What do children worry about?

It wasn’t until my late twenties that I realized all I had been missing. For years I avoided experiences I feared I wouldn’t be “good enough” at and that my identity as someone who was “good at everything” would crumble if I tried something and failed.

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I would like to say that there was a time when I didn’t worry. I wish I could say that I lived my childhood with all the liberty to express myself freely and didn’t worry about what others thought, but it isn’t true. If I ever did feel that way, I lost that feeling pretty early on.

This explains why, as a kid, I avoided sports. I was worried I wouldn’t be any good, and that the other children would laugh at me. I gave up drawing after second grade because it was too easy to feel like a failure. So I stuck with the things that supported my “good at everything” persona—acting, singing, dancing—and avoided everything that required me to fail before I got good.

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With time, though, I even started to worry about the things I was good at, plagued by the feeling of not being “good enough.” I stopped acting. I sang less. I still danced sometimes.

In my late twenties I watched friends who looked at life through a different lens grow up to have interesting careers centered around their passions. Though they might have had the same insecurities as I did, they seemed to carry something else with them as well—curiosity, vulnerability, a beginner’s mindset. My friend, Claire, asked others to collaborate with her (and teach her!) about working with photos and video, and today is one of the most incredible storytellers I know. My friend, Dana, sought mentors in her field, and now runs her own nonprofit organization.

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Now a handful of years later, I am happy to report that I am taking on some of these qualities, giving myself permission to be a beginner, and looking at challenges with greater curiosity. I have started to play guitar. And draw. And paint. And, of course this year I took a most colossal leap towards vulnerability and a beginner’s mindset by becoming an atelierista!

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While I am thrilled that I am making these changes in my own life now, with many years ahead of me, I can’t help but wonder—who would I be today if I had given myself permission to fail when I was a kid?

This leads me to ask—What do kids these days worry about?

Positive Thoughts

It turns out they worry about a lot of things. I know, because I asked them.

“Others will think my art is silly.”

“I think this is too hard.”

“I don’t do enough.”

“Maybe I will get yelled at if I don’t do it right.”

“Everyone else’s art is better.”

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…. And so many more. I asked the question “What do you worry about when you make art?” to all of the first through fourth graders at School Within School, and found that almost all (though, interestingly not all!) seemed to have worry thoughts that come up for them regularly.

So our studio work began.

Marker Collage

We looked at the list of “worry thoughts” and came up with “positive thoughts” to replace them.

“What matters is that I like my art.”

“I can always try again.”

“I am enough.”

“I will do my best.”

“I will get better as I practice.”

Then I asked the children to choose a positive thought they would like to be reminded of—or that they would like to remind others of. They selected magazine images that could complement their chosen positive thoughts and altered the images using permanent markers.

The results are beautiful.

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“What do you worry about?” is a simple, yet insightful question to ask all those we love—our children, spouses, friends, ourselves. A positive thought doesn’t have to come in the form of a piece of artwork to be powerful. A handwritten note on the back of a receipt in your wallet you stumble across now and then can be enough. A reminder reminder from a friend can be enough. What is important is to ask the question, and to help give yourself (or your child) a different answer.

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