A group of children with rucksacks sat on a bench looking into the field and woods

Ollie Coach, Belinda Wells, explains how she works with children to help them to manage their anxiety rather than letting it take control of them.

When we are anxious it is because our anxiety or worry, emotions have become too big and are out of control. Now there are lots of things we can do when we feel anxious and as parents, we can help our children too.  As an Ollie Coach, I explain anxiety to children in very simple terms:

Imagine that your body is a ship. You are learning to be the Captain of your ship. But there is a lot of work to do before you can be the captain. So, for now you have a Captain, who helps you. Although your Captain is in charge, he can’t do all the jobs onboard your ship, so he has lots of helpers. He has a lookout and a crew of emotions to help. The lookout is at the top of the ship where he can see everything. It is his job to keep you safe. He is called ‘Anxiety’ or ‘Worry’. When your lookout notices something that may not be safe, he needs to tell the Captain. He will go to the Captains office, shutting the door behind him, so none of the other emotions can get in. He will make a lot of noise and fuss, jumping up and down shouting “I’m Worried, look at me!” He wants the Captain to notice him!

I explain to children that this is what happens with us too if our anxiety or one of our other emotions gets too big and takes over. The emotion will tell try to tell us, but they will shut to door to stop all the other emotions getting in, because they want us only to think about them. They will get bigger and bigger until we do notice them. And they won’t go away until we do something to make them smaller. That is why we begin to feel the same feelings that emotion feels too.

And that’s ok if we are feeling good emotions, like Happy, Safe or Confident. But, what if our Sad, Scared, Worried or Angry emotions get too big? We need the Captain! Then our Captain needs to decide what to do. First the Captain will ask the emotion that is too big, what is it worried about, because we always have to recognise what our emotions are trying to tell us, don’t we? Then he will say thank you to them and then he will take over and decide what to do. He will ask another good emotion to help.

So, if you are learning to be a captain, that is what you must do too. You must listen to the emotion, thank him, explain that you can sort the problem out from here, because we only need our emotions to warn us about dangers, not to take over! Then find another emotion to help you. If you do this, then your emotions will see that you are growing up and are responsible and capable now. And then the emotion that was too big, will get much smaller, and you will notice the new emotion getting bigger and you will feel calmer. But the emotion will never go away because we need all our emotions! It will stay the same size as all the other emotions. Not too big and not too small. Just right.

And when you practice this over and over, helping your Captain to make your emotions get bigger or smaller you will soon learn to be able to do it every time one of them gets too big.

Practice, practice, practice! And when you can do it every time, that means you will have earned your Captains stripes! And then you will be the Captain of your own ship. You will be in control of your emotions – they won’t be in control of you.

So, the 7 steps I teach children are:

  • Acknowledge the emotion
  • Ask what the emotion is worried about
  • Thank the emotion for their concern
  • Tell the emotion you can handle this now
  • Assure the emotion that everything is OK you are in charge.
  • Ask another emotion for their help and allow them to get bigger
  • Then practice, practice, and practice, to earn your Captains stripes.

How to Calm Your Anxiety

As adults, here are some ways in which we may already handle our Anxiety ‘lookout’ and crew of emotions, when they get too big and become overwhelming.

If we are a Captain who is not very attuned to the needs of our ship or crew, we might ignore our emotions and carry on as if nothing has happened. Refuse to admit that our emotions are in turmoil. Just as we might if we are inclined to brush things under the carpet, pretend they are not there or push aside our feelings.

But if you do this, are you not ignoring the warning signals of the danger? And if the danger were real, you would not have heeded the warning or be able to change course or adjust your actions! Will this response from you help your anxiety or emotions? Probably not. It will still continue, but just buried deep down.

Alternatively, you could listen to your emotions and take their warnings at face value, react to them straightaway without enquiring about the nature of the danger – just react. Send up a distress flare. Allow feelings of worry, fear or panic to take over. Indeed, you may feel only worry, fear or panic, be stressed and feel constantly on edge. Maybe you might hide in your cabin, turn a blind eye until the danger passes. Which it might….

But it may not!

Or, you could take charge, become the captain, talk to your lookout, ‘anxiety,’ and ask what the problem is, recognise and thank ‘anxiety’ for bringing this to your attention, but assure him or her that you will take over from here. This allows ‘anxiety’ to take the pressure off your Panic Button.

Then you, the Captain, can look at the facts, can weigh up the situation your ‘lookout’ has brought to your attention and decide how likely it is that you need to take action.

Oh, and by the way, your lookout is a jobsworth! He is sometimes, in fact often, wrong. And if you use this 7 step process, you will calm your anxiety. Then you can determine the seriousness of the situation calmly and rationally and become aware of the real situation – not the one-sided view of your lookout!

Belinda Wells, Ollie Coach

Belinda is an Ollie Coach and Foster Carer. Previously a Primary School Teacher, she now has over 20 years’ experience working with children. Her interests are psychology, how we think and why we behave as we do, and she loves learning and writing.  Belinda enjoys seeing the difference her work as an Ollie Coach can make to the children and families she works with.

To get in contact with Belinda email Belinda.wells@ollieandhissuperpowers.com

Caroline Chipper

Director, Subconquest Ltd – Ollie and his Super Powers


Published Sept 24, 2020





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