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By: Sixth Grade Teacher Leslie Stallone-Levitan
As a former anxiety-ridden small child who would hyperventilate at the thought of potentially seeing a classmate in public, I have always been interested in learning new tools to give students for managing their worries.
In the book Superpowered, authors Reena Jain and Dr. Shefali Tsabary offer kids practical ways to transform anxiety into positive stuff, like bravery, excitement and resilience.
When children think about the future, they start experiencing what the book refers to as, “what-ifs.” “What if I bomb the audition?” “What if I get a bad grade on my test?” “What if I don’t make the soccer team?” As adults, we know it can sometimes be tough to get off this hamster wheel of worry. It can be all-consuming and cause us to feel stuck. Imagine what it’s like for kiddos! This book offers practical exercises to help keep them grounded and in the present moment.
First, we’ll take the what-if, “What if I don’t get a good grade?” While the worry is a common one, it’s the ending kids construct that can really help or hurt them. An unrealistic, nonproductive ending might be: “I might not pass the class. Then I might get rejected from the school of my choice. Then I might not get a good job…” Thoughts like this defeat the kid before they’ve even begun!
When a kid is spiraling in this way, it gives us, the parents and teachers, an opportunity to step in and help them form a more realistic, productive ending.
So to the what-if, “What if I don’t get a good grade?”, we could respond with, “I’ll study more or get a tutor.” Or “I know that grades are just feedback on things I’m still learning.” Or “It feels bad at the moment, but I know this feeling will pass.” These endings are grounding and remind the child that they are in control of their situation.
Second, we can teach the kids a strategy the book refers to as “if/then.” It’s an easy and fast way for kids to make a mental plan that will chop their worry off at the knees. The first step is to have your child write down their what-if. (I encourage kids to have a designated notebook for this, so they have a protected space to work out their worries).
Let’s say the child writes, “What if I raise my hand and say the wrong answer and everyone laughs?” You would then help them carve it into an “if/then” statement. It might look something like this:
IF I raise my hand and get the wrong answer and everyone laughs…
THEN I’ll laugh along with them and remember that making mistakes helps my brain grow and we all make mistakes.
I love this strategy, because it gives kids a plan of action — something concrete that can guide them when they encounter or engage in the situation.
As an adult, I constantly get caught up in chaotic what-ifs spirals. But when I manage them by crafting realistic endings and “if/then” statements, I feel like I’m able to take back control and remain focused on the present.
Rossman School, nestled on a 20-acre campus in St. Louis, is a private preparatory school for students in Junior Kindergarten (four years old) through Grade 6. The school’s mission is to provide a strong, well-balanced education in a nurturing school community committed to excellence. Dedicated to developing personal, nurturing relationships with each child, Rossman’s experienced educators provide a solid foundation in academics, athletics and arts while emphasizing strong character development and leadership skills. Request a free Rossman School brochure here.