How To Use ‘What If’ On Kids Correctly?

What if I've made the wrong decision?

What if we didn't have kids?

What if we eat pizza rather than Chinese food?

What if we had a son instead of a daughter?

What if we save more money?

"What if" is a question that we commonly use in our daily lives, but because we often ask it unconsciously, we don't usually notice it. For instance, in the back of your mind, you might ask yourself, "What if I do this instead of that?" or "What if I take this direction rather than the other?"

Effects of "What If" Questions

In coaching, "what if" is actually seen as a very powerful tool to get a client out of a "stuck state." Asking it consciously opens up bigger possibilities and might even bring a person to an AHA moment. Utilizing the "what if" thinking allows us to maximize the present while securing the future.

However, asking "what if" incorrectly can become a limiting belief that keeps you from moving forward. "What if I make a blunder" and "what if I say the wrong thing" are two examples of questions that can hold you back instead of help you move ahead.

The question is so powerful that it can build you up when used positively, but it can also create damage when asked in a negative context. In particular, "what if" questions can make kids with different levels of anxiety worry or fear more. Questions like the following can keep them from being the best they can be:

  • What if I hurt myself doing this?
  • What if he doesn't like me?
  • What if I give it my best but I don't win?
  • What if I put in a lot of effort but only get the same result?
  • What if I fail?

This type of questions can prevent your child from taking action. It would be best to bring the question out in the conscious level rather than let it eat away at the back of their mind, and reword it in a more positive or neutral way.

For instance, the question "What if I hurt myself doing this?" can be shortened to "What if I do this?" This opens up the possibilities of experiencing something new, enjoying himself and, yes, maybe even getting hurt and learning in the process. The second question above can be reworded to "What if I just go ahead and introduce myself?" and the last one can be reworded to "What if I try?"

Outcomes of "What If"

As parents, we need to be aware that "what if" can have three outcomes. Let us imagine Anne asking herself, "What if I ask Mary to play with me?"

1. What If --> Positive Scenario --> Moves you forward

In the best case scenario, Mary and Anne become good friends. This builds Anne's confidence, it improves her social life, and she learns that making friends is not so hard.

2. What If --> Negative Scenario --> Stops you or moves you backward, makes you regret

In the worst case scenario, Mary turns down Anne's invitation. This then results in Anne feeling rejected and upset, and she loses confidence in herself.

2. What If --> Neutral Way --> Ecology Check

The most likely scenario is that Mary accepts Anne's invitation. They play together, and what happens after depends on how well they get along.

In other words, asking "what if" in different scenarios can produce different results. Here are other examples:

Situation Best Case Scenario Worst Case Scenario Most Likely Outcome
What if I ask them if I can join the game? You eventually become the best player and the other kids marvel at your skills. The other kids say no and you feel dejected. The other kids let you join.
What if I audition for the play? You land the major role. You don’t make the cut and you feel embarrassed. You gain a new experience and learn something from it.
What if I draw this idea? You draw your idea accurately. Your drawing is not what you want it to be. You produce a good-enough representation of your idea.

Now that you’re conscious about how "what if" plays on the mind and body, you can pay more attention to your kid's behavior and see if they’re using the question to move forward or to not take action. You can also help them use the question more intentionally – to bring it to the conscious level – so they can be aware if it is preventing them from reaching their goals.

About the Author Tammy Seay

I believe our kids are the key to the future of the world and, as parents, we have a lot of influence while our children are still learning and growing. We set ourselves as our kids’ role models. Consciously and unconsciously, we pass on to them what we know, what we believe, and what we value. This is why partnering with parents in teaching life lessons and soft skills to get kids prepared for the world has become my key purpose in life. I hope that through my experience in teaching communications in university and in NLP training and coaching, I’ll be able to equip you with more tangible methods so that you can be your children’s life teacher, too!

follow me on:

Leave a Comment: