I came across this problem solving idea via GoZen: Anxiety Relief for Children last week and thought carefully about how to introduce it to Little Miss M as a tool to help her with any difficulties or ‘problems’ as she calls them. Being mindful of demand avoidance, I decided to mention in passing that I’d seen a cool way our fingers can help us with problems and she really engaged with it.
We drew around a hand each and set to work thinking of our biggest problem solving strengths (I explained this to her as things we’re really good at which can help us with problems). In true Little Miss M style she made it her own by adding finger nails to the hand and drawing pictures to represent her strengths until she got to her thumb, then she wrote the word (kind, spelt cind). I wrote my strengths down too.
This is what she came up with
From little finger to thumb:
Creativity (with her drawings)
It was a wonderful insight into the strengths she sees in herself and she was delighted with herself for writing the word cind which gave me a lot of joy to see as did her awareness of the things which help her when faced with problems.
I explained that whenever we have a problem or difficulty with something we can choose one of our finger strengths to help us solve it. She came up with this little saying which happens to have 5 words too (one for each finger) “choose a finger to help” and enjoyed chanting it while moving her fingers along with the words. She really loves it when she can link numbers to things.
Since then, there have been a few times where choosing a finger strength has been really helpful. Here are a couple of examples:
The first time we used it, she wanted to watch a particular set of adverts she remembered being on a DVD but didn’t know which DVD they were on. She started to panic at this uncertainty, overwhelmed by the fear of not knowing. I started wiggling my fingers and said “I wonder which finger strength could help with this problem” and repeated her chant. This distracted her from the panic and made her smile. She named each of the strengths but couldn’t decide which would help so I suggested maybe the ‘good ideas’ finger might help this time and she said “I know! I could try all the DVDs until I find it”. “What a good idea” I said and as we tried each DVD she was much more calm and in control of the situation. It took a few tries to find the right one but each time it wasn’t the right one she remained calm and focused on trying the next one. Usually, if I’d come up with the solution, she would have panicked more with each failed attempt. This strategy really did give her the feeling of control.
We next used it a couple of days later when she was finding it particularly difficult to go to bed. It was approaching 11pm and demand avoidance was in full swing. She not only didn’t want to go to bed, but didn’t want me to go either. I explained to her that I was very tired and really needed to go to bed soon and asked if one of her fingers could help solve this. She was keen to use a finger but didn’t know which one could help so I ran through them all in a silly and expressive way and together we eliminated the ones which wouldn’t help and were left with ‘good ideas’ and ‘kindness’. She then said “I know! Seeing as you are so tired, I’ll be kind and let you go to bed now while I finish what I’m doing and then I’ll come up”. “That’s very kind” I said. She joined me upstairs about 10 minutes later.
As with any strategy, I’m careful not to over use it because the likelihood for success will reduce if it’s used too often and only use it for Little Miss M’s benefit (when she is distressed or panicked by something, when she wants to achieve something but is struggling or with necessary demands).
So far though, this new strategy seems to help distract Little Miss M from her anxiety and gives her a feeling of control over a difficulty or demand and I love that it’s so simple and the approach used can easily be adapted and tailored to suit each child.