Worry Scripting is a Great Tool for Anxious Kids!
So what exactly is a worry script?
A worry script, also known as "imaginal exposure" in the therapy world, is an effective tool for helping children manage excessive worry about a specific fear they have, like being stuck in a bad storm while at school or of a parent being in a car accident. The process entails having your child write out one of their specific, intrusive fears from "start to finish" in great detail while a caring adult (oftentimes a therapist or parent) can provide support.
You might wonder, "Why encourage my child to delve into their worst fears? Won't this make them more anxious and fearful?” In short… No! Research shows that worry scripting is a type of exposure strategy that allows the child to confront their fears instead of avoiding them.
By actively avoiding worry-driven thoughts, our brain starts to believe that avoidance is the only way to protect ourselves. On the other hand, facing fears directly through strategies like worry scripting, we empower children to address their fears and gain a sense of mastery over sitting with anxiety.
Who is worry scripting helpful for?
Worry scripting is particularly helpful for children experiencing anxiety or excessive worry, specific fears, and intrusive thoughts associated with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder).
Specifically, it is most effective for children whose fears and worries involve hypothetical situations in which they have little to no control over. Even if your child has worries and fears about several different topics, these topics likely share similar underlying themes. For example, children who have an underlying fear of being left alone will often have specific intrusive worries about things like "bad guys" in the yard or a fire breaking out in the kitchen.
Writing a worry script about one specific fear is actually does two very important things for children.
First of all, it plays out the scenario from start to finish, including providing steps for your child to take in the event that the imaginary scenario actually does occur, which gives them a way to take empowered action in their response to the fear. For example, if a fire breaks out in the kitchen they can alert a trusted adult, help call '911,' and safely wait outside of the home for help from adults. This becomes part of their worry script and they feel a sense of confidence in managing that situation.
The second important way that worry scripting helps children is that is it shown to reduce fear in other areas because the child writing the sorry script starts to feel more comfortable addressing worry directly, which then generalizes to an overall sense of confidence in their ability to handle the worrisome thoughts.
How do I help my child write a worry script?
Ideally you can have your child's therapist walk you through this process the first time you try it so that you know you're hitting all of the important parts of the story. If a therapist is not available for that first trial run, you can follow the guidelines and recommendations below.
1) The worry script should be focused on a worst-case scenario related to one of your child’s fears.
2) The scenario should be as vivid and detailed as possible, involving all five senses (sight, smell, touch, taste, sounds) in the description.
3) Depending on their age and developmental level, your child may need varying levels of support while writing the worry script. They may write it out on paper, role play the scenario with toys, or tell you the story while you act as a reporter and write it down for them.
4) The worry script does not need to be excessively long, but you and your child should commit to sitting down for about 10-15 minutes per session to write with you.
5) While writing the script it is very important to eliminate as many distractions as possible. Turn the TV off, put phones away, and make physical space for you and your child to sit together comfortably.
6) The worry script should be focused on the same topic each day for several days and details, feelings, and thoughts should be expanded on throughout the process. Oftentimes children do well writing the worry script from "start to finish" in one sitting, then going back and adding details and feelings a few times over the course of a week.
7) If it feels appropriate based on your child's unique personality and level of development, remind them that writing about their fears will not make them come true!
8) Encourage your child (with your help) to read the worry script out loud. Over time, repeated exposure to the worry script will increase your child’s tolerance of their fear and decrease their distress. Typically reading it again 1-3x over the following week is satisfactory in reducing their anxiety while being exposed to the fear story.
9) During the writing process, you may notice your child feeling even more anxious, worried, or upset. This is entirely normal and expected, especially early on in the process. Acknowledge their worry and provide a confidence inspiring statement, such as "I know this is really hard for you and I also know that you are capable of facing your fears."
Writing a worry script with your child can be a powerful and transformative way to manage anxiety and excessive worries. By confronting fears instead of avoiding them, your child can gain increased confidence in confronting their fears and managing their anxious moments.
Once your child addresses one specific fear, encourage them to tackle another fear with a new worry script! Children who have successfully completed exposure to 2-3 specific fears tend to begin generalizing their skills to confidently approaching new fears with less intense worry feelings.
If you'd like some bibliotherapy recommendations for supporting your anxious child at home, check out our blog post "Awesome Books for Your Anxious Child!"
If you are interested in additional support for your child or yourself, check out our amazing team of child and adult therapists here at Flourish Counseling & Wellness.