For example, imagine a boy walking across a schoolyard when he’s hit in the face by a football. He automatically thinks someone is trying to hurt him, basing his conclusion on the fact that he has been on the receiving end of some rough treatment in the past. He is angry and starts a fight with the boy who kicked the ball, with both of them ending up in trouble.
Don’t react, hit the pause button instead
In contrast, if the boy had paused to think before reacting, he may have drawn quite a different conclusion. He might have looked at the person who kicked the ball and, knowing that boy’s general skill level, understood that the most likely scenario was that it was just an accident. In fact, the chances of the boy deliberately aiming at and successfully hitting him were very slim. He would have laughed and kept walking, or joined in the game.
Imagine a girl waiting outside a shop for her friends. They are late, and after ten minutes the girl gets annoyed, concluding that her friends have ditched her – they had tricked her into going to the shops and were never going to meet her; they just wanted to make a fool of her! She sends them an angry text message and goes home in a huff.
This is classic pessimistic thinking – the type that often spirals out of control, leaving a person feeling physically and emotionally exhausted.
If, instead of jumping to conclusions, this girl had slowed down and thought through the possibilities, she would have realised there were lots of quite reasonable scenarios causing her friends to be late. Perhaps they had missed their bus, or they got stuck in traffic. Maybe they got on the wrong bus. The buses always ran late anyway. Instead of her angry text message she could simply have sent a questioning one, wondering if her friends were okay. She could even have called them!
Resilience is a skill
Slowing down your thinking and avoiding jumping to conclusions is a great resilience skill that can be improved with practice. As a parent, you can model this type of thinking, reciting the possibilities out loud so your kids can see how it’s done. If you are the type of parent who instantly assumes the worst and builds mountains out of molehills, this practice could help you as well. (Don’t forget to do this when making judgements about your children’s behaviour too!)
It can be challenging to think rationally in our modern lives. The propensity of the media to focus on sensationalism and worst case scenarios in many news items doesn’t help – they simply normalise the practice of catastrophising. “The worst recession in years…”, “Record drought figures…”, “Poll figures spell defeat for the government” – you know, the attention-grabbing headlines.
But neither we as adults, nor our kids, need to think this way. We can think differently, reach our own conclusions, and teach our kids to do the same.