Many children jump to conclusions when negative situations occur, which means they think and act impulsively rather than check out possible causes of events. These automatic responses may be justified as they are in line with past events, but in reality they are the least likely explanations.
For example, a boy is walking through the school yard and he’s hit in the face by a football. He automatically thinks someone is trying to hurt him. This is more likely if he has been on the receiving end of some rough treatment in the past.
But if he stops and thinks about it the most likely scenario would be that it was merely a ball kicked out of bounce by some kids involved in a game.
Similarly, a child who waits outside a shop for his friends who are ten minutes late may jump to the wrong conclusions and think, that they have ditched her. She could easily catastrophise and think that they have schemed against her, that they tricked her into going to the shops and they were never going to meet her. They just wanted to make a fool of her. The whole situation was a set-up.
Pessimistic thinking involves this type of quick escalation into the realms of the unlikely, which can leave you feeling physically and emotionally exhausted.
If this girl were slow down and think through the options then it’s fairly clear there are number of more likely scenarios such as, they missed a bus; they were held up; no one has a watch; or they are notoriously unreliable anyway. Slowing down your thinking is a great resilience skill that we all should practise.
Parents should model this type of thinking out loud so kids see how it’s done. If you are the type of parent who instantly looks for the negative side and then builds a mountain out of a molehill in no time, learn to slow down and think through the likely options out loud so your kids can hear how it’s done.
This can be challenging as modern media a propensity to focus on worst case scenarios in many news items, normalising the notion of catastrophising.
Media grabs and headlines frequently feature worst case scenarios such as ‘The worst recession in years….’, ‘Record drought figures…….”, “Poll figures spell defeat for the government.” The propensity for highlighting the worst case rather than more likely scenarios teaches us to think the same.
The good news is we can think differently and teach our kids to do the same.