therapy, his therapist recommended a weighted blanket for calming. He doesn’t use it much these days until his worries ramp up and when they do, he loves to snuggle under the blanket and read or listen to a calming CD or audiobook. Part of reducing worries is feeling cozy, and these blankets help with that for sure!
We have used lavender essential oil to make Calm Down Spray and Calm Down Play Dough. Calm Down Spray can be kept in your child’s Worry Basket and used as a calming linen spray at bedtime. You could call it Worries Be Gone Spray and let the child be in charge of the spraying. Calm Down Play Dough can be kept in the Worry Basket as well, depending on the age of the child.
As a school psychologist, I have many anxiety-related holdovers from my working days. It’s fun to dust off these materials and put them to use. Yoga Pretzels is a beautifully illustrated deck of cards, and each card has a yoga pose depicted on it. Children will find these poses easy to follow and fun. They won’t even know that they are relaxing!
Every little worrier needs a fidget toy and I have oodles of fidgets leftover from my working days. This particular fidget was recommended by Leo’s former occupational therapist. It is affordable and fairly indestructible. We also have the popular Sensory Stixx and Tangle Relax Therapy in Leo’s Worry Basket.
I can get lost in these liquid motion desk toys, folks. I used to have a bunch of them in my office and kids never failed to play with them during counseling sessions. There’s something extremely calming about watching the colored liquid. Be sure to check out my Mindfulness Pinterest Board for some tips on DIY calm down tubes.
Sometimes it can be tough for little kids to get their mind off of their worries, and that is why distraction can play a key part in taming the worries. My children adore these Find It tubes. We received one as a gift a few years back. Each tube contains colorful bits of plastic and multiple hidden objects. Shake it, twist it, turn it, and try to find all of the objects listed on the top of the tube. It is a fun, quiet, calming challenge.
The Rubik’s Cube is one of those toys that has an almost mesmerizing quality to it. Leo often gets lost in trying to solve the puzzle and for that reason, I often tuck it in his Worry Basket. Be sure that this toy is mesmerizing versus frustrating before you include it, though!
Leo has always been a kid who can’t resist a good book. Knowing this, I tuck a good book into his Worry Basket each evening. I pick a book that I know he’s already deep into, or one that I am certain will pique his interest. In addition, I include some old favorites. My children have always loved the I Spy books and the Usborne 1001 Things to Spot books. Some of our favorites are listed at the end of this post.
Along these lines, Leo adores a good puzzle to solve. We have been huge fans of Bedtime Math since its initial release. Bedtime Math has been a part of our evening routine for quite some time, and Leo loves to continue with a little math after we say goodnight. Math and puzzles are a great way to distract from worries!
Leo received this maze book as a gift and has been in love with mazes ever since. It’s tough to think about your worries when you are trying to find your way out of an intricate maze and that’s why I make sure this book is tucked in Leo’s Worry Basket each night, along with several pencils.
Our family has been a bit zentangle-obsessed for over a year now. We even got Schizz to do some one afternoon! This book is one of our favorite zentangle books. The wonderful thing about zentangle is that you honestly don’t need to be artistic. It’s just repeating patterns and doodles and it’s incredibly relaxing. We love to zentangle with these pens and these paper tiles. Trust me, you’ll get a bit obsessed yourself if you try it!
Mandala coloring books are fantastic for little worriers. Filling in these geometric shapes is calming for all ages. There are a variety of mandala coloring books online and I have pinned several to my Mindfulness Pinterest board, so be sure to swing by and check them out.
Do you ever need a brain dump, folks? Does your mind overflow with thoughts and ideas and you just need to dump it all out onto a sheet of paper? Well, this works for kids, too, and that’s why I included a little journal in Leo’s Worry Basket, complete with some gel pens. I promise you that kids can’t help but write or draw when they have a gel pen in their hand!
I don’t know about you guys, but when I can’t fall asleep at night I turn to a book. Reading helps my mind to go elsewhere and, when I’m lucky, it helps my eyes to feel heavy. I fall asleep reading most nights and this is my all-time favorite book light. It is bright, flexible, and takes a beating without breaking. I’ve had mine for years and I ended up getting one for T and Leo because they like to fall asleep reading, too.
A huge part of learning how to relax your body involves breathing. We take breathing for granted, but it’s truly so important! Direct instruction of breathing strategies for calming can be a game-changer for kids who worry. One way to remind children about their breathing is to have hands-on tools, such as pinwheels and bubbles. These tools can help children to focus on slowing their breathing to calm their bodies.
Yoga Garden is a board game that we recently acquired. It’s a wonderful way to introduce yoga poses to your children. The game is appropriate for ages 4 and up and it is a cooperative learning game that all kids can benefit from. You even get the chance to invent your own yoga poses. This game is perfect to calm kids down before bath and bed!
Books for your Worry Basket:
As a school psychologist, I am a huge fan of bibliotherapy. As such, I have oodles of books on worry and mindfulness. I always tuck a couple into Leo’s Worry Basket because he cannot resist a book and he gains so much through reading about pertinent topics. Here are some worry-related books that we have in our library:
- Calm-Down Time (Toddler Tools) by Elizabeth Verdick
- David and the Worry Beast: Helping Children Cope with Anxiety by Anne Marie Guanci
- Dharma Delight: A Visionary Post Pop Comic Guide to Buddhism and Zen by Musho Rodney Alan Greenblat
- Don’t Feed the Worry Bug (A Children’s Book About Worry) by Andi Green
- Don’t Panic, Annika by Juliet Clare Bell
- From Worrier to Warrior: A Guide to Conquering Your Fears by Daniel B. Peters
- Is a Worry Worrying You? by Ferida Wollf
- What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide To Overcoming Anxiety by Dawn Huebner
- Why Does Izzy Cover Her Ears? Dealing with Sensory Overload by Jennifer Veenendall
I use yoga and meditation myself, and I have used it with students in the past, and so I’ve tried to use it with my own children in the past. My attempts were unsuccessful – due in large part to attention- until just recently. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying introducing my children to mindfulness. They now request a relaxation story before bed each evening. It’s not uncommon for one member of our party to be so relaxed during that story that he drifts off to sleep for the night. Here are the mindfulness and meditation books that are in our library:
- A Pebble for Your Pocket by Thich Nhat Hanh
- Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids by Carol McCloud
- Kindness: A Treasury of Buddhist Wisdom for Children and Parents by Sarah Conover
- Peaceful Piggy Meditation by Kerry Lee Maclean
- Peaceful Piggy Yoga by Kerry Lee Maclean
- Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children by Thich Nhat Hanh
- You Are a Lion! And Other Fun Yoga Poses by Tae-Eun You
- The Buddha’s Apprentice at Bedtime: Tales of Compassion and Kindness for You to Read with Your Child – to Delight and Inspire by Dharmachari Nagaraja
Be sure to include what works for your unique family
We also include worry dolls and something that we call My Calm Down Cards in Leo’s Worry Basket. Leo and I made these cards together. For these to be successful, you must have your child’s input. Just as everyone has different worry triggers, everyone also has different coping strategies that work well. Leo helped to brainstorm the coping strategies that have been most successful for him in the past. These cards serve as visual reminders for Leo. When he is worked up over a worry, he can refer to these cards and remember what coping strategies work for him. Leo’s include the following: read, yoga, zentangle, deep breaths, draw, listen to an audiobook, hum a favorite song, listen to a calm-down CD, write in journal, put on headphones, write a letter to Mom and Dad, cuddle with flap, and think happy thoughts.
Recently, we started having mandatory doodle time. I gave each child a Doodle Diary. I got one, too! We spend a few minutes most days, just doodling in our notebooks. It never fails to calm everyone down and reset the day!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but there is nothing like a hand written letter. I made sure that Leo’s Worry Basket contained a love letter from mom because… sometimes… when you are worried in the night, reading a heartfelt letter can make a difference and calm fears. Leo’s Calm Down Cards also contain a suggestion to write to Mom and Dad. Sometimes, getting your feelings down on paper and out of your head (I call this a Brain Dump and I do it at least once daily!), can make room for calm and sleepy thoughts.
And, finally, Leo’s Worry Basket also contains my car keys in a tupperware container. We now lovingly refer to Leo as The Keeper of the Keys. Leaving your car keys with a child may sound crazy to some and silly to others, but when dealing with worries you have to think outside of the box and figure out what works for your family. Leo is no longer worried that I will disappear in the night because I cannot go anywhere without my car keys. So, right now, The Keeper of the Keys is working for us.
So, tell me, how to do you help your children deal with stress and worry? What’s in your Worry Basket? Share here!
Cait co-hosts The Homeschool Sisters Podcast and is co-founder of Raising Poppies, a community for parents of gifted and twice-exceptional children. Cait is also founder of the Family Book Club at My Little Poppies, a fantastic community of book-loving parents and the Gameschool Community at My Little Poppies, a vibrant community of gameschoolers.
Cait is a contributing writer for Simple Homeschool and GeekMom. Her work has also appeared on The Huffington Post, The Mighty, and Scary Mommy. You can find her on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram