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Lesson SIX Overview - Worry Bullies


Upper Primary

Identifying and Managing Anxiety



Students will learn:

  • Understand how the brain responds to fear and anxiety

  • Identify physiological signs and symptoms of anxiety

  • Understand three aspects of anxiety: how anxiety thinks, how anxiety feels and how anxiety behaves

  • Identify realistic thoughts and unreal/unrealistic thoughts

  • Learn four steps to fight 'worry' bullies


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




Background Information

Anxiety is driven by a strong, healthy brain that is overprotective and quick to sense danger, regardless of if the danger is a real threat or not.   Every emotion exists to meet a need and with anxiety, the need is to feel safe even if there is no obvious danger. Children don’t often recognise their anxiety for what it is.  Instead, they may think there is something ‘wrong’ with them as the only focus is on the physical symptoms of anxiety, which can feel awful! The first step is to teach children all about where anxiety comes from – how it looks, how it works and how to recognise if it is problematic. 


Children are introduced to the part of the brain responsible for anxiety.  When children and adults alike experience anxiety, the brain switches to auto-pilot and triggers the flight or fight response.  This primitive and impulsive part of the brain is designed to keep us safe and is brilliant in times where an immediate response is needed.  It’s a sign of a strong, healthy brain doing its job!   But when it happen unnecessarily or too much, it feels awful and can interfere with life.


Children will notice anxiety affecting them in three different ways. The 3 aspects of anxiety

  1. Anxious or negative thoughts

  2. Anxious feelings (Physical feelings)

  3. Behaviour


Firstly anxiety is experienced in a child’s type of thinking. A child will have negative or anxious thoughts about fear or threat. 


Secondly, a child will experience anxiety in body sensations and emotions.  Anxiety automatically triggers our fight or flight response regardless of whether the threat is real or perceived.  Fight or flight is a primitive response, hardwired into the human brain.  It evolved as a survival mechanism to enable people and other mammals to react quickly to life-threatening situations.  This primitive response is all action and not a lot of thought. When our bodies are in fight or flight response we may feel a rapid heart rate, rapid breathing or nausea.

Thirdly, anxiety will affect a child’s behaviour.  A child may cry, shake, freeze, get angry, yell, lash out by hitting, run away or avoid the situation.

Learning about the three aspects is important in learning to manage anxiety.  Learning what anxiety looks like and where it comes from provides a level of safety and comfort. When children understand where their anxiety comes from and what is causing their anxiety they will, over time, feel less threatened and scared.  Just as unexplained noises in the middle of the night feel terrifying, if you know what noises are you are less threatened by them. 

Anxiety becomes a problem when we let our overprotective brain be in charge.  Our amygdala does not know the difference between real danger and an unreal/unlikely danger. When we face real situations that are scary to us or cause us to worry and when we think of situations that cause us to worry our brain senses danger! Worry tells our brain there is a danger. Then our brain tells our bodies there is a danger. Our Amygdala fuels our body with special body fuel ready to protect us by preparing us for flight or fight.


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.

Lesson Plan

Introduce Lesson and Review Previous Lesson

​Review the previous sessions 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?  Were you able to change it to 'I can’t Yet ' and make a plan to figure it out?


Today we are going to learn about anxiety.  Everyone, absolutely everyone experiences anxiety and worry from time to time.  Even some of the bravest, strongest people in the world struggle with anxiety.  If you feel worried or anxious there is nothing wrong with you. Anxiety and worry are common and normal feelings. In fact, they are VERY important feelings.

While anxiety is normal, some people, worry more than others. Sometimes anxiety and worry can start to affect a person’s day.  

Pose questions:

  • Has your anxiety stopped you from enjoying your day?

  • Has your anxiety stopped you from giving something a go? 

  • Has your anxiety stopped you from trying something new?

  • Has your anxiety stopped you from being brave?


When anxiety stops you from enjoying your day, from trying something new or giving something a go, it’s time to do something about it and take control.  It is important to know that I am teaching you to manage your anxiety and not get rid of it.  Remember, it’s a very important feeling.  You will simply learn how to control it better. But first, let's start with a gratitude attitude.


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.

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

Read ‘The Huge Bag of Worries’, by Virginia Ironside

I'm going to share now a story with you about a girl named Jenny who found herself carrying around a huge bag of worries. They are with her all the time - at school, at home, when she is watching TV and even in the bathroom! Jenny decides they have to go, but who will help her get rid of them? 

Read story. 

Discussion questions: 

·    What were some of the worries that Jenny carried with her? 
·    How do you think her worried thought about wars and bombs made her feel? Scared
·    How do you think her worried thought about her parents fighting made her feel? Upset. 
·    How do you think her worried thought about people whispering about her made her feel? Embarrassed. 
·    How do you think her worried thought about her dog getting fleas made her feel? Concerned


Jenny's worries just didn't come out of anywhere. Feeling worried ALWAYS starts with a thought.  When you are feeling anxious or feeling worried, you have a 'worried' thought that is giving you a negative feeling. Jenny's worried thoughts about wars and bombs and her best friend leaving caused Jenny to FEEL worried.


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?
Pose questions:

•    What was your 'worried' thought?
•    How did it make you feel?
•    Did it stop you from giving something a go, or from enjoying your day or from trying something new?

While it's normal and okay to worry from time to time. It's not okay if worry is stopping you from enjoying your day or giving something a go. Today we are going to learn what you can do when worry stops you from enjoying your day.


Activity 3: Understanding Anxiety (10 mins)

Display a picture of the brain.

Now anxiety feels awful and can feel scary. It can come at unexpected times and it can sometimes feel like it comes for no particular reason at all. The thing about anxiety is that it actually happens for a really good reason. Understanding that reason and understanding where it comes from can help you take control.


We are going to watch 3 short videos called 'Brain Basics' which will help us to understand anxiety.


Brain Basics: Anxiety (for kids) Part 1 - All about emotions


The brain has many parts that do all kinds of different jobs. There is the Cerebrum (suh-REE-bruhm) which has the job of helping you think and speak. There is the Cerebellum (Sair-uh-bel-uhm) which has the job of helping your muscles move so you can dance, walk, run and ride a bike. The hippocampus is at the centre of your brain. Its job is to help you store all your memories. Today we are going to learn about the Amygdala (Ah-mig-dah-la) and the Prefrontal Cortex.


Anxiety comes from the part of your brain called the Amygdala. It’s only a teeny tiny part of your brain and is shaped like an almond. The Amygdala is like a guard dog. Its job is to keep you safe. It does this by warning you when there might be something dangerous near you, just like a guard dog would.


We also all have a wise owl part of our brain called the Prefrontal Cortex that is the decision making part of our brain. That’s the part of our brain we use when we are learning. I’m hoping you are using it now! It's at the front of our brain, can you put your hands on your Prefrontal Cortex?


One thing that happens when our Amygdala, the guard dog part of our brain, switches on, our Prefrontal Cortex, the wise owl part of our brain, switches off. This makes it difficult to make good decisions. Because we need our prefrontal cortex to make decisions, to calm big feelings and to think things through.


Part 2 of 'Brain Basics' refers to the Amygdala as our Emotional Brain and our Prefrontal Cortex as our Smart Brain.Let's take a look.


Brain Basics: All about anxiety (for kids) Part 2 - Your brain

If you have anxiety it is not a sign that there is anything wrong with you! It’s a sign that you have a strong, healthy magnificent brain doing exactly what it is supposed to do. And that is keep us safe.


Remember the amygdala is all action and no thought. It’s brilliant if we are in trouble.


When your brain believes you are in danger, it prepares your body with a special body fuel. It’s called the flight or fight response and it happens to everyone. The reason why it’s called flight or fight is that that special body fuel is there to make you stronger, faster, more alert and more powerful! I like to think that it turns you into a superhero.


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? Your amygdala fuels your body to do one of 3 things: run away from the bear, fight the bear or freeze hoping the bear won’t see you. It happens automatically, the Amygdala is a doer, not a thinker. If you are in a dangerous situation, your Amygdala will give you the extra strength you need to get out of the situation. Now you can understand why anxiety is so important! Without your amygdala and without feeling like worry and anxiety, we wouldn’t be as quick or as fast to fight or flee if we were in danger!


When your brain believes you are in danger, it prepares your body to protect yourself. Pretty amazing huh?


We are now going to watch part 3 of 'Brain Basics' to learn more about the Fight or Flight response.


Brain Basics: Anxiety (for kids) Part 3 - The fight, flight and freeze responses.

When we face real situations that are scary to us or cause us to worry and when we think of situations that cause us to worry our brain senses danger! Worry tells our brain there is a danger. Then our brain tells our bodies there is a danger. Our Amygdala fuels our body with special body fuel. So when we feel worried, we feel it throughout our whole bodies!


We don’t want to get rid of anxiety. It’s an important feeling. The aim of our lesson is to better manage your anxiety so that it doesn’t stop you from trying new things and enjoying your day. And there is no danger in that.




Activity 4: The Three Parts of Anxiety (10 minutes)


Draw a Y chart on the whiteboard (Sounds like, Feels like, Looks like)


The first step towards successfully managing your anxiety is learning what it feels like, what it sounds like, and what it looks like.  We will be gathering all the clues that anxiety gives us.  Gathering the clues is important because if you can recognise anxiety, you can manage it better.


There are 3 parts of anxiety. The 3 parts of anxiety are: how anxiety thinks, how anxiety feels, and how anxiety acts or behaves.


What Does Anxiety Sound Like?


Thoughts or our thinking are different to feelings.  Thoughts are words we say to ourselves. No one can hear the talking in our heads.  We have thoughts all day long and we are the only ones that can hear those thoughts.  They happen all the time and often without us realising.  Did you know we can have up to 70,000 thoughts in just one day! That’s about 50 thoughts every minute!  Amazing huh!


Because we have thoughts all the time, we usually don’t pay attention to them.   Our thoughts are really important because they influence our feelings and our behaviour. 


Worried feelings always START WITH A WORRIED THOUGHT! These strong emotions don’t just come from nowhere.  Your amygdala is exceptionally good at doing what it does, which is keeping us safe.  Remember your amygdala switches on when it thinks there might be trouble. What counts as trouble?  Fear of being left out, being embarrassed, leaving Mum, something happening to someone you love, rejection. I am going to teach you to pay attention to these anxious thoughts because remember worry always begins with a 'worried' thought.


How does Anxiety feel?


In our last lesson, we learned that our amygdala, the guard dog in our brain prepares your body with a special body fuel.  Superhero body fuel.  The special body fuel is there to make you stronger, faster, more alert and more powerful so that you can fight or flee danger. If there is nothing to fight or flee your body has lots of body fuel that hasn’t been used and that’s the awful feelings that we get with anxiety.


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

  • Restless or fidgety?

  • Jumpy legs?

  • Big eyes, darting around

  • Like running away?

  • Breathing fast?

  • A Pounding heart?

  • Shaky?


These are all signs that your body is in flight mode.


When you are worried, scared, and anxious or shy have you ever:

  • Raised your voice?

  • Argued?

  • Clenched your hands?

  • Stamped your foot?

  • Hit someone or something?


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


By paying attention to the clues your body gives you, you can learn to manage your feelings so that you are in control of your feelings and not the other way around.  In your journal, you will be encouraged to think about how anxiety affects your body. When you are anxious, take a moment to notice the way your body reacts.  Those are your warning signs.  Think of them as your own personal heads up.


What Anxiety Looks like


Let’s move on to the last part of anxiety. Anxiety also affects your behaviour. How do you behave when you are anxious?  What do you do?  Do you avoid frightening or scary situations?  Do you bite your nails?  Do you pace up and down?  You may not be able to answer this question right now.  Next time you are anxious, think about your behaviour and record it in your journal on your worry tracker.  Your worry tracker is there to help you keep a record of your worries during the week by looking closely at the worried thoughts and feelings that are bothering you.  



Activity 5: When Worry Becomes a Problem (10 minutes)


There’s just one small problem.  Your guard dog (your amygdala) does not know the difference between a real danger or what I call a ‘what is’ and an unreal/unlikely danger or what I call a ‘what if?’


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 or a ‘what is’?

  • What would be an unreal/unlikely danger or what I like to call a ‘what if?’


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!


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 breathing. 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!


The first step to tackling your worry is to 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 to breathe. It sounds so simple – and it is! Anxiety changes our breathing rate and pattern. So instead of breathing slowly from our lungs, we begin to breathe shallow and rapid breaths from our upper lungs. Breathing exercises can help you feel calm so that you can think clearer and make better choices.

We are going to practice our hot chocolate breathing. Imagine yourself holding a warm cup of hot chocolate. Take a deep breath in through your nose breathing in the delicious smell of chocolate. Exhale through your mouth, cooling your hot chocolate. Repeat until you feel your body and mind calm.


The second step to tackling worry is to catch your 'worried' thought. Draw a picture of your worry or put your worry into words by telling an adult or friend. We talked about some of your worries at the beginning of the lesson. I want you to pick one of your worries and draw a picture of your 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.


The third step is to question the worry. What is the evidence? There are lots of questions you can ask yourself to find evidence. It’s a bit like being a detective.  You need to search for evidence and clues in order to find the truth.


  • 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?


Once you have questioned the worry the next step is to ask yourself, ‘based on the evidence, do I think it will really happen. The last step is to use Realistic Thinking. Realistic thinking is when you question your thought and change the worry thought to a calm realistic thought.  The last step is to change your worried thought to a calm thought. Can you think of a realistic calm thought to replace your 'worried' thought?


Concluding Discussion 


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. Today we learned about the brain. We also learned that worry begins with a thought that causes the feeling. This week I want you to practice standing up to any 'worry bullies'. Good luck!


Close the 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.

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