The Worry Bag in Action
My daughter was 3½ and had never slept well. She had nightmares every night and would come into our room and wake us up 2-4 times every night. “Mummy I had a bad dream” she would say, with a trembling voice and tears in her eyes. We told her dreams were just dreams and wouldn’t hurt her, that monsters won’t get her, that mummy isn’t going to die and that a giant isn’t going to pull her head off and “make her dead”; we put posters on the windows and doors saying “no monsters, giants, witches or octopuses allowed in”, and obviously we told her that the windows were monster-proof so they couldn’t get in if they wanted to! We looked under the bed, inside the drawers, through the wardrobe etc.
It was upsetting to know that she was going through all this, not to mention of the knock on effect of lack of sleep for both daughter and parents! Someone mentioned a worry bag to me and I thought “I’ll give it a go…”, with no real expectations that it would work.
I bought a bag. She placed it by her bed and every time she thought of something bad, or a worry, she “wrote it down”. She didn’t actually know how to write, but she knew what her squiggles meant. She then placed her worry in the bag and zipped the compartments shut so that it couldn’t escape.
Every day, either in the morning or the evening just before bedtime, we sat together, had a cuddle and we got the worries out of the bag and I asked her to tell me about each worry as she looked at her writing. I would acknowledge her worry, “Ooh that sounds really scary”, or something similar, in my most loving mummy voice, making a mental note to address any realistic worries, ie problems at nursery, or something else in the real world that was upsetting her. We would have a quick discussion about her worry, “You know monsters can’t get through our monster-proof windows, don’t you?”, then we would tear the worries into tiny pieces and flush them down the toilet. She found it very cathartic and visibly relaxed as we did our daily ritual. She got the idea of how to use her new bag straight away and if she woke in the night she wrote about her nightmares and then went back to sleep.
We noticed that the frequency of her night-time visits to our room decreased from the first night of using the bag. And over the following months we often heard the rustle of paper and the zipping of zips during the night-time hours, but rarely a visit to our room! Then one day she came into our room and quietly said, “Mummy, I don’t have bad dreams anymore”.
Of course she still worries. She’s 8 now and at school, and still uses her Worry Bag to record her problems. But she’s happy and in control of her worries and rarely has nightmares.