How to calm the little hamster in the minds of our children?

Just like adults, children also ruminate from time to time. How to help them? Advice from Nicolas Chevrier, psychologist.

This is a question I get asked a lot, and even a little more during the pandemic. “Why does it feel like I have a little hamster running around in my head, causing me so much anxiety? »

A very simple and perfectly normal question. Why? Because it happens to all of us from time to time. This is called rumination. Yes, yes, he thinks like a cow. In the case of a cow, this is hay, which she chews several times. For us, these are thoughts that we will paraphrase.

For example, we think about an unknown situation over which we have little control, as in the case of a pandemic. However, uncertainty can cause great anxiety.

When we think about it, we get the impression that we are giving ourselves control over the situation. Indeed, at first this is partly true. But, rather quickly, we leave productive reflection (reflection in the mode of solving the problem) and fall into circular reflection (reflection in the mode of reflection). The only purpose of thinking is to create a false sense of control: “even if it means not having control over the situation, at least I think about it…” This is not true, because control over uncertainty is… not possible!

Children also think

Children have the same reflexes. When faced with a situation over which they have little to no control, they tend to use their hamster to relieve anxiety, but this solution does not work.

So what is the best way to help our child not use a hamster?

First let’s help him determine the moments when he reflects, and the object of reflection. What thoughts are present at this moment? Is he able to identify a problem or situation that requires thought to solve it?

For example, if his thoughts are turned to Maxim, who often calls him a “child” in the presence of friends, then we help the child find a solution to the problem: identify adults who can intervene, teach the child to respond firmly to Maxim. , sign him up for sports activities that will increase his physical confidence (for example, martial arts help achieve this goal), etc. Thus, he defines behavior that gives him real control over the situation. Once the plan is in place, it reinforces the idea that nothing more can be done.

Then we call him tolerate anxiety that may be caused by a possible situation. It is important that our child understands that anxiety is normal and that when the situation is over, this anxiety will disappear.

Then he should ask himself the following question: can i do something, right now, about a situation that is causing me concern? If the answer is yes, then I’m in problem-solving mode. If the answer is no, then I must endure anxiety without falling into the trap of thinking. »

We can then ask our child what actions that allow him not to think too much about the situation : draw, make lego, play a game with his brothers? Distracting yourself before the event happens is a good strategy to help him better deal with uncertainty.

We can also help develop realistic internal dialogue facing future situations: “No matter what the situation is, I know I can handle it when it comes up. If it is a situation that requires adult help, then I can ask for help from my dad, mom, Aunt Julie, Uncle Cedric, Liam, my older brother, my teacher, etc. or even “when I talk about my anxiety to people around me, they can help me determine the right steps. »

Finally, it is important to have open dialogue about anxiety with our child. If we can talk about a hamster and signal its presence when it peeks out, our child has already taken a big step in developing healthy anxiety management. Then it remains, like any skill that we develop, to practice again and again …


December 17, 2020

Photo: GettyImages/Juanmonino

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