sad kid with bowl of things to control

When I think about the things that ramp up my own stress, it becomes a laundry list that can be boiled down to feeling like I have a lot of responsibility and very little control. Many children seek to control situations in order to limit the resulting change (too much change = stress). To a degree this is a good strategy, but like anything, can be taken too far and become counterproductive.

I like spectrums for their simple visual appeal, so consider the following…

Stagnancy, Stability, Novelty and Excessive Change

We all need a certain amount of both stability and novelty. Move too far toward either end, however, and you tend not to feel very good. It also becomes harder to think clearly about what you or your kids may need to get to a more comfortable place. This week’s strategy involves helping your child to assess what they can control and what they don’t.

I am not only a prolific spectrum diagrammer but a prodigious list maker. I think it is the simplicity of a list that helps me distill and clarify my thinking. Sit down with your child and make a list of the things you identify as stressors:

  • Challenging classmates/teachers
  • Demanding extra-curricular activities
  • Pressing deadlines
  • Specific family obligations

This is a very general example, but encourage your child to be as specific as they can. From there, sort each factor into 2 lists:

  • Things I control
  • Things I don’t Control

There are a couple of ways to play it from here. First, you can look at what your child doesn’t control and give them permission to not waste energy worrying. Their mind will fight it, so coming up with a mantra that they say to themselves (or heck, out loud) whenever the persistent negative thought whispers in their ear may help; “I do not control and am not responsible for the actions of others”.

Option two considers that sometimes we have more indirect control than we think. True we cannot control the actions of others, but to a degree we control our response to them. What can your child do to minimize those negative responses?

  • Mantra and walk away
  • Practice (roll play) interaction in advance
  • Plan a fun thing to do for each time they need to interact