• Whole Child Counseling

Practical Tips and Books for Helping Children Cope with Anxiety

practical tips to help children with anxiety

Time and time again I have found that kids really benefit from using bibliotherapy techniques. Bibliotherapy is the strategy of using books as an intervention in counseling sessions. I remember I was in high school the first time I read a book about someone struggling with something I was dealing with. I finally felt seen and it was an important and profound moment for me.

For this reason, I am always on the search for new picture books to help kids with issues they may be struggling with.

Since I work with a lot of children with anxiety, I was psyched to find this new children's book called Nora and the Worry Zoot, by Dr. Jennifer Gordon. I absolutely LOVE this book and so I've asked Dr. Gordon to do a guest blog post.

What I Love About Nora and the Worry Zoot

First of all, every child feels nervous or experiences unhelpful worrying thoughts at one time or another. The book Nora and the Worry Zoot written by Dr. Jennifer Gordon and illustrated by Rob Bryson is MY NEW FAVORITE BOOK to help kids with anxiety!! This rhyming picture book for children aged 4-8 serves as THE perfect springboard to discuss SO many different topics with children!

I have always wanted to write a children's book and I am so impressed that Dr. Gordon was able to include SO many important concepts in this picture book. This book is the perfect length for kids, and the cadence of the rhyming words makes it even more impressive. I have found that some therapeutic books for children seem to have too many words on each page, but this book is very developmentally appropriate and has THE perfect amount of words yet is still able to address a variety of topics related to worry, fear, and anxiety including:

  • Having "what if" thoughts

  • Experiencing physical sensations of anxiety in the body

  • Having unhelpful thoughts like when the worry zoot whispers in Nora's ear "you can't do it! There's so much to fear!"

  • Externalizing the fear

  • Letting feelings go

  • Talking back to unhelpful thoughts

  • Finding your inner calm

  • Being brave: "Don't be afraid to try something new. The strength that you need is inside of you."

  • And using practical coping skills to cope with anxious feelings! And you know this is one of my favorite topics since I wrote a whole curriculum on coping strategies!

Here is a peek inside Nora and the Worry Zoot:

nora and the worry zoot

Expressive Arts Therapy Activities to Use With Nora and the Worry Zoot

When I read this book I thought of so many ideas of creative interventions to accompany the book. Here are a few bibliotherapy activities to accompany this book:

  • Have the child externalize their fearful feelings by drawing, sculpting, or creating their worry. Play-doh, Clay, or Model Magic would all be satisfying 3-D mediums for this activity.

  • The child might want to come up with another term other than worry zoot, or otherwise, name their very own worry zoot.

  • Have the child draw, dictate, or write down their "what if" or unhelpful thoughts that the worry says to them. Then practice talking back to those unhelpful thoughts. They might benefit from sentence prompts. When my worry says ____________, I will say ____________.

  • Have the child create two different body maps to show what anxiety feels like in their body and what inner calm feels like. They can also create dances, poems, body sculptures, or songs to accompany these two different body maps.

  • Creating a coping skills toolbox or coping skills plan with favorite strategies to use to deal with their worrying thoughts. Check out this post with a freebie for making a coping skills plan.

I love Nora and the Worry Zoot so much I put together these freebies to accompany the book! These activities are perfect for helping kids cope with anxiety!

free anxiety resource printable worksheets for kids

Subscribe to the free SEL resource library at the top of this page to gain instant access and get new monthly freebies too!

About Nora and the Worry Zoot

Navigating new and uncertain situations is difficult for most children. This empowering story is about overcoming worry and apprehension, as well as building courage and confidence to try new things. For Nora, worry comes in the form of a pesky little bug that tries its best to stop her from being brave when meeting new friends. Using rhyme, this story addresses symptoms of worry and provides coping strategies that help Nora to find and embrace her "inner strong". This story is the perfect springboard for talking to children about worry. It aims to inspire courage, foster resiliency, and promote inner strength in their lives no matter how difficult the challenge.

About Dr. Jennifer Gordon

I am so pleased to have this guest post from Dr. Jennifer Gordon who is a Registered Clinical Child Psychologist with specialized training in assessment, intervention, and play therapy. She has worked as a psychologist and consultant for both school and clinical mental health settings. Her area of focus is working with children, teens, and parents who are struggling with a wide range of challenges including anxiety and regulation concerns. Dr. Jennifer is founder and Clinical Director of J. Gordon Psychology Group, a private clinic that supports children, families, and schools in Edmonton, Canada. In addition, Dr. Jennifer is the author of the book Nora and the Worry Zoot, which aims to help children better understand anxiety and to find their “inner brave”.

Helping Children with Anxiety: Practical Tips and Strategies

Written by Dr. Jennifer Gordon

It’s normal for children to be anxious about something at one point or another in their development. However, about 1 in 8 children struggle with worry to the point where it impairs aspects of their daily functioning. It has become the number one referral concern in my child therapy practice today.

anxious kids

Anxiety is excessive worry, concern, or fear about real or hypothetical situations where we are uncertain about a future outcome. In a nutshell, anxious kids tend to over-estimate the risk that something bad will happen, while under-estimating their ability to handle stress and adversity.

For many kids, anxiety is obvious – we see the child who freezes, trembles, hides, cries, dreads, and avoids situations that frightens them. However, worry can also be disguised as irritability, defiance, meltdowns, concentration difficulties, rigidity and inflexible thinking, sleep problems, and constant questioning about upcoming events in the day. Some kids are like a swan, appearing on the surface to be gliding along without any struggle at all, but really they are paddling like crazy underneath.

Younger children commonly feel anxious about loud noises, the dark, strangers, and being separated from their parents. By school age, children will often start to shift their worry to more internalized events, such as not being liked by others.

When Does Worrying Become a Problem for Kids?

Worry becomes problematic when it’s persistent, excessive (i.e., beyond what would be expected for the circumstance), out of sync with their stage of development, or when it starts to interfere with their ability to function (e.g., stops them from participating in activities).

Essentially, there are 3 Main Components to Anxiety:

avoidance and anxiety

Cognitive: Anxious kids will commonly ask “what if” questions and anticipate worst-case scenarios (i.e., “what if something bad happens”). They also tend to have distorted thinking, such as misinterpreting neutral situations as threatening, and they may engage in negative self-talk (I can’t do it!). Many kids will repeatedly ask questions in an attempt to seek certainty or reassurance from others.