There’s plenty of anxiety to go around these days, and unfortunately, it’s not only reserved for the grown-ups in the home. Kids can get anxious in even the best of times, let alone when they’re stuck at home in the middle of a pandemic, distanced from their friends and trying to keep up with their virtual school work. These are anxious times.
Stuart Fitzwilliam, creator of Imaginhero—a visualisation therapy tool that helps kids manage anxiety—writes for Medium that when your child becomes anxious, you can teach them to say, “My brain is responding to something it doesn’t like, and it’s freaking out.” And then, introduce them to the Wet Cat Brain technique:
Point out that cats get freaked out, too. Cats are always walking around looking like they have everything together (that’s why we have the phrase ‘cool cats’, right?). But even they have anxiety. Ask your child, do you know the one time you’ll always see an anxious cat?
When it’s a wet cat. A wet cat is never calm and collected. A wet cat is a freaked out cat.
And that’s what you have now. You have Wet Cat Brain.
A wet cat doesn’t just feel anxiety. A wet cat resonates anxiety. Is it logical? Is it rational? Not as far as I can tell, but it’s very, very real, as anyone who has ever seen a wet cat can attest. I just looked at a LOT of stock photos of wet cats and man are they haunting:
Fitzwilliam suggests walking your anxious child through a visualisation exercise that will help calm both the imaginary wet cat and your child’s brain. First, tell them to imagine picking up the wet cat. (He doesn’t say to wrap it in a soft, fluffy towel, but I think it would be a nice touch. Wet cat is cold.)
If you have a cat, perhaps they can visualise that one; if you don’t, they can imagine helping this sweet, sad little kitten:
Next, Fitzwilliam writes, imagine petting the freaked-out cat:
Stroke between its ears and down its neck. Stroke its back. Stroke its sides. Imagine you keep stroking the cat, feeling its soft fur beneath your fingers. Each time your hand passes along the cat you brush off a little water. With each stroke, the cat gets just a little bit drier, and just a little bit calmer.
As you feel the soft fur around your fingers, and the warmth of the cat beneath your palm, you can feel the cat becoming calm and you can feel your brain becoming calm.
As the cat begins to calm down, so, too, will your child’s anxious brain.