monster holding a kid

At this point in the school year my grade eight students are filling out their course selections for high school, for the first time. Many of them are really excited and would be happy to jump ship right now. Others, however, start to become preoccupied with the scary ‘what ifs’ that come with any new situation.

One of my colleagues, Alex Derry, has a great strategy she uses with her grade six students. When she told me about it, I decided to try it out on my 8’s. She has been kind enough to let me share it here.

She has her kids write down what they are worried about. They then write down their worst feared outcome, followed by their best imagined outcome, realistic or not. Once the worst is down on paper, it is easier to look at it objectively. Fears that live in our brains roll around like snowballs, getting bigger and bigger, feeding off of our emotions. Once they are expelled onto paper, they lose some of their emotional charge, or rather we are able to move away from a purely emotional state to a more logical thinking state. It becomes easier to see how the worst outcome is quite unlikely. The kids can help each other articulate why the worst case scenario is not logical. Similarly, the best possible outcome is also usually unlikely, but then the kids know that already.

The final step is to help them come up with a most or at least more likely middle ground end result. I like spectrums, so I get them to draw it out.

Break it down

Worry: ‘I won’t have any friends in high school’

Worst Possible

Everyone will have me and will be alone for the rest of my life.

More Likely

I will make friends again and it might take a bit of time.

Best Possible

I will become the most popular person in school and my life will be perfect.

Having them break down a rationale for each scenario will help them internalize the logic rather than the irrational fear.

Worst Possible

People won’t hate me for no reason. Lots of us are in the same situation and are as scared as I am.

More Likely

I have moved schools before and this is how it worked. I survived and found my place then, and I will again.

Best Possible

Popularity is subjective. Having a smaller group who make me feel supported is what will really help.

I love strategies that force our darker thoughts; our ‘what ifs’ into the light. Once they are out of our heads, they can no longer feed on our emotional vulnerability. Forced into words on a paper, they lose some of their power and are much easier to tame with logic. Thank you Alex.