Individual, Family & Group Psychotherapy
Locations in New York & New Jersey

By RENEE JAIN, MAPP

Anxiety What If Questions

“What if I don’t get asked to the dance?”

“What if you run out of gas and can’t pick me up from school?”

“What if we get robbed?”

“What if… [insert your child’s anxious thought here]?”

If your child’s anxious, it’s likely they do something I like to call what-iffing. This is the tendency to ponder possible future scenarios and then worry about them excessively in the form of ‘what if’ questions. As a parent, you also worry excessively… about your child’s worrying. You want to ease their pain. You may try to reassure them with words, comfort them with hugs, or even yell at them in frustration. If your child is not assuaged by any of these methods, please know you are not alone. Please also know there are approaches that can help.

Here’s the thing: Humans are natural-born time travelers. We travel to the past and future on a regular basis using just our minds. In fact, research shows that 47 percent of the time, we’re actually thinking about something other than what we’re doing. I’m sure you’ve been driving somewhere and have ended up at your destination without knowing exactly how you reached there. You see, we all have an uncanny ability to wander off with our minds, but ruminating on things that have yet to happen can be troubling as studies show that we tend to overestimate the uncertainty of the future.

Don’t get me wrong; thinking about the future has value. It helps us plan and set goals. It unleashes our creativity and imagination. The flipside is that our ability to visualize the future can be so realistic that if we’re worried about something, it can activate our nervous system. So, while we are the only species on Earth thinking critically about the future, we are also the only ones who can throw ourselves into a full nervous system response from a simple thought.

In other words, what-iffing about the future can be perceived by your child as some



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