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Playing with Anxiety:
Casey's Guide for Teens and Kids

Anxiety has the power to stop kids in their tracks, preventing them from exploring and growing into independent teens and young adults. Casey, the fourteen year old narrator of Playing with Anxiety, knows all too well how worry can interrupt fun, ruin school, and take control of a family. In this companion book to Reid Wilson and Lynn Lyons’ parenting book, Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents: 7 Ways to Stop the Worry Cycle and Raise Courageous & Independent Children (HCI Books, 2013), Casey shares her own experiences and those of her friends to teach kids and teens the strategies to handle the normal worries of growing as well as the more powerful tricks of anxiety. With pluck and humor, Casey tells stories, offers exercises, and describes her “solving the puzzle” approach that kids and their parents can use to address all types of worries and fears.

About the Authors

Reid Wilson, PhD, is Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. He is author of Don’t Panic: Taking Control of Anxiety Attacks and the coauthor of Stop Obsessing! How to Overcome Your Obsessions and Compulsions.

Lynn Lyons, LICSW, is a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist in private practice and a sought-after speaker and consultant. She specializes in the treatment of anxiety disorders in adults and children, including generalized anxiety, phobias, social anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and performance anxiety.

Table of Contents

  • Introducing Myself
  • Chapter 1: A Glob of Caterpillars
    • Pull Your Back Brakes First!
    • Boo Runs Scared
    • Be Afraid—Be Very Afraid
    • Spray, Slap, and Play Dead
  • Chapter 2: Don’t Climb That Tree!
    • Wearing Your Genes
    • Mom Decides to Change Her Ways
  • Chapter 3: Stop the World! I Want to Get Off
    • Imagine That!
    • A Cooked Spaghetti Noodle
    • Taking the Stage
  • Chapter 4: Great Expectations
    • Oh, Hello, Worry! You Again?
  • Chapter 5: Chatting with the Squirrel
    • A Mouse—On My Shoulder
    • Chatting with the Squirrel
    • “I Know You’re Just Trying to Do Your Job”
    • Knocking a Fly Out of the Park
  • Chapter 6: Becoming Unglued
    • What DOESN’T Work
    • The Blind Leading the Blind
    • Not Knowing, and Then Growing
    • Why You Should Change Your Mind
  • Chapter 7: Taking Your Brain for a Walk
    • Stepping into It on Purpose
  • Chapter 8: I Say Uncomfortable, You Say Vomit
    • Gripping onto Fun
    • Cooling Out
    • How Not to Do It Bridget’s Way
  • Chapter 9: Wrestling with Asparagus
    • “Hang On… We’re Going In!”
    • Wrestling with Asparagus
    • How to Enjoy the Movies
    • You Can Get There from Here
    • The Best Present Ever
  • Chapter 10: Chutes and Learners
    • The Reminder Bridge
    • Santa Claus Eats an Ice Cream
    • Taking the Sting Out
  • Chapter 11: Answering the Bell
    • A Hasty Retreat
    • How Not to Be Alarmed
  • Chapter 12: The Show Must Go On!
    • And Then What Happened?

Thoughtful Comments from Parents & Professionals

A very practical and straight forward approach to helping children learn to identify and deal with their anxiety. It has given me the tools I need to help my students and my own children. I tried out the strategies the very next day in my classroom, with great success. The kids loved naming their anxiety and even drawing a picture of it. This helped them to externalize their anxiety and take control of it. Simply brilliant and very doable!

Beth Lamb-Hamilton, Teacher

I have found the strategies very easy to implement in the moment.  Most recently I was even able to apply them on a three-way phone call with a child that was struggling at school. Labeling the anxiety and externalizing it helped not only the child, but also the parent and school staff to not get sucked into the specifics. It was amazing how simple it was and how well it worked!

Michelle Whalen, BA. Child and Youth Work, Child and Family Counselor

The strategies of not focusing on the content of the worry have helped immensely with my 12 year old son who has a generalized anxiety disorder.  I have used the line "Is that your worry talking?" a number of times since learning this approach. Now when I say it, he looks at me and smiles, knowing exactly what I mean.  Having him recognize the anxiety for what it is has enabled us to focus on how to deal with worry in general rather than frustrating ourselves with explanations and rationalizations about the specific contents of a worry.

Susan Doble, Parent

I implemented the seven steps with my daughter, who suffers from separation anxiety from her father, since his mother passed away last August. My husband and I had reached a point where we were going to arrange for counseling for my daughter.  As a "last resort" I reviewed the Seven Strategies and began to implement them.  I informed my husband about what I was doing and why, so that we would be consistent in our approach to responding to our daughter's anxiety. I am pleased and proud to say that as a family, we developed a plan on how we were going to manage my daughter's separation anxiety and we stuck to the plan.  I think the most important skill we learned was managing the worry instead of focusing on the reason for the worry.

DeAnna Renn, R.N., Mother and Public Health Nurse

Lynn Lyons and Reid Wilson's program is a simple yet very effective way to teach children and parents what anxiety is and how it works. It gives the family a common vocabulary when addressing anxiety that allows for better communication, better understanding, less frustration and, consequently, much success in empowering both the child and the parents in their pursuit to stop anxiety in its tracks. One of the best programs available!

Manon Porelle, M.A.Ps., Clinical Child Psychologist, Canada

My son has difficulty staying overnight at people's houses. He even gets himself so worked up he ends up vomiting and thus the late night phone call to go and pick him up. By applying the principles, we decided to have a wake-over instead of a sleepover. So, I sent him with flashlights, books, crayons, etc... with the goal of staying up all night. The other parent even made a bet of who could stay awake the longest. My son won! He stayed up until 3 am and had his first successful sleepover at a friend’s house!! Thanks Lynn & Reid.

Lisa Clarke, Mother

After learning from Lynn and Reid about the principles for dealing with anxiety, I felt empowered to immediately begin applying them with students in my second grade classroom.  Although I still consider anxiety a serious issue, it no longer seems that complicated or overwhelming to address.  I was so excited and knew the principles were working when one of my students remarked, "My Worry is not as loud today!"

Tracy Bulthuis, Teacher

As a parent that suffers from anxiety, I am fearful of raising anxious children. I read this book to understand anxiety from a child's perspective and to learn tactics to raise courageous children that know how to handle anxiety. What I really like is that the book is written for children in a playful manner that they can relate to, yet at the same time it helps parents too. What better way to approach a child's anxiety than for parents and children to use and understand the same strategies? I have young children and am glad to have read this book at this point in their many of the skills I learned will help if my children ever begin to exhibit anxious behavior. I highly recommend it - anxious or not.

Camille, mother

Helping children understand their anxiety and explicitly how to heal is the gift of this wonderful book. The authors' use of metaphor and analogy is elegant and brilliant. It is a much needed addition to the field that has too long relied on drugs with serious potential side-effects and analytic talk therapies that have proven to be largely ineffective with children. Giving anxious children the gift of being able to take action themselves that will quickly and significantly produce results produces an immediate sense of relief for them and their parents. I have used these methods with children and adolescents and experienced what seemed like miraculous results. Thank you Reid and Lynn!

Alan Konell, therapist

As a middle school-level tutor, I'm constantly meeting children and teens who suffer with anxiety -- and I now have the perfect book to recommend to kids and their parents. Kids often feel that adults are talking 'at' them, so I love that the book is written from Casey's 14-year-old point of view. Plus it's light, humorous, FREEing, at times downright silly. My students would love to hear that they can talk TO their worry and that it's ok and perfectly natural to feel uncomfortable in class or to worry about a midterm. And parents need this most of all... to know what the healthy approach is... to know if their tactics are helping or hindering their child's progress. "Just stop worrying!" is not the answer. I could see my 14-year-old self picking this up and getting sucked in with Casey's adventures. If I could get away with assigning this as homework, I absolutely would.

Brian Leahy

This book is an excellent contribution to the available literature on anxiety and worry for youth. The book is artfully written using a teenage narrator, Casey. Through the use of storytelling, metaphor and humor, Casey will keep young readers engaged and interested. Young people with anxiety will not feel as alone, and the book "normalizes" a lot of experiences that most people can relate to. Casey educates the reader on what anxiety is and where it comes from in a way that is easy to understand. Wilson and Lyons' organized the book around solving the worry puzzle, with each piece summarizing an important reminder of how to live with anxiety. Readers will learn how to stop avoiding and start living. As a psychotherapist that specializes in treating anxiety, I will be recommending this book to my clients. Although written for youth, families and adults with anxiety could benefit greatly from this book.

Kim Rockwell-Evans, PhD

This is a wonderful book, and I wish it had been available to me when I was first trying to cope with my own anxieties. Even more, I wish this book had been available when I was raising my own worried children. Wilson and Lyons provide innovative and leading edge information about taming overwhelming worries. They manage to provide a comprehensive overview of contemporary anxiety treatment, including genetics, environment, the role of avoidance and paradoxical intention, and methods for motivation--all in a fun, well-written and child-friendly prose. I’m also impressed that the authors are essentially giving this book away, (although it is meant to be a companion to Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents--but can stand alone as well), so that the information can be available without regard to costs. I believe one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is the ability to feel more comfortable with uncertainty. This book makes a huge contribution towards that end.

Martin Seif, PhD

I love this book. I've treated anxiety disorders for over 35 years and never found a book that anxious kids would enjoy reading...until now. In Playing with Anxiety, Lynn Lyons and Reid Wilson have provided the treatment community and their clients with a book that is destined to become a classic in the treatment of anxiety in children. The authors have creatively built a framework in which kids and parents work together to apply novel strategies for controlling anxiety and overcoming the avoidance behavior it creates. It’s for all those kids suffering from debilitating anxiety and their parents who are desperately trying to find a way to ease their pain. It is written in a language that will engage kids and their parents as well. Every therapist who treats anxious kids should have a copy and it should be number one on their required reading list.

Jim Wilson, MA, LPC

Reid Wilson and Lynn Lyons are outstanding clinicians with excellent track records in both treatment and teaching. Now, at last, they have given the treatment community, and more importantly, youth suffering from anxiety, a practical guide to confronting and managing their anxiety symptoms. This book is written in an engaging and informative style that communicates important ideas about anxiety in a readable and enjoyable way. This book fills a critical void - thank you both for your successful work. My young anxiety patients will thank you too!!!!!

W. Michael Munion, MA, LPC

What a fabulous gift from Dr. Reid Wilson and Ms. Lynn Lyons to parents, teachers, and therapists everywhere! Thank you is simply not enough to express adequate appreciation. I am a PhD Psychologist, treating an adult population, of often anxious and obsessive patients. Many of my adult "children" have seen themselves in this fun and easy-to-read e-book with its seven puzzle pieces to conquering worries and fears. Playing with Anxiety has helped these adult patients face everything from general anxieties to very specific "scary" obsessive thoughts. The companion to this e-book, Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents: 7 Ways to Stop the Worry Cycle and Raise Courageous and Independent Children provides clear direction to parents, and even to therapists, how to help children (and actually anyone) trapped in the grips of the anxious mind. Many caregivers mistakenly make things worse, by doing what any empathic person is naturally inclined to do, which is to provide reassurance and protection. Both of these books make it abundantly clear that avoiding the anxiety, protecting others from their fears, and providing reassurance are all behaviors that may provide immediate relief, but unfortunately only lead to worsened symptoms in the long haul. Dr. Wilson and Ms. Lyons provide a fail proof, albeit counterintuitive, protocol of seven simple self-help steps (the puzzle pieces) to overcoming anxiety. As a Psychologist and psychotherapist, I am tremendously grateful for this transformative and effective approach to overcoming anxieties and fears!

Cynthia Hardwick, PhD