I had a student once, who had trouble with knowing his left from right. Time and time again, when a move in his form required him to go left, he’d go right, and vice versa. This continued long after the normal time it takes to process how we move in taekwondo. We thought perhaps he had dyslexia and was undiagnosed. After seeing several specialists, it was discovered that he didn’t have dyslexia – he had severe anxiety which caused him to be unsure of himself in taekwondo and other areas of his life.
Being blessed to have been teaching taekwondo in Katy/Richmond for 9 years now, I’ve seen my fair share of students who worry excessively, also known as having anxiety, at our school. Lately, though, it seems as if I’m seeing more and more children who are worrying a lot at taekwondo as well as at school and home.
So today, I’d like to offer you 3 tips on how to help your child when they worry too much.
- Let your child know what’s going to happen, and why. We start every student out with a private orientation prior to joining group class so we can explain to them what they’ll be doing when they come out onto the floor for class for the very first time. They know what to expect, and it calms a lot of fears before a student ever steps out onto the floor. If your child gets anxious at the thought of going somewhere new or trying something different, you can conduct your own “orientation” and let them know what to expect.
- Have your child “dial their wheel of thought”. If you’ve read any of my blogs, you know I refer to this phrase from The Whole Brain Child often. Here’s why. The brain essentially has two parts – the intellectual part and the emotional part. When a child gets anxious, the emotional part of the brain takes over and intellect goes right out the door (that’s how a child goes from being mildly anxious to “the word is ending” right before your eyes). We have to work on keeping the intellectual side of the brain in charge. In other words, you have to control your thoughts – not let them control you. Let’s say, for example, your child gets anxious whenever they have a test. Before the test, sit down with them, and draw a circle. On the outside of the circle, list all of their thoughts they have about taking the test – both positive and negative. Then, add a moveable arrow to your circle. Explain to them that they get to move the arrow to whichever thought they want to focus on – and not the other way around. So, when they begin to focus on that negative thought that causes their anxiety, remind them to dial their wheel to one of their positive thoughts. We discuss this a lot with our students who have to break boards – and that by dialing their wheel of thought to the details of the technique they are using, they can get those anxious thoughts under better control. This is a great long-term strategy for dealing with anxiety – but it’s one that does take time to implement successfully.
- Let your child work things out for themselves. It’s okay to worry. Worry helps us think through things to find the best answer to our dilemma. Allowing children to work on small issues on their own not only shows them they can figure things out for themselves, but it lessens their anxiety, too. And you get a bonus on this one too: once children realize they can do things on their own, their confidence soars. So the next time your child can’t figure out the answer to a math homework problem, don’t step in and do the problem for them. Offer loving guidance on how to find the right answer (maybe even do the I do-we do-you do method I discussed in my last blog).
These three tips, when used before your child becomes anxious, can help children overcome mild anxiety. If your child has anxiety to the point that they are having frequent meltdowns, refuse to do certain activities, or have very unusual behaviors caused by their anxiety, please be sure to seek professional help. There is no shame in your game when this needs to be done. In fact, it takes a really courageous family to admit there’s an issue that’s bigger than them and seek out help.