I learned about the Worry Thermometer from my daughter’s child psychologist, who is helping Emily, age 7, deal with some anxiety issues related to eating. Emily had a stomach virus and decided she could avoid any irregular bowel movements by chewing her food for very long periods of time. Her thought process was that by doing this, her digestive system wouldn’t have to work so hard getting it through her body (this also resulted in a much smaller intake of food). During this time our family was going through a crisis. My husband and I were going through a divorce.
I was at my wit’s end at the height of this eating problem in late February of this year. It came about so suddenly, and the effects were so obvious. She was not getting enough nutrition into her body, she was becoming frail and was in such turmoil at mealtimes. Her psychologist said he could help her to eat normally again without any stress in ten weeks. I was so hopeful.
After just five weeks of treatment, Emily announced “The old Emily is back!!” Her transformation is just amazing, she is back to her old self and eating normally. In a very short time with Dr. Miles, Emily learned to identify her emotions and worries by associating them to a number on her worry thermometer. By using this visualization, Emily could identify her fears, worries and “what if thoughts”, then she could rationalize her way out from under those fears with some positive self-talk (“I need food to be healthy”, “If I get sick, I will get better”, etc,). The final result was that Emily could actually make that worry number drop to the optimum, which is zero.
Another coping behavior we learned is visualizing the “Worry Kid”. Emily was asked to draw her interpretation of the kid that lives inside her that worries about various situations. She did that perfectly. Her coping attitude is that when she gets worried or stressed about a situation, she should get that Worry Kid out of her body, so she pounds on her chest and spits him out, then tosses him into the trash! Worry gone!!!
As simple as it seems, it has really helped both my girls (and myself!) cope with stress. I believe this technique can work with many situations with an anxious child. My youngest daughter Lila went to several of the sessions and learned a great deal herself. She began coaching Emily and reminding her how to be when things got tough.
Mother of Emily, 7 and Lila, 4