Many years ago, a delightful woman who was a patient in one of my groups looked at an anguished man as he was talking and commented, “Ya know, sometimes we have more on our mind than we have a mind for.” Wow! How memorable, simple, yet elegantly put. To this day I still refer to this phrase as my Alice-ism. So, how do we help our kids keep their cool when they have more on their mind?
Of course, whenever you notice an emotional fever spike, your go-to response is to active listen. When your empathy helps his emotional fever drop, and he is ready to listen, then you ask permission. “Son, I have some thoughts about what you are saying. Do you want to hear them? All kids are impressed by being asked permission and much more receptive to your wise counsel.
Also, if you are noticing a pattern over time, bring that to his attention. “Son, you’ve been freaking out about upcoming tests all semester. Is all that worry a problem? Rule of thumb, if what you are noticing has occurred for 6-8 weeks or less, it’s probably a mood. More than 6-8 weeks, it might be a symptom.
To help your child keep his cool, offer two tips. First, worry comes in only two forms, constructive worry and destructive worry. The first form is worry about things over which you have control. If I want to do well on my vocabulary test tomorrow, that constructive worry will encourage me to study my words until I know the definitions cold.
The second form, destructive worry, is worry about things over which you have no control. If I’m hearing the news on my iPod and the world is heating up toward thermonuclear war, I have no control over that. I also have no control over my teacher’s mood, or whether my girlfriend is thinking of dumping me or not.
Research shows that about 80% of our worry is destructive. Only 20% of our worry is constructive. What to do? When you find yourself in the lock of constructive worry, do something about it. Get busy and calm yourself through productive activity to ease your worry. When you find yourself in the lock of destructive worry, give it up. Take it to the Lord in prayer and be calmed by His assurance that He has it all in hand. Constructive worry is something they have enough mind for. Helping your child figure out what kind of worry is upsetting him will help him keep his cool.
What to do? What to do? Did I say that right? What does he/she think of me? What if I don't get the job? We all do a whole lotta worry. What does it get us? Wrinkles, ulcers, stress, and missed opportunities. All of our worry can be boiled down into two categories --- Constructive Worry and Destructive Worry.
Constructive worry is worry about those things over which you have control. Do you want to do your best on your presentation tomorrow? Practice it tonight. Destructive worry is worry about those things over which you have no control. Is your picnic in the park going to be rained out tomorrow? You have no control over the weather (but you can make alternative plans just in case).
Generally, about 20% of our worry is constructive and 80% is destructive. Do what you can to address your constructive worry. For the destructive worry? With faith, you can give it to God. He's got the big picture. He'll take care of it.
When the "what ifs" get you, take a deep breath and turn the "what if" into an "I wonder." "What if" generates tightness, muscle constriction, high blood pressure. "I wonder" generates curiosity, muscle expansion, and calm assurance. Add a presuppositional phrase (or positive outcome) to your "I wonder" and your worry becomes a hopeful anticipation that can direct your energies. "What if I fail the math test tomorrow?" becomes, "I wonder how well I will do on the math test tomorrow."
In Chapter Eight of my book, Teachable Moments: Building Blocks of Christian Parenting, I explain in detail how to focus on constructive worry and turn "what ifs" into "I wonders." So, don't worry so much.