So many kids allow themselves to miss out on life because they let worry thoughts get in the way.
If your child is predisposed to worrying about the future – and they let this worry stop them from participating in something fun – then help them turn their negative thoughts into positive ones. The goal here is to help them use these positive thoughts as a way to give them courage to follow through on the activities that they’re tempted to skip.
You’ll have to go through all 4 steps with your child at first, but once they see that this technique works, then they’ll begin using this technique in their own. This is a technique that they can use throughout their lives to give them a little extra courage to start new things.
Step 1: Help your child identify the worry thought. Have them say it aloud. A lot of times, this reduces the “scariness” of the worry thought. Help them get that thought from out of their heads and into reality.
If your child is having a tough time verbalizing the thought, ask a few questions to see if you can guess what the worry thought is. Say it aloud and ask them, “Does this sound like what you’re saying in your head?” You can follow up with a clarifying question such as, “How can I say this so it’s EXACTLY like what you are saying in your head?”
Step 2: Don’t judge the worry thought or try to rationalize it. Kids just shut down when parents try to do this. Your child is feeling emotional, so acknowledge what they are feeling. This will help you connect with your child and they will feel more open to listening to your problem solving in step 4.
For more on connecting with your child using positive parent-child communication read THIS ARTICLE.
Step 3: Help them come up with 2 or 3 opposite, positive thoughts. Many times, anxious kids are spending so much cognitive capacity on their worry thought that they just don’t have any brain power left to see other, more positive ways about the situation. Challenge your child to come up with opposite thoughts, even if they don’t believe them. If they have trouble starting, then come up with one for them, but have them try to come up with one themselves.
Helping your child create 2-3 opposite, positive thoughts is a good way to help them learn how to do this in the future when you are not there to help them. Sometimes we get stuck only looking at the negative side of things, so this is a good exercise to get kids to see that life is filled with both good and bad.
Step 4: Help them practice it like a mantra. The last step is to have your child pick one of the phrases that was created in step 3. Say this phrase with your child over and over together. Challenge them to say it in their heads.
The goal is to have your child repeat this new phrase in their heads like a mantra when they start to get anxious in a situation. You want them to use this phrase as a way to give them courage to get through the situation that is making them anxious.
Here’s an example about how this technique works.
Let’s say that a young boy doesn’t want to go to his first day of the new weekend soccer team the next day – even though he LOVES playing soccer.
His Mom asks him to say what he is worrying about out loud. He says, “I don’t know the kids and they won’t like me.”
Mom asks her son to come up with 3 opposite thoughts. He has difficulty coming up with one, so Mom suggests, “Once the kids get to know me, they’ll like me.” She challenges her son to come up with 2 more statements. He comes up with, “If I wear my Spider Man shirt and the ones who like Spider Man will like me, “ and “I was scared of meeting David too, but now we’re best friends.”
Mom asks her son to pick out a phrase to use as a weapon to help him be brave during soccer practice tomorrow. He chooses, “Once they get to know me, they’ll like me.” Mom and son practice saying this over and over.
The next day, the little boy is still pretty anxious about starting his new soccer team, but Mom encourages him to say his phrase. During the first part of the soccer practice, he remembers to say his phrase, but after a while he forgets to say it because he’s distracted by all the fun he’s having.
Take Home Message
Anxiety doesn’t have to rob your child of great life experiences. Help them get through an anxious situation by using this easy technique.
As a child psychologist, I’ve taught this technique to many child clients. I know it works! It’s super helpful for kids who tend to be a little anxious and withdrawn.
If your child suffers from more extreme anxiety (where they verge on panic attacks), then you’ll want to learn about a more in-depth technique that I’ve also used successfully with y child clients. You can read all about that technique HERE.