When an Anxious Child is Stuck with "What if" Questions (Challenge #3: Mindfulness)

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Humans are natural-born time travelers. If you’ve ever driven somewhere and ended up at your destination without remembering how you reached it, you’ve experienced this phenomenon firsthand. In fact, this ability to mentally leap into the future or fall back into the past is a unique part of the human condition. Unfortunately, time traveling for an anxious child can look like this:

“What if I don’t get home on time? I have so much homework to do. What if I can’t finish everything?”

“Is Susan mad at me? She hasn’t been returning my calls. I wonder if I did something? I wonder if she’ll call tonight?”

“That speech went well… right?”

Research shows that 47 percent of the time, we’re actually thinking about something other than what we’re doing. This time traveling goes on for half of our waking life! Don’t get me wrong, daydreaming can be a powerful way to unleash the creative mind, but ruminating on the past and wondering about an uncertain future can also provoke anxiety.

So, with all that chatter in the mind, how can help our children stay grounded and release some of their anxiety? We can teach them to go from asking What if something bad happens in the future?” toWhat is going on around me right now in the present?” with a simple exercise.

This exercise is the basis for Paper Napkin Mental Health Challenge #3: Mindfulness

  1. Have your child grab a paper napkin, and draw a grid with 6 squares. For ease, draw three vertical lines and three horizontal lines… voila… done.
  1. In each square have your child draw (yes, draw!) an image of each of the senses. Leave the last square blank.
  1. Today, any time your child’s mind goes into a What Iffing frenzy, ask them to cycle through all 5 of their senses and write a short note related to each one.
  1. Use the last empty square as a feelings tracker!

Don’t forget, after you try this exercise, teach it to someone else!

Have an anxious child? Join us at www.gozen.com

This post was originally published on PsychCentral