A Five Minute Writing Exercise to Help Kids Feel Less Worried and More Confident.
There are lots of things we can do to help kids calm themselves. One of the most important – and sometimes forgotten – is to help them come up with some actual words and phrases that they can repeat to themselves in times of stress. Words are powerful. Phrases which remind children that they can cope, things aren’t terrible, they have a plan and there are good things in life can be incredible calming tools for children.
Here is a 3 step guide for parents and teachers to help children develop ‘calm sentences’:
- First, find out details about the worry. Dig. Ask questions like ‘What could be the worst thing about that?’, ‘What might go wrong there?’, ‘What is the scariest thing about that?’, ‘Do you think something bad could happen with that?’ etc. Write these down on a piece of paper in front of the child.
- Then say: “Now I understand your worries, let’s think of some calm words which you can remember when you have these worries. Together we are going to think of four different types of calm sentences. Here are the four types”:
THIS IS NOT LIKELY BECAUSE…calm sentences
I CAN COPE BECAUSE… calm sentences
I HAVE A PLAN …calm sentences
SOMETHING HELPFUL TO REMEMBER IS…calm sentences
To help the child think of some NOT LIKELY sentences about their worry, ask them how many times this has happened in their life, how often it has happened to someone else, and what are things that make this unlikely. Write these answers down, for example:
This has never/rarely happened before.
This is unlikely because…
To help the child think of some I CAN COPE statements, ask the child, “Why is this not a catastrophe?”, “Why are there WORSE things that could happen, why can you cope with this?”, “Why are there some good things about this?”. Write these answers down:
I can cope with this because…
This is not the end of the world because…
To come up with I have A PLAN statements, ask the child, “If this did happen, what could you do?”, “How would you manage this?”, “What would be your next step?”. These sentences could be:
Even if this happens, I would…
If that happened, I could…
To come up with SOMETHING HELPFUL TO REMEMBER sentences, ask the child, “What else is helpful to remember about this scary thing?”, “What people are around to help you?”, “What is something positive that is happening for you?”, and “What might you learn from this situation?”. For example:
This person cares about me…
The good thing about this is….
Remember to make all of these sentences short. You are aiming for one sentence dot points – simple language that is easy for the child to say to themselves when they are worried.
- Once you have your list of calm sentences, ask your child to put them in a place they can see them. Ask the child to read them out before worrying situations. Ask the child to read them before bed. Get them to draw a picture next to each one.
Worried kids have worried thoughts. We need to help them add in another perspective. This is an exercise that does that, and it can make a big difference to children’s wellbeing.
By Kirrilie Smout, Clinical Psychologist Specialising in supporting Kids and Teens
Kirrilie helps kids and teens develop resilience, cope better, stay calm and get through tough times. More information, free articles and resources for teachers and parents can be found at www.developingminds.net.au