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Parent information 

Terry's terrific shell - A story about feeling worried 

Firstly, thank you for purchasing Orla and the Jelly Legs, and welcome to our information area. This page offers a separate space away from the fun of the book, with the focus here on support for you. We have information about anxiety in children, guidance through the playful activities, and steps for helping your child with their feelings. We hope that you find this space a useful and supportive addition to the book. 

In the story, Orla is experiencing a very normal response to a situation that she finds stressful. Alongside her friends she learns what might help her to feel better, but what really helps her to step on that stage is knowing that she isn’t alone; others have these feelings too. By reading the story, your child can enter Orla's sea world and the shared experience of feeling understood by others. 

So, let's start by looking closer at anxiety, and the feeling of being nervous.

 

We are probably all familiar with feeling nervous, but this doesn't make it any easier when the wobbles visit.​ The feeling of anxiety can be an uncomfortable one; our heart beat rises, we feel hot and clammy and we can feel shaky and wobbly. It really is no wonder that we come to associate this feeling with the negative! 

 

The adrenaline our body produces at these times, is based on survival of our species and makes our body ready to 'fight, flight or freeze' in the face of danger. This could actually be really useful if, say, a very angry bear was chasing us, but it doesn't always feel so useful mid-way through a job interview. It certainly didn’t feel useful to Orla as she stepped onto the big stage. 

 

The tricky thing about short term anxiety is the cycle of avoidance. Because the feeling we get inside our body can be an uncomfortable one, we naturally want to take it away. Your child may decide that the best route is to simply not do the thing that causes the uncomfortable feeling...and It’s not just the kids that do this. As parent’s, our instinct to protect our children from the negative can be very strong. This is where the cycle can creep in. 

 

​In writing this interactive story, my aim was to reduce the fear surrounding these difficult physical responses and to normalise the feeling of occasional anxiety, alongside a group of friends that sometimes feel this way too. 

Emotions at Play has connection at it's very core, and reading a story together is a wonderful way of connecting with a child. You will have seen us talk about ‘the magic recipe’ here at Emotions at Play, and I would like to invite you to think about the relationship between yourself and your child as the container for this recipe. As you explore the book together, you will find plenty of ingredients to add to your pot, but the key part of the magic is you.

Let 'Rags' be your guide- Our trusty mascot is on hand to guide you through the story. Rags will lead you to fun games, experiments and crafty ideas to bring the story from the page and into your child’s world.

'I wonder' statements - Often used in therapeutic conversation in place of 'why'questions,

'I wonder'statements are much softer and don't force a response. Our young people do not always have the answer to 'why', but 'I wonder if..' brings about a shared curiosity and a feeling of being on the journey together. It's only a slight change of words yet it can make a real difference. 

The child always leads - A really important piece in Emotions at Play is that the child leads and the adult follows. Play is a child's natural mode of expression, so if we lead, we simply take over the conversation and suppress our child. Our books are filled with activities and ideas to ignite your child's curiosity. They are offered, but never forced. 

Pick the right time - Make sure that your are emotionally regulated within yourself before starting the story. If you are feeling stressed or are trying to sandwich it in between activities, you won't be able to fully focus on your child. Take time to breathe and settle so that you are in an emotional state that will support your child. Put your mobile phone on silent to allow this special time to be just between you. 

                                           

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It can be difficult to know what to do, and how to do it when our children have big feelings. This is a step by step approach in supporting children with anxiety.

Accept the feeling

​The first and most important thing you can do in any situation is to accept the feeling that your child is communicating to you. You can do this with a simple reflective statement such as ‘You are feeling nervous in your tummy. That feeling is okay’. When a child feels that their feelings are accepted, they feel heard and validated. ‘Talking in assembly feels scary sometimes. I can see that’. 

 

Communicate Safety

Following accepting the feeling, the next important step is to confirm yourself as the safe base. Big feelings can feel truly overwhelming to young children and they need the adults around them to communicate that they will be okay. 

‘This is a really big feeling, and I know that you will be okay. I am here for you’. 

Get curious about the visiting feeling

It can be helpful for children to learn that emotions come and go, like friendly visitors. Many of us grew up believing that we were ‘shy’ or ‘angry’ children because that is what we heard from the adults around us. This internalisation of a perfectly normal visiting emotion can cause us to take it into our identity and start to view ourselves as the problem.  As a therapist, I help a child to externalise their feelings.

The first step to doing this is to get on the same team and get curious about this visiting feeling together. 

Get creative with the anxiety

My favourite way to externalise an emotion is creatively.

‘I wonder what this feeling would look like as a cartoon character? What colour might it be? Is it smooth or spiky? I wonder if it has a funny name?’ The only limit here is your imagination!

This can lead to 'ooh I wonder when it pops up the most' and 'does anything make it shrink?'

Become a super listener

Remember to keep communicating your acceptance of your child and their big feeling.

"That makes sense..."    "I can understand that..."    "Wow that sounds a big feeling..."


 

Help your child to recognise the signs of visiting anxiety in their body

We all feel nervous from time to time. Making this feeling part of everyday language in the home can help a child to understand this and to recognise it when it visits.

 

 ‘I noticed a butterfly feeling in my tummy so I took 3 deep breaths’ 


 

Co-regulation 

Once you have a picture of what the emotion might look like and where abouts you feel it in your body, you could work together to try out things that might help the feeling when the first signs of it appear.

 

10 star jumps

Imagining the anxiety character shrinking or catching the bus

A cold glass of water

Big belly breathing to blow out the wobbles

Dance out the wobbles to music

Safe place visualisation

Children cannot regulate their emotions alone. They need an adult to co-regulate and model the behaviour. Brainstorm ideas and try them out together.

Put in the practise

Too often we identify a regulating tool or strategy and then save it for when the big feelings are visiting.  A preventative approach could be to incorporate the activities into your daily lives, and practise them at calm times, so that they come naturally when needed. Keeping the body regulated can reduce anxious episodes. 


 

Know when to ask for help

Nervousness usually goes away after the event has passed. It's a short term emotion, which although can feel really strong, doesn't stay around after the nerve wracking event is over. It becomes easy to pinpoint what the nervous feeling was about. If you notice that your child's anxiety is affecting many areas of their life, it may be a sign to seek some help from a professional. Some children are simply more anxious than others, and there are many possible reasons for this. You can contact a children's therapist or request help from your GP. If your child is in an educational setting, they may be able to support your child in school. 

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How do we use the book?

Top Tips

Tip from Rags! Juggling kids, work and other commitments can be really difficult. If you find that your 'to do' list is buzzing around your head, try visualising popping your thoughts onto a shelf to deal with later. Your mind will be clear and you will be able to better focus on your child. 

Thoughts such as 'should' and 'need to' can be very persistent so if they come back, just pop them back up on the shelf. Really stubborn ones might even need a box or lidded jar!

How can I help my child with nervous feelings?

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