As parents, we teach how to curb overthinking in our kids. Overthinking focuses on past mistakes and/or focuses on the future potential for more. Thus, helping our kids manage thoughts and emotions holds significant power as a life skill required for success.
Let’s face facts, we know as adults, when anxiety or worry sets in, overthinking is a common culprit. You know this mental loop. You have done it. You get fixated on something in the past you wish you could have done differently or you ‘what if’ about the future and the negative scenarios that could materialize.
Quick ways to help kids stop overthinking
- Have a distraction list ready— Sit down with your child and create a list of things he or she loves to do. These can be quick things such as going for a bike ride, listening to a favorite song, and prayer. It can include new activities such as cleaning, helping in the yard, painting, and crafting. Or it can involve going somewhere: Grandma’s house, the park, a favorite store, to a friend’s home.
- Give 2 or 3 choices— When you provide a few choices, less chaos and overwhelm occurs. Provide the two best options and then let your child decide.‘Jimmy, you can choose the green cleats or black cleats, which ones do you want?’
‘Maddie, we can do our daily homework check-in now or at 5:30, which would you prefer?’
- Sit at the kitchen table until calm—If your child is ‘freaking out,’ then give some time to regain emotional control before discussing and solving problems. Do not engage in conversation while your athlete is emotionally out of control. This does not go well and overthinking continues.
Stay in emotional control yourself
You need to stay calm yourself for this to work well. Calmly speak to your child to sit at the kitchen table until he or she is ready to talk. If any screaming or crying continues after instructing them to sit, then steadily repeat without telling them to ‘calm down,’ Rather, indicate ‘Please sit at the kitchen table and when you are ready, then we can talk. You are not ready yet.’
- Journal and question thoughts – Sit down with your child and write down the thoughts being expressed or internalized during their overthinking episode. Next, show them how to examine their thoughts by asking simple questions.
- Is that really true?
- Am I assuming that or do I know for certain?
- Where is my focus, on myself or others?
- What do I want I am not getting?
- Do I control this situation or person?
- Set a timer – Sometimes, our kids just need permission to let their emotions out when overthinking. Set a timer for 10 minutes, and allow them to cry, scream, hit a pillow, ‘freak out’ without damaging self, others, or property. Once the timer goes off, then tell them it is time to stand up and deal with the situation. Discuss, listen, and then assist them solve the problem or conflict using their ideas.
Bottom line, normalize getting fixated on something or a situation. Then guide your athlete to appropriately work through overthinking in a timely manner to find their one or two next steps of action.
Parenting athletes is hard work. There's an entirely new and different set of dynamics at work. You have to be mom, dad, or mom and dad, coach, counselor, EMT, equipment manager, engineer, and seamstress all before dinner! You're not alone and maybe, just maybe, we can help each other navigate this never-ending path to glory. Hey, what's your biggest challenge with your athlete?