Lesson SIX Overview - Worry Bullies


Middle Primary

Identifying and Managing Anxiety



Students will learn:


  • Physiological signs and symptoms of anxiety

  • How the brain responds to fear and anxiety 

  • How to recognise and overcome thinking traps 

  • Three steps to fight worry bullies


KEY VOCABULARY: worry bully, anxiety, fear, fight mode, flight mode, amygdala, catastrophizing, perspective.


Background Information

A little worry is normal, however too much worry and not knowing how to deal with it can affect our everyday functioning. Lesson six teaches students what happens to our brain when we experience anxiety and fear.  Students will learn to recognize the physiological signs and symptoms of anxiety as well as recognize unhelpful patterns of thoughts (thinking traps) that often lead to feelings of fear and anxiety.  It is common for children and adults alike to fall into these traps every now and then for brief periods of time.  Some children fall into these traps more frequently and find it difficult to change their thinking pattern.  It is important to teach children to recognise these traps in order to overcome them.  Today’s lesson teaches children how to recognise the physiological signs and symptoms of anxiety, how the brain responds to fear and worry and how to overcome their anxiety.

Thinking Traps

Catastrophizing: sometimes anxious thinking can become catastrophic.  Children may imagine the worst-case scenario and overestimate the likelihood that something bad will happen and overestimate the consequences if it did happen. By challenging the catastrophic thought and realizing that what they are imagining is not very likely, children often feel less anxious.  We can challenge these catastrophic thoughts with the ‘How Big is My Problem’ scale which challenges these catastrophic thoughts. 

Mind-reading/Jumping to Conclusions: we jump to conclusions when we predict what is going to happen, with little or with no evidence. For example: My teacher is going to be so mad at me tomorrow because I forgot my library books.  Jumping to Conclusions can also involve thinking that you know what others are thinking, we call this mind-reading.  Mind-reading occurs when we believe that we know what others are thinking.  Often we assume that they are thinking the worst of us.  

Overgeneralising: this occurs when we use the words ‘always’ or ‘never’ to describe situations.  For example, I always make mistakes.  This is a problematic way of thinking and will often stop us from risk taking and persevering. 

Exaggerate/Worst-case scenario: worst-case scenario is when we exaggerate how badly something will be and how difficult it will be to cope.

Lesson Plan

1.    Introduce Lesson and Review Previous Lesson 

Review previous session by asking students to remember what was covered in the last session. Shape students’ responses to reflect the learning intent from the previous lesson. Revise Group guidelines.

Welcome back.  Last week I challenged you to make the 'I Can’t Yet' structure. We talked about how challenges stretch our brain and how our brain is like a muscle and becomes stronger and smarter the more we use it. Remember our thoughts are really powerful and can stop us from giving things a red hot go.  Did anyone catch an 'I can’t' thought this week?  Where you able to change it to 'I can’t Yet ' and make a plan to figure it out? 

This week we are going to learn how to fight worries.  Everyone at some stage worries about something.  You may worry that you will get something wrong at school, that you will forget your homework or that your dog is getting old and may get sick.  Some people worry more than others and it can stop us from enjoying our day.  Today we will learn how to stand up to our worries. But first let's start with a gratitude attitude. 

2.    A Gratitude Attitude (5 minutes)

Sit in a circle. Ask each student to share something that they are grateful for or something positive that has happened to them this week. This simple activity is training students to be positive and to have a gratitude attitude.

A gratitude attitude focuses on the NOW!  Try to pay attention and be thankful for what you already have and not worry about what you don’t have.  People with a gratitude attitude are positive, resilient and happy.



​ 3.        Activity 1: The Huge Bag of Worries (10 minutes)

Read ‘The Huge Bag of Worries’, by Virginia Ironside.  The aim of this activity is to introduce the 'worry bully' which is a negative, unhelpful, 'I Can't' thought that stops us from enjoying our day and from giving things a go.


Discussion questions:

•    What were some of the worries that Jenny carried with her?

•    Where they positive thoughts or unhelpful negative thoughts?

•    How did her unhelpful negative thoughts make her feel?

4.      Activity 2: What is in your worry bag? (5 minutes)


Imagine you have a bag of worries.  What worries are you carrying around or have carried around before?


Ask each student to share a worry or a time that where worried.  Pose questions:


•    How did it make you feel?

•    Did it stop you from giving something a go or from having fun?​

5.    Activity 3: The Warning Signs (5 minutes)


Let's talk about what happens to our bodies when we feel worried or scared.  What clues does your body give you when you worry?

Record students’ answers on the board.


Example of answers:

When you are worried or scared, have you ever felt:


Restless or fidgety?

Jumpy legs?

Big eyes, darting around

Like running away?

Breathing fast?

A Pounding heart?



Teacher note: these are all signs that your body is in flight mode.


When you are worried or scared have you ever:


Raised your voice?


Clenched your hands?

Stamped your foot?

Hit someone or something?


Teacher note: These are all signs that your body is in fight mode.


6:      Activity 4: Why Worry? (5 minutes)


We are going to learn more about our brain and what happens to our brain and our body when we worry.  Worry and fear are very important emotions.  These emotions prepare you for real danger. The part of your brain responsible for checking if you are safe is called the amygdala (ah-mig-dah-la).  The amygdala is like a guard dog.  It is there to protect you if we are in danger by getting you ready to run away, fight or freeze.


We also all have a wise owl part of our brain called the prefrontal cortex that is the decision making part of our brain.


When our amygdala, the guard dog part of our brain, is trying to protect us, the wise owl part of our brain switches off. This makes it difficult to think clearly and realistically.


Show poster of picture of the brain.


Imagine you are walking through a forest and you see a bear walking towards you.  What would you do? Would you run away from the bear? Would you try and scare the bear away or would you freeze?


Ask each student to share their answer.


When the guard dog part of your brain is switched on your body responds to danger by either fleeing (running away from the bear), fighting (trying to scare the bear) or freezing (hoping that the bear won’t see you if you stand really still).


Refer back to the white board where you recorded the warning signs their body gives them and talk about the signs their body is in flight mode, the signs their body is in fight mode and freeze mode.



7.       Activity 5: When Worry Becomes a Problem (5 minutes)


There’s just one small problem.  Your guard dog (your amygdala) does not know the difference between a real danger and an unreal danger.  Worry becomes a problem when your body is preparing for real danger, but the danger is not real and/or is unlikely.  Sometimes your brain prepares you for danger, and sends you the signals to run away, fight back or freeze, but the danger is not real.  A bear walking toward you is a real danger, but a monster under your bed is not a real danger, and a natural disaster is an unlikely danger.


Write on the board - Real danger and unreal/unlikely danger.

Ask students:

What would be a real danger?

What would be an unreal or unlikely danger?

Record their answers on the board.

The amygdala does not know the difference between a real danger (a shark) or an unreal danger (a monster) and will respond in exactly the same way!

8.       Activity 6: Fighting Worries (10 minutes)

Today we are going to learn how to fight worries.  Did you know that you have the power to make your worries go away? Worries are like bullies, unless you stand up to them they won’t go away.  What does a worry bully look like?  Worry bullies are mean and ugly.  They are unhelpful, negative 'I Can't' thoughts that stop us from having fun and enjoying our day. Imagine what your worry bully looks like? (Depending on time, students may like to draw a picture of their worry bully).

​Display Worry Bullies poster.

Worry bullies can…..

·         Bother you all night and day

·         Use words like always or never.

·         Lie to make you scared

·         Lie and tell you things that have not even happened and most likely won’t happen.

·         Imagine things that aren’t real.

·         Exaggerate how bad something will be.

·         Stop you from giving things a go!

Everyone worries.  Some people worry more often than others.  But, the good news is, you have the power to stop your worries.  We are going to learn how to fight worries by following 4 easy steps!  

Stand up to Your Worries!

1. Breathe. The most powerful thing you can do to make yourself the boss of your brain again and get your wise owl part of your brain working again is breathe. It sounds so simple – and it is!

2. Catch your worried thought. Draw a picture of your worry or put your worry into words by telling an adult or friend.

3. Question the worry.  Is it a real danger or an unreal/unlikely danger?  What is the evidence?

4. Use Realistic Thinking. Stand up to the worry using positive thoughts.  Don’t let the worry bully you. Worry bullies like to make something that is only a little bit bad seem really terrible.  They exaggerate, catastrophize, they lie to make you scared, and they sometimes make you worry about something that hasn’t even happened! 

In Lesson two we practised strategies to calm angry feelings.  One of the best ways to calm worried or scared feelings is by taking deep breathes.  Taking slow, deep breathes will calm the amygdala your guard dog and will enable you to think clearer.  Slow, deep breathing will also calm a racing heart, shaky hands, clenched fists.  It pretty much does everything! It's an amazing strategy!  Let's practice our balloon breathing together.

Practise balloon breathing from Lesson 2.


We are going to practice the second step in standing up to your worries. Think of a worry you have had or you have and draw a picture of the worry.

Allow time for students to draw their worry.  Once students have drawn their worry, invite them to sit in a circle and share their worry with the group.  Explain to them that they are now putting their worries into words. As each student shares their worry, write on the white board where the worry belongs, either in the real danger column or unreal/unlikely column.


After a student has shared their worry, refer back to the Worry Bully chart and ask them if they think their worry bully is responsible for the following;

·         Bother you all night and day

·         Use words like always or never.

·         Lie to make you scared

·         Lie and tell you things that have not even happened and most likely won’t happen.

·         Imagine things that aren’t real.

·         Exaggerate how bad something will be.

·         Stop you from giving things a go!

We are going to practise Step 3 and Step 4, after reading ‘Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day’.

6.    Activity 5: Thinking Traps - Catastrophizing (10 minutes)

Read ‘Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day’.

Discuss the story:
•    What kind of day did Alexander have?
•    What were some of the things that happened to him?
•    How did these things make him feel?
•    Can you think of a time when you felt like this? 
•    What happened?

It wasn’t the things that happened to Alexander that made his day so terrible.  Do you know what made his day so terrible?  Yes, it was his thoughts.  He had a lot of unhelpful, negative thoughts that left him feeling upset.  Do you think Alexander’s day could have been different if he had changed his unhelpful thoughts to helpful thoughts?

Alexander described his day as terrible or horrible. If something is terrible or horrible is means that it’s the worst thing that could happen.  Were the things that happened to Alexander the worst things that could happen? Or where they just a little bad or a tad bad?  How could we describe the type of day Alexander had? (Examples, annoying, not so good, a bit bad).  


Take a look at my ‘How Big is My Problem’ scale.  You will find this scale in your Get GRIT Journal. The 'How Big is My Problem' scale measure how big a problem really is.  Sometimes we may think our worry is a bigger problem than it really is.  Let's think about some of the things that happened to Alexander and together we are going to decide where we think they should go on our scale.

As a group, decide where Alexander's problems should go on the scale. 

 The ‘How Big is My Problem’ scale helps us to keep things in perspective, which means it reminds us if our problem really is that bad. Sometimes when we make a problem bigger than it is, we ignore the evidence. We need to ask ourselves, is it really that bad?  Or is it a tad bad?

Which brings us to step 3 and step 4.

7.    Activity 6: Realistic Thinking (5 minutes)

Once you have caught the worry bully (negative thought that is causing you to feel worried or scared) it is time to question the thought.  You can do this by hunting down all the clues about your worried thought by answering these questions:

Is it a real danger or an unreal or unlikely danger?

Could it really happen?

Are my thoughts sensible?

What is the worst that could happen?

What is the most likely outcome?

Am I jumping to conclusions?

Could I cope if it did happen?



The last step involves standing up to your worry.  Don’t let your worry bully you.  You need to stand up to your worries in order for them to go away. Worry bullies are negative 'I Can't' thoughts.  Remember that our thoughts are very powerful. Talk to the worry by saying things like, 'It's not that bad', or 'I don't believe that' or 'I can handle it'.  What else could you say to your worry bully?  Allow time for group sharing and discussion.

8. Concluding Discussion (5 minutes)


We all worry.  Sometimes we may start to worry more than often and it starts to affect our day.  When this happens, you need to stand up to the worry bully.  Remember to put your worry into words or draw your worry.  You then need to ask if it is really that bad and remind yourself that bad things don’t happen very often.  You may like to look at your ‘How Big is My Problem?’ Scale to help you put your worry into perspective and stand up to your by talking to your worry.  You have the power to make your worries go away.  This week, if you have a worry, I want you to follow these 3 steps.  Good luck fighting any worries that come your way!

Close session: Thank the group for their participation throughout the session.  Encourage them to practice the new skills they learned during the week.  Share with the group an exciting activity that they will do during the next GRIT lesson.

Additional Resources: