Helping anxious kids with decision making
Updated: May 24, 2018
Making decisions is not easy for kids at the best of times and it’s even more of a struggle for a young person with anxiety. As a Child Psychologist I understand that when you are experiencing anxiety and are under the influence of the fight and flight response, any decision feels like it’s life and death. Often children aren’t able to articulate their thoughts around their preferences, nor talk about what is worrying them when they are under pressure. My number one strategy to help in this situation is simple, but effective. It’s time for a dose of “pros and cons”. Completing a pros and cons lays out in front of you and your child the outcomes of the decision being made, it is clear in front of you both and can help to organise thoughts and feelings. Sometimes you will be able to problem solve some of the barriers, and they are no longer an influence in the decision. It’s very easy to do, but will require you taking the time to sit down with your child, take out pen and paper, and work through the table below (or similar). For young children you might draw pictures in each column, or some other symbolic representation of their thought (using figures, toys) could be used. You know your child and how they can best express their feelings.
So, how is it done? – Jamie has been invited to a sleepover at Sally's house on the weekend. She is feeling a little unsure about attending. Let’s take the question: should I go to a sleepover at Sally’s this weekend?
OUTCOME 1 - Go to the sleepover
It will be fun.
We can watch fun movies.
I might learn new things about my friend.
I might miss Mum and Dad.
I might get sad and cry.
OUTCOME 2 - Not go to the sleepover
I won’t get embarrassed if I cry.
I might make my friend sad.
I will just be staying at home, which isn’t as much fun as a sleepover.
Once all of Jamie’s thoughts are out on paper, parents can go through a supportive problem solving process and challenge ideas like :
“I might miss mum and dad” – solution – to ask Sally’s Mum if Jamie can call if she needs her parents.
It is then up to Jamie, to decide what she would like to do. Adults greatly benefit from this process as well, it’s helpful to have a systematic way to look at all of your thoughts, as when they are stuck in your head they can become a whirlwind of confusion. Managing anxiety is all about getting in control of the fight and flight response, and a pros and cons exercise will definitely helpful. Best wishes!