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What if my child is overwhelmed by ‘What ifs’….?

On May 27, 2020

Have you been asked ‘what if…’ a lot recently?

It’s something our brains like to do: throw out possibilities so that we feel prepared.

We start doing this from a young age so it’s quite natural to hear your kids asking ‘what if…’?

But what if it’s happening A LOT, and the number and nature of the ‘Whatifs’ are making your little one anxious?

The children’s writer Shel Silverstein observed just how these ‘Whatifs’ can get carried away:

WhatIf

Last night, while I lay thinking here,
some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
and pranced and partied all night long
and sang their same old Whatif song:
Whatif I’m dumb in school?
Whatif they’ve closed the swimming pool?
Whatif I get beat up?
Whatif there’s poison in my cup?
Whatif I start to cry?
Whatif I get sick and die?
Whatif I flunk that test?
Whatif green hair grows on my chest?
Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?
Whatif I don’t grow taller?
Whatif my head starts getting smaller?
Whatif the fish won’t bite?
Whatif the wind tears up my kite?
Whatif they start a war?
Whatif my parents get divorced?
Whatif the bus is late?
Whatif my teeth don’t grow in straight?
Whatif I tear my pants?
Whatif I never learn to dance?
Everything seems well, and then
the nighttime Whatifs strike again!

If your child is worried about something specific they’ll find it helpful to talk to you about it, so do let them say what’s on their mind. Listening, acknowledging and responding as best you can may help to ease the worry.

Then for those Whatifs that get carried away, you might like to read them this poem. Let them know it’s just what Whatifs do, and here are some things they can do with their Whatifs:

• Get the Whatifs to come up with really silly ideas – the more absurd the better:
What if I wake up tomorrow and the floor is covered in a sea of strawberry jam? What if a giant purple rabbit digs up carrots from the garden and offers to cook them for tea?

• Or positive suggestions:
What if I read my favourite book tomorrow? What if we put on the radio after breakfast and dance to whatever song comes on? What if we think of a new game to play after dinner?

• Visualise the Whatifs – what do they look like? Imagine giving them a hug and telling them it’s OK. And find them something else to do. They could watch a film, have a nap, read a book or meditate.

As grown-ups, we have our own Whatifs.

Mindfully acknowledging our worries can help to us to feel more relaxed so it can be helpful to write down what’s bothering us.

This acknowledgement then helps us to be more present at other times – less of the mind-wandering Whatifs.

Meditation can also be a wonderful Whatif-calmer or we can even comfort our Whatifs in the same way our kids can.

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