Mother: “My 12-year-old son worries a lot when he is in bed. Often about things he didn’t do right in his own eyes. He had recently lost a coat I bought him for a few euros at a second-hand market, and he blames himself for it.

“He’s not necessarily a shy kid, he’s open with others and has friends too. He is very sensitive, empathetic and sociable and he knows very well what desirable behavior is, being careful not to make mistakes or hurt others. Before going to sleep, for example, he doubts whether he has been nice enough to someone.

“I recognize that brooding of his father, from whom I am divorced. How can I help my son calm down and become calm? Or rather: How can I teach him to distance himself from those negative thoughts or to be more gentle with himself?”

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Talking out of his head

Bass Delivery: “It is striking that your son’s worry is specifically about guilt. If he’s wondering if he’s been nice enough to someone, you should encourage him to ask the other person as soon as possible: for example, “I said this yesterday. You didn’t find that annoying, did you?’ Then he not only gets an answer to his question, but he also shows commitment. It is important that a child acquires some skill in asking others for feedback on his or her own behaviour. He cannot copy that art from his brothers or sisters.

“The two of you living together makes it harder for him to be distracted from spinning his own story. The isolation of corona adds to that. If you can make sure he can get a little more among his peers, I would do that.

“The question arises whether your son’s guilt also plays a role in connection with the divorce. Many children wonder if the divorce is their fault. If the situation allows, I would try to talk him out of it with the father.”

Recognizing and naming

Eline Snel: “There are a few steps that can support children in understanding, accepting and breaking free of worrying thoughts. To start with: just talking to your son about the worrying thoughts helps, without wanting to solve or get rid of anything. It is often nice to just be heard.

“Teach your child to recognize and name his ‘favorite worrying thoughts’. For example, “I worry most about not being nice enough, or not paying enough attention.” He could possibly write down his top-3 in a nice worry notebook. In this way he will see for himself what he is most concerned about. You can also quickly learn to recognize the ‘worriers’: ‘Ah, there you have the thought again that I haven’t been nice enough!’

“You can teach your child to greet these recurring thoughts as ‘one of those classmates who always has something to say’. In this way, children learn to accept their worrying thoughts. In addition to fun, brilliant and annoying thoughts, there are also worrisome thoughts.

“Teaching children to get out of their heads into their bodies also helps, for example with children’s meditations such as ‘De Piekerfabriek’ from my book, where they learn to move their attention from their head to their stomach.”