We’re living in unsettling times – especially for kids. It’s alarming that one in seven young people aged 4 to 17 years experience a mental health condition in any given year. And that’s before the fires, floods and now COVID-19 that have gripped Australia this year. That statistic is likely to be much higher now.
My two young daughters are part of these statistics, both having gone through different episodes of severe anxiety and counselling. One due to an anxious personality that had intensified to unhealthy levels. The other due to a school bomb scare that had rocked her confidence and resilience.
It’s hard to watch as a parent. And hard to know what to do. They were both quite young at the time, and there were limited resources such as a picture book that would help make it easier to start up a conversation around what they were feeling. For me, there was also another layer to dealing with their worries and anxiety. I was also going through a period of severe anxiety myself.
This sounds strange but in a way that was a blessing, as I knew how important getting professional support was. And how important it was to speak up about these worries. Like many men, I covered up what I was going through for many years and saw the negative impact of this on myself and my family. Our kids wellbeing is too important not to help them talk about their worries and if required, seek the additional help of experts.
There should be no stigma attached to this, and it’s getting better especially with the heightened awareness around mental health for all ages. But believe me, it’s still a difficult subject to talk about.
So when my own severe anxiety led me to leaving my own business for a period of time, I decided to do something positive and write a picture book for kids dealing with worries.
I’d been a copywriter for over 25 years but have always written professionally for clients, never for myself. I had always wanted to write a picture book since reading to my two daughters, but never had the energy or space to do it. Ironically, it took me to take time off due to the anxiety to finally get down to writing my first picture book, titled Why Worry Wally?
It’s a pretty heavy subject for 4-8 year olds. I know. It’s why I used rhyme and humour to create a story that is first and foremost fun and engaging, and appeals as much to parents as it does to kids. And why I also teamed up with long-time friend and international artist/illustrator Jackie Case who added her own beautifully quirky style to the book.
My aim was to use Wally and his worries to normalise anxiety and act as a positive conversation-starter for children and their parents around the subject. It’s important that kids feel like they are not alone or weird for having these thoughts, and that there’s things they can do that can help. Like simply talking about their worries – with a parent, a friend, a teacher, or a doctor. Thinking positive thoughts. Or breathing and exercising.
As you can tell I’m extremely passionate about kids health and wellbeing. It’s why I decided to self-publish Why Worry Wally?, and align the book with Kids Helpline so that a percentage of profits from every sale will be donated to this amazing organisation. By doing this my hope is that Why Worry Wally? has a life outside of the pages through the impact it can have on kids lives. I’m also planning to design a program for schools where the book can be used by students and teachers to talk about worries and ways to deal with them.
Yes, it is an unsettling time for kids, and for all of us. But we shouldn’t hide away from this. The more we can open up conversations around mental health challenges and the way we’re feeling, the better off we all will be. I’ve seen first hand the importance of making kids feel they can talk openly about their worries, and I’d love Why Worry Wally? to play a part in helping with this.
If you’d like to purchase a copy of Why Worry Wally? and support the work of Kids Helpline, please go to: https://www.rickfoster.com.au/why-worry-wally
If you need to talk to someone there are many organisations ready to help:
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 18 00
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 46 36
The Carousel would like to thank Rick Foster for his article.