“But mummy, I’ll never be able do it! I’m not good enough! The other kids will laugh at me!”
Sound familiar? Unfortunately, too many parents would say yes. And it seems younger and younger our children are becoming negative, anxious and even strung out. Perceived pressures, particularly by girls, to perform academically, fit in with the crowd and look ‘the part’ can overwhelm their young brains.
Worrying is a natural part of life. In evolutionary terms, it was a survival mechanism to help our early human ancestors prepare for what could be of danger and, you know, kill them. It is hard wired into our brains to be alert to what could go wrong. But that doesn’t mean we have to let anxieties rule the internal roost.
Despite the fact that some kids (and adults!) are natural worriers, there are strategies that can help them keep the calm. Consistent practice of any of these five simple strategies will help retrain the brain to see the good rather than the bad. And regular practice of all five will not only help build calm but build a foundation of self-belief that in turn transforms the brain from anxious to awesome.
Let it Out
Our brain can be our best friend but also our worst enemy. Once it begins down the path of negativity and worry it often likes to continue down that route, and rather than amble it seems to enjoy it at a run! But one of the most powerful ways to reroute these thoughts is to show them the exit door. That is, take them from thoughts to words and let them out.
Let your child share their worries with you, in as much detail as possible. Don’t judge the extent of the concerns - however unlikely they sound to you they feel real to him or her. Work through possible solutions to the problem (but let them lead the discussion), or help create a plan for tackling the situation if and when it does arise.
Fear the Best
Okay, so fear may not the best word here, but the point is instead of preparing for the worst possible outcome (or fearing the worst), we can help our kids prepare themselves for the best possible outcome. Either way, we can’t really predict the future but we can prepare our minds for the future we want.
Next time your child lets you know they’re worried about something coming up, let them tell you about it but then ask ‘and what would you prefer to happen?’. Help them paint a clear picture of what the better outcome would be – what happens? Who is there? What is going on around the situation? Where is it happening? What is said?
For a bit of added effective fun, try and role play the situation together. It can even be helpful to act out the worst possible scenario as well (feel free to get silly or over dramatic with it!) but is important for your daughter or son to think about and experience a positive potential outcome to the situation.
Our breath is an often underrated power tool - the impact of a few deep breaths can be quite astounding. If your child is acting physically anxious, or you can tell that worries are on the way, encourage them to take a calming time out. Have them sit somewhere comfortable, close eyes, take three deep, slow breaths and slowly count from one to four then from four to one a few times.
If you hear your daughter putting herself down, or can just see that your son is thinking himself down, help them practice the positive. Phrases like ‘I’ll never be able to…’, ‘I’m the worst at…’, ‘I’m completely hopeless at…’ are simply not helpful. Fortunately, our brains do like to feel the positive so it allows some little loop holes to help us do so.
Did you know that just thinking about positive experiences actually helps us feel more positive and confident? Well, it’s true and you can help reduce anxiety and boost confidence by letting your child know it, too. Simply start by helping them remember the specific things she or he can do, is good at, has achieved. Courage and bravery cannot exist without at least a bit of anxiety, so reinforce to your child that they are already brave not only because of their bigger achievements but because of all the little times they’ve been worried or afraid but managed to go on anyway.
Shake it Off
As a wise man once said ‘A little less conversation, a little more action’. Sometimes, kids don’t want to talk about what’s going on with them. Or sometimes they just need a little distraction before feeling comfortable to share, so going for a walk, helping unpack the groceries, kicking a ball in the backyard or just cranking up the volume and having a good dance are all great distractions that also get the blood flowing. Exercise is one of the best ways to release endorphins (one of the fab four ‘happy hormones’ and if the brain is busy releasing endorphins it can’t be so busy building up worries, so double win!