Worry is one of the biggest barriers in the lives of many young children.
It impedes both happiness and learning.
Luckily, there are lots of child-friendly strategies to try to address this issue of worry. In now close to 12 years of teaching children aged 3-5, one of my favorite resources to address this anxiety is to use worry monsters.
You may well have heard of worry monsters – but have you heard about the many ways you can use them?
There are so many that really grip children’s attention.
And in this article I’m going to take a look at the ultimate 15 ways to use them. These are:
- Circle Time Introduction
- Feed It Different Things
- Emotion Pebbles
- Scavenger Hunt – What Can We Feed It
- Make A Worry Monster
- Draw/Write Worry
- Return To Box Next Day
- Homemade Stress Ball Monsters
- Worry Box
- Homemade DIY sticks
- Worry Monster Basket
- Worry Monster Meditation
- Use One At Night
- Worry Monster Book
- Tell the Monster A Story
Worry monsters are so simple to make, and have such a wide range of benefits. Of course there is no way to completely eliminate worry, but there has been research into the impact of strategies used in early life. (Source)
So, let’s take a look at how to use them.
1. Circle Time Introduction
Like anything that you use with young children, it’s best to get off to the best possible start.
In this way they respect the resource, and use it in a way that it is designed for.
Therefore, I would definitely recommend starting using worry monsters as part of a circle time.
Simply create some kind of worry monster. My friend Kelly’s daughter made one that looked like this:
Introduce it to the children. Then pass round some kind of simple object for the children to put in its mouth. It could be some wood slices, for example.
First, get the children all to think of something that might be worrying them. This can be a difficult concept, so don’t worry if it takes a few tries at this activity for them to ‘get’ it.
Model one of yours. It might be, ‘I’m worried that I have so much work to do today, and I won’t be able to get it done.’ Then put a wood slice into the worry monsters mouth. It has ‘eaten’ that worry.
Then pass it slowly around the circle.
The children, at least when they get good at it, will each say a worry, and then place an object into the worry monster’s mouth.
This is the simplest way of starting with a worry monster, and the staple activity to use.
2. Feed It Different Things
What you actually feed the worry monster can add an extra element of interest and engagement for the children.
Some pieces of dried food can be a good one, as the children associate them with eating. Something like dried pasta, for example.
Natural objects are also a good choice, as they have calming textures in the hands. Things like leaves or conkers would work well, as would many other types of loose parts materials.
3. Emotion Pebbles
Creating a set of pebbles to feed to the monster is a good investment of time.
Simply get some simple small pebbles and paint them in different ways.
It could be quite simple differently colored pebbles. Or they could have simple writing patterns on them, maybe things like swirls or zig-zags.
The children could potentially make their own as well, decorating them in whatever way they think.
These pebbles can become a permanent feature whenever you feed the worry monster.
4. Scavenger Hunt – What Can We Feed It
If children can take ownership of anything, it is usually a really good idea.
They respect activities and resources more, if they have had an active part in creating them.
A good activity, then, is to take the children on a scavenger hunt with one of the purposes being to find ‘food’ for the worry monster.
They could find all sorts of different things – leaves, nuts, grass, twigs, pine cones – whatever there is in your local environment for them to find.
Then take all the found food and store it in some ceremonial place, e.g. a basket or box, where it can be ready for next time you use the worry monster.
It’s a good idea to use the worry monster pretty soon after the hunt for added motivation and engagement.
5. Make A Worry Monster
Another great idea for ownership is for the children to make the worry monsters themselves. This is very achievable.
Pretty much all you need is some kind of box, and some resources to decorate it with.
6. Draw/Write Worry
Worry monsters are a kind of ‘talking therapy.’ They work a bit like psychoanalysis, where an individual talks about their worries to help to manage and process them.
Of course, as well as talking about our worries, we can also record them in other ways.
For younger children that have little writing experience, drawing their worries can be beneficial.
This is perhaps best done as a group activity, first thinking about what each of them is worried about, talking it through a bit, and then drawing what that looks like to them. It doesn’t have to look like a masterpiece of art – the emphasis is on the psychological benefits of this experience.
Then you can ceremonially place the pictures into the mouth of the worry monster, maybe talking them through as you do so.
The idea behind all these activities is not that convince children that worries don’t exist. Far from it! It is more to get them to think about and process worry in a logical way.
Older children could of course write about their worries. Once again, when they are written down, they could post them into the monster’s mouth in a ceremonial way.
7. Return To Box Next Day
Worry monsters can be used as a one-off experience, but they can also become part of your provision and revisited regularly.
There is lots of benefits in returning to the monster for different purposes.
If you have recorded your worries, either as pictures or in writing, then it is definitely beneficial to return to that either the next day or a few days later.
This really helps children to process worry over a longer time frame.
Sometimes, the worries they have previously will have vanished.
Other times, they may still be present, but maybe they are thinking about them in a different way.
You can do a similar thing with the talking method of using a worry monster.
Often children might repeat worries they have mentioned previously. Repetition like this is really positive, and helps to process things more clearly.
For all of us, dealing with worry required lots of repeated thinking about key issues.
8. Homemade Stress Ball Monsters
This is a slight deviation from the original worry monster concept, but they really enjoyed using these when we made them.
The idea is to make DIY stress-balls.
Once made you can decorate them as monsters.
The easiest way to make them is to get some socks that you don’t want to use again.
Fill them with any ‘squidgy’ material. Good things could be playdough, or rice.
Then secure them at the end with a rubber band or similar. You could draw faces onto the stress-balls with pens.
There is research that demonstrates the stress-relieving effects of stress balls. They really do work! There are lots of complex nerves and muscles in the wrists and hands, and when activated these help to relieve stress in the brain.
Here’s a video on how to make homemade stress balls using balloons (which is slightly different) here:
9. Worry Box
Of course, you don’t really need to go all out and create a spectacularly artistic monster.
Even a simple box or basket will suffice.
This is great if time is not on your side, or if you just prefer simplicity in your teaching.
Passing round a designated box or basket as a circle time, and placing an object into it, whilst linking it to a worry, will work in just the same way as the monster.
It is the process that is the crucial bit.
10. DIY Monsters
Of course, if you are feeling creative, there are lots of ways that you can make worry monsters.
You could make them out of:
-Large cardboard boxes
Let the children explore the concept in both adult-led, and child-led contexts.
11. Worry Monster Basket
I saw someone convert a simple basket into a worry monster. All they did was to paint some teeth around the upper rim of the wooden basket. This made it look as if a monster had its mouth open wide to the ceiling.
With just a little trick like this, it is simple to convert any box or basket you find into a permanent worry monster for your children.
12. Worry Monster Meditation
Guided meditations can be brilliant for relieving anxiety in children, and helping them relax.
Worry monsters can definitely be incorporated in some way into these stories.
To perform a guided meditation:
First, get the children to lie on the floor and close their eyes. You could potentially put someone relaxing music on.
Get the children to take a few deep breaths first, and fully relax.
And then start a story. The way to include worry in the story, is to get the children to visualise something their worried about, and somehow trap the worry.
Here’s an example:
Imagine there is something that you are worried about. It might be something that makes you sad, or that you are scared of.
Imagine you can see a big wooden box. Your worry is going to go into the box.
Now close the lid.
Now you’re going to lift the box onto a ship. We’re sailing over the sea now, with the box still on the ship.
Suddenly you see a big monster in the sea. Throw the box into the sea, and the monster gobbles it up.
The monster swims away.
Sail your ship back home.
You could potentially write something like down, but I always prefer just to make it up. Be creative!
13. Use One At Night
This is more of an activity for parents, and definitely a beneficial one to try.
Worry and anxiety has a big negative impact on sleep, and so helping children to relax slightly before bedtime is important. It is probably the most crucial time of the day to alleviate worry.
Worry dolls are one great option for bedtime, and I’ve written a whole article about different strategies you can employ with worry dolls, that you can read here.
Worry monsters could also be used in the same way.
Quite simply, anything that they are worried about, talk about it, and place something into the mouth of the monster. This talking therapy gets issues out of your mind, at least temporarily, and hopefully results in a better night’s sleep.
14. Worry Monster Book
There are a few worry monster picture books around, but definitely my favorite that I’ve seen is The Very Hungry Worry Monsters, by Rosie Greening.
This book fully embraces the concept of worry monsters in beautiful simple picture-book format.
Using this book would be a good way to introduce a worry monster for the first time. You could also just use it alongside your worry monster practice, to help and strengthen the children engagement with the experience.
Here’s a video of the book read aloud:
15. Tell the Monster A Story
Storytelling unlocks lots of our emotions, and it can be a powerful tool to use alongside the use of the worry monster.
This is a nice way to use the worry monster in a more independent and child-led context.
The children can talk to the monster, or tell it all sorts of stories.
You could potentially use something like story stones in tandem with the worry monster.
Worry monsters are just one of the 101 strategies in my book 101 Mindfulness Games For Happy Minds.
This is one of the books that I am most proud of writing. There are so many beneficial games throughout it for children of all ages, and we have had so much positive feedback from teachers and parents that have tried some of the strategies out.