Our minds are incredibly powerful. They have the ability to help us create amazing things AND they have the ability to torture us. A powerful example is worrying.
Many children experience worry – it’s a natural human phenomenon. Worry happens when we have thoughts about a potential threat or problem occurring in the future – something bad happening or going wrong.
Worry can serve a purpose when we use it to identify issues that we can prepare for; however, it can become detrimental when it leads to rumination and constant feelings of anxiety. This is why we need to help kids develop coping skills to cope with worries before they get out of hand.
The key to alleviating the worry cycle for children is to shift worry from “anxiety and rumination” to “concern and preparation.”
In this article, we share a step-by-step process you can use to help kids break the worry cycle and learn how to ease their mind (this process works for grownups too)!
The 8 steps to help kids break the worry cycle
1. First, acknowledge your worries – give them time. The more you try to resist a thought, the more it will persist. It’s like trying not to imagine a green monkey wearing an orange cowboy hat while sitting on a purple giraffe in the middle of your kitchen. You just can’t help it! One way to decrease rumination is to have your child write about or draw a picture of their thoughts.
2. Second, put boundaries around your worries. Set aside a specific time to focus on worries. This is the perfect time for your child to complete step 1 (writing/drawing about their thoughts). If another thought comes up later in the day, add it to the list. The new concern can be addressed during the allotted time the next day. The process of getting worrisome thoughts out of your head and onto paper lets the mind rest.
3. Third, change your language. Language is a very powerful tool – it creates your experience. Instead of using the word “worried,” which automatically triggers a feeling of anxiety, teach your child to use the word “concerned” followed by the word “prepared.” For example instead of saying, “I’m worried about the big test tomorrow,” your child could say, “I’m concerned about getting a good grade on the big test tomorrow. To get prepared I’m going to study the material again and if I need help, I’ll ask Mom or Dad for help.”
4. Fourth, shift your worry into action. Tell your mind what you are going to do about the situation. For each concern, help your child create a plan of action. Put their plan in writing so that each time that concern comes up they can ease their mind by reviewing the plan.
5. Fifth, focus on what you want – not on what you don’t want! Your mind is very powerful. Your thoughts trigger both your conscious mind and your subconscious mind to create what you focus on. Each time you worry, it strengthens the neural pathways in your brain about that problem. To reprogram their brain, encourage children to focus on what they want – not on what they don’t want. This will retrain the brain to help kids create more positive outcomes. Visualization and affirmations are powerful tools to help children create strong neural pathways for what they want.
6. Sixth, focus on what’s working in life, not on what’s not working. Shifting worried thoughts to thoughts of gratitude can help ease your mind and create positive energy throughout your body. Did you know that multiple research studies have shown that practicing gratitude actually creates happiness? Teaching kids about the power of positive energy and positive thoughts is essential to help them create what they want in life.
7. Seventh, look at what you can control versus what you can’t control. Like many adults, kids often worry about the “what ifs” and things outside their control. To help kids cope with worries, teach them this: If the thing you are worried about is something you can control, such as practicing shooting baskets or playing piano, then take action on that. However, if it’s is something that you have no control over, such as whether or not a new person will like you, then worrying about it only creates negative energy that doesn’t serve you.
A powerful activity is to have your child draw a large circle on a piece of paper. Inside the circle, write any worries that they DO have control over. Outside the circle, write the worries that they DO NOT have control over. For each worry inside the circle, develop a plan (step 4). For each worry outside the circle, develop a positive mantra or gratitude statement such as, “in this moment I am safe” or “I’m grateful that we are all well and staying healthy.”
8. Eighth, adopt a personal practice that can help you relax. Teach kids about the power of meditation, exercise, journaling, and drawing to help them ease their minds. A daily practice of relaxation can help neutralize the impact of worrying.
Worrying and rumination doesn’t serve anyone – it steals the beauty of the present moment and can rob kids of their happiness and potential. Helping kids learn to focus on what they can do versus things outside of their control can lead to them feeling their personal power rather than feeling like a victim of the future.
One of the greatest gifts you can give children is to teach them how to turn worry into action.
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Adventure well, my friend!
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