What if I poison myself?

As a child, we had bushes next to our house which grew little red berries which we liked to pretend with and called “poison berries”. Our fun with these berries included shoving them into the tailpipes of cars so that they would fly out like juicy little bullets when the cars were started. We also loved making pretend poison berry soup which included mashing up berries, adding water, and throwing in any other interesting ingredients that we could find. (Of course, we knew that we would never actually eat this soup.)

Our church has these same bushes with pretend poison berries on them, so I have told my children about the fun we had with these berries. A few days ago, my daughter thought she saw a poison berry on a bush at our house (she did not). She explained that she didn’t want poison berries at our house because she might accidentally eat some. I reminded her how much fun we could have if we had a poison berry bush. She told me she thought it would be terrible because she would definitely eat some by accident.

My daughter was falling into a common thinking error of children. They feel like something is going to happen simply because they thought about it. My daughter thought of the possibility of eating poison berries and then she concluded that this would probably happen if the opportunity arose. Sometimes children believe that just thinking about something increases the likelihood of that event happening. For example, “I thought of mom getting hit by a car and now I’m scared that its likely going to happen.”

Its interesting that this is not just a thinking error that children make. Try saying, “I hope you don’t get hit by a car and killed on the way home” to someone who is leaving your house. They will likely be angry that you said that because they falsely think that you somehow have increased the odds of that happening.

Or have you ever heard ambulance sirens and thought about someone close to you dying and imagined the ambulance was on its way to the tragic scene of your loved one? Next, you probably wished you hadn’t thought of that because now you have somehow increased the odds of it actually happening.

So how do we respond when a child shares a fear that we can see is obviously a thinking error?

First, remember that talking about it is an important first step. Bringing the fear into the light is always better than simply telling the child to stop thinking like that (thus keeping the fear running around in the child’s thoughts).

Second, help your child to see that thinking about something does not make it true. In my daughter’s case, if thinking something truly had the power to change reality, we would have a lot more American Girl doll stuff in our home!

Third, help children to understand that the important thing is how they respond to their thoughts. Good kids can often live with a lot of guilt because of some bad things they thought about doing. They falsely assume that these bad thoughts somehow mean that they are bad – even though they would never actually do those things. We need to free our children from this false guilt.

Finally, help children understand that they are focusing on something that is possible, but highly unlikely. Help the logical thinking side of their brain to gain ground against the feelings of fear they have.

My daughter and I did have a conversation about her fear of the poison berries, but I understand that overcoming this type of thinking is a long process. We will have many more conversations to help her know how to properly handle the thoughts and feelings that come at her.

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