Alright, y’all, this is going to be a super short blog post – but also, I think, a super helpful one. It’s a quick intervention idea to use with students struggling with a specific anxiety.
We’ve all seen a student anxious about something where their worry is the end of the world. It’s a catastrophe. And while sometimes these worries are completely irrational (in which case, I recommend playing thought detective), sometimes they’re not. Sometimes the worry thought is possible, it’s just not super likely and/or it’s not world-ending.
In these situations, I use a “de-catastrophizing script.” Essentially it’s a set of questions that I go through with the kiddo to process their worry in a different way. It also has an element of cognitive restructuring. The intervention doesn’t get rid of the worry. Instead, it takes the edge off and lessens the intensity. It also has the benefit of reducing the student’s perseveration on it.
Here’s what you ask (after identifying the specific anxiety):
- What is the WORST case scenario? What is the scariest “what if” you’re having with this?
- What are the chances of that happening? How likely is it? Like 100% you’re positive it will happen? Or maybe more like 50/50?
- What will you do to cope if that happens? What can you do to handle it, or make it feel not as bad?
- What is the BEST case scenario? What do you most hope will happen?
- What are the chances of that happening? How likely is it?
- What you do to try and make that best case scenario happen? What elements are in your control?
- You thought about the WORST case scenario and the BEST case scenario. What do you think is the MOST LIKELY scenario?
I’ve used it with cases around separation anxiety, asking a classmate to play, friends finding out about bed wetting, and extreme anxiety (that manifested as anger) over being redirected by a teacher. I’ve also used it less formally in PDs with teachers regarding the anxiety that comes with trying new things in the classroom.
I think this intervention works in a few ways. It provides a little bit of exposure (just by talking about it) and de-sensitizes it some. It helps people feel more prepared by creating some action steps or a plan. And it provides some clarity to you (and maybe them) about the deeper meaning of the fear.
You can definitely just go through these questions verbally. Some of the kids we work with really like just sitting and talking! For some though, you may need to make it a little more hands-on. I don’t use a ton of worksheets in my counseling practice, but this is one time when it can be useful to write out each step. You could also have the student respond to the questions using figurines in a sand tray, or through drawing pictures for each step!
CBT strategies are evidence-based in helping people (including children!) work through anger, anxieties, and depressive thoughts. Worksheets make the counseling more hands-on and tangible, and many also provide important reference points for students to take home. These print-and-go CBT worksheets make doing cognitive work with elementary students easy and effective. They’re perfect for individual counseling or group counseling sessions!