In some form or other most of us have noticed ourselves responding to a mild worry and amplifying it to a critical level. Life as a new parent can feel horrendously unpredictable and our usual resourcefulness can elude us, making it seem as though we are firefighting rather than coping. This learnt behaviour can make us feel primed to swiftly escalate a small concern into something greater, something more alarming. We can feel in its grip, keeping us from a more useful perspective.
I was recently reminded while washing up (where most insights seemed to spring from) of the time when there was a concern about my daughter’s eating habits. She wasn’t so much a picky eater but wouldn’t eat too much beyond plain coloured foods. The incongruity to this was that dishes and platefuls of homemade food were normal at dinnertime and her brothers were (and still are) ravenous eaters. Yet she displayed a far more reluctant approach to eating. Bearing in mind that she was all but 5 years old this was unlikely to be related to peer pressure or perceptions of beauty on TV – if this was the case she would surely have resembled either Tinky-winky or Laa-Laa.
Nonetheless there was a real worry and, not wishing to overly draw attention to a problem when there may be none, some medical advise was sort. What came back was heartening and really the point behind this piece.
It was suggested to not look at what she ate day to day, but rather over the week. To not focus on each meal but see what her diet was like over a period of time. Rather than macro worry about her eating habit, take a step back and look at her overall health and what she was eating.
We can get overly anxious and concerned about these worries that we lose the bigger picture. It’s as if we are walking down the street only looking at the splits and cracks immediately in front of us. And the more we stare at the street, we can get a little obsessive about the cracks to the point that you fear looking up.
I know that I have to stop myself from boarding the “What if this means that” train and check in to make sure that I’m not giving this more oxygen than it deserves.
We can often get caught up in the day to day behaviours of our children and prone to amplifying and, at times, catastrophising, them. I know that I have to stop myself from boarding the “What if this means that” train and check in to make sure that I’m not giving this more oxygen than it deserves. In addition that I’m not steamrolling in to something that is a useful learning for my child (see Help Your Child Resolve Social Problems and Conflicts and Help Your Child Understand the Consequences of their Actions for more on this).
Our children are so deeply precious to us and we take such concern for their wellbeing we can often forget that a little distance, a little perspective, can go a long way to calm our concerns and allay our fears.
If you feel that you get yourself in this mindset, here are some suggestions that can help break that thinking and give you some distance. You might also enjoy reading Overthinking: How to Defeat it and Get Some Freedom if you feel that you also need some ideas on how to some of that negative self-talk we can often find ourselves in.
Get to the core of what’s lurking behind fears and, with a little persistence, you may be able to uncover something that you can take some tangible action over.
These questions will also help you get to the heart of what is bothering you. They can get to the core of what’s lurking behind the fears. And, with a little persistence, you may be able to uncover something that you can quiet easily resolve.
Start by asking: What is it that I’m presuming will happen?
then: In order for this to be true, what do I have to believe?
You’ve noticed that you believe ‘x’ to be true. At this point you can then challenge that belief: Based on my experience, is it reasonable to hang on to these beliefs?
Your answers will put you in a better position to improve how you manage and communicate those feelings.
Let’s look at an example.
Your child runs down the street. You shout, “Don’t run!”.
What is it that you’re presuming will happen?
That they may run into the road and get hit by a car.
It’s reasonable to assume then that there are some initial points that you’re believing to be true:
I’ve highlighted the key words in these phrases so you can see clearly how the language is influencing the behaviour.
Applying then the last question, is it reasonable to hold these beliefs?
From your experience, from your knowledge, how reasonable is it to hold these truths? Here you consider what you ‘know’ not what you fear. This allows you to draw on your legitimate experience to help form a new response. These questions will give you the choice to deescalate that fear so you can handle it in a different, more useful way.
Taking the example above, perhaps the child can run but told to wait to cross the road. Or, to explain how best to cross the street safely. There are a myriad of ways this situation is managed. All of which helps to reduce anxiety and better educate the child, who, after all, is the one whom we want to protect. You may enjoy reading 5 Top Tips for Persuading Kids to do What YOU Want or How to Win/Win Arguments for suggestions on how to improve communicating with your child.
By all means, when there are prevalent concerns, waiting may not be the appropriate response, so choose diligently and wisely – is there a reason to be worried? Or in fact do I need to breath and take a step back?
Let me know in the comments what has worked for you. What techniques do you use to reduce that overreaction? And also what hasn’t worked for you?
As ever I love to hear your thoughts and ideas. Please feel free to share this with anyone if you think they might enjoy or benefit from this article.
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Ben Jackson is a registered counsellor, coach, and lecturer with nearly 10 years of professional experience. He helps clients with stress and anxiety, anger management, self esteem, confidence, and depression.