As a parent, you naturally worry about your child’s future. It’s part of being a parent and it makes sense. A healthy dose of worry motivates you to set limits and keeps your child safe and on the right track.

Nevertheless, too many of our worries are excessive and just don’t make sense. Especially when we worry about what our child’s behavior today will mean for his future five, ten, or fifteen years from now.

We’ve all been there in one way or another. Perhaps your daughter seems unmotivated at school and fails algebra. You suddenly worry that your daughter’s whole future is in jeopardy. What will she fail next? What if she never graduates from high school? Will she ever be able to get a job if she stays unmotivated?

If your child is unmotivated, disrespectful, or doesn’t make friends easily then you probably have similar thoughts about how your child will fare in adulthood.

In your mind, you see today’s problems as a preview of things to come. And you worry that your child will struggle as an adult.

In psychology, this is called futurizing, and it’s one of the most negative and potentially destructive things we can do as parents.

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Why Do We Worry About the Future So Much?

Futurizing is having an unrealistically negative view of what the future holds for your child. It’s a tendency to expect the very worst outcome.

Futurizing is what psychologists call a thinking error, and it is very common. What is a thinking error? A thinking error is a faulty pattern of thinking where what you think doesn’t match reality. Your thoughts are distorted. And with thinking errors, the distortion is virtually always negative. In other words, your faulty thinking makes things out to be worse than they really are.

We all do this. For example, we overgeneralize and view a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.

Or we magnify the importance of a particular event and think, incorrectly, that we are doomed forever if it doesn’t go well. Indeed, failing a class is a problem that needs to be addressed, but it isn’t the end of the world for your child.

Or, and this is particularly destructive, we label our child by his actions. For example, instead of saying “my child failed algebra” we inaccurately say “my child is a failure.” Indeed, just because your child failed a class or a grade does not make him a failure. It simply makes him someone who failed a class or a grade. The distinction is important.

And here’s the kicker: when we make things out to be worse than they really are, we start to cause more problems. Yes, our thinking errors make things worse.

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I’m not saying that you should ignore or not worry about your child’s problems. Instead, I’m saying that worrying about the future is not the same as recognizing a legitimate problem and putting a plan into place to help your child. We should recognize today’s real problems and address them. That’s fine. It’s obsessing about an unknown future and not having confidence in ourselves and our kids that is the problem.

The Role of Anxiety in Our Worry About the Future

Excessive worry about an unknown future makes you anxious, and your anxiety hinders your ability to solve problems and to help your child solve problems. How? It makes you more judgmental and critical and promotes catastrophic and extreme thinking. You stop thinking clearly. And instead of focusing on the here-and-now and doing the next right thing for your child, you focus on a dark and distant future that you feel helpless to change.

Although it is the anxiety talking in these situations, the danger is that you start to believe your anxiety and you respond to it as if the dire future you imagine has already come true.

Parents and kids have enough real problems to work on each day, and so it doesn’t help to add a bunch of imagined future problems to the mix. Doing so just makes it harder to deal with the real problems. This is the most insidious aspect of thinking errors and anxiety.

Worrying About the Future Can Make Problems Worse

Yes, the problem you worry about becomes a bigger problem precisely because of your worry.

I once worked with a mom with low self-esteem who worried that her child would grow up and have low self-esteem as well. So what did this mom do? She overly praised and doted on her child with the hope that her child would feel good about herself.

Despite the mom’s best intentions, her child grew up dependent on constant praise and attention from others and, as a result, her self-esteem didn’t develop.

Sadly, this was precisely what her mom was trying to prevent. In worrying so much about her daughter’s self-esteem, she likely made the problem worse.

Focus on the Present

If this mom focused on the present, she would have been less anxious and better able to see her child objectively. She would have understood her daughter’s needs better.

Putting a plan into place that will help your child in the present will do her—and you—the most good.

So stop using all your energy worrying about your child’s future. Instead, concentrate on what’s happening with him right now. You might not feel great about his behavior, but it’s a lot more manageable than trying to troubleshoot his entire life from where you stand now.

Remember, you don’t need to feel bad about something that might happen way down the road. Just focus on the road in front of you.

Remember That Kids Change

Remind yourself that kids grow, change, develop, and mature. And your child will too. Kids are a work in progress. Therefore, don’t project your child’s current state to the future. It’s just not that simple.

Are you the same person you were at age twelve? Or at age fifteen? We change and so do our kids.

Kids need guidance and direction, but proper guidance comes from clearly seeing what they need today so that they can do better tomorrow.

Act “As If” Your Child Is Responsible

James Lehman, creator of The Total Transformation® child behavior program, says to act “as if” with your child. What this means is that you act as if your child behaves responsibly. Start expecting that of your child, and you might see a change in his behavior.

Try to Be Objective About Your Child

Ask yourself, “What do I see and hear, what is in front of me, what are the facts?” Try to see things as objectively as you can.

Keep in mind that the way you see your child might be more about you than your child. In other words, we often see what we want to see or expect to see.

And understand that we all suffer from confirmation bias—the tendency to interpret new information as a confirmation of what we believed all along. If we believe our child is irresponsible then even if he is responsible 9 times out of 10, all we count is the one time he is irresponsible and use that to confirm our belief that he is irresponsible.

Also, examine the fears and concerns you have about yourself. Try to understand who you are and why you focus on particular issues. This will help you to know when you might be projecting something about yourself onto your child.

For example, if you experienced trauma as a child then you might tend to be overprotective of your child. Or, if you feel that you did not reach your potential, you may push your child too much.

Try to be self-aware and realistic. And know that your child is not you.

Tips to Stop Worrying

How do we stop worrying? How do we get control of our anxiety? If you find yourself worrying excessively about the future, stop and ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the likelihood of my worst fears coming true? Is this realistic?
  • How much of my worry is fact versus my imagination?
  • Why am I worried about this particular thing? Is it really about my child? Or is it about me and my insecurities?
  • Am I jumping to conclusions, over-generalizing, and making things out to be worse than they are?

By pausing and honestly asking these questions, you can stop the worry about the far-away future and focus on the actionable problem in front of you.

Take Care of Yourself

Include in your life the things that will lower your anxiety and help you to live in the present. You might take a walk, pray, do yoga, or just sit in the sun for a moment clearing your head.

Taking care of yourself will help your personal growth and it will help you to know where you end and your child begins. Defining yourself and being securely planted in the present will allow you to raise kids who will thrive in the future.

Conclusion

Stay in the present. Focus on what is actionable in the near-term and trust that your child will grow and change. And trust that your parenting will grow and improve.

Congratulate yourself for seeking help by reading this article. And don’t be afraid to seek out additional help, whether it be from friends, a counselor, a parent coach, or a child behavior program such as The Total Transformation.

About

For more than 25 years, Debbie has offered compassionate and effective therapy and coaching, helping individuals, couples and parents to heal themselves and their relationships. Debbie is the creator of the Calm Parent AM & PM™ program and is also the author of numerous books for young people on interpersonal relations.

Comments (11)
  • Beth
    While the story hits way too close to home with me, I'm not sure where to proceed from here. I think I get the futurizing concept, but not sure where to go from here. If I don't futurize, then how am I to recognize when there is behavior that needsMore to be worked on? My problem is teaching my son what I should be teaching him, so he is prepared for his future, and if he is rejecting what I'm trying to get through to him, where do I go from there?
    • Rebecca Wolfenden, Parent Coach
      Thank you for your questions. To be clear, futurizing is not the same as recognizing that your child might have an issue or a behavior which needs to be addressed. If a child needs help in a certain area, like failing a subject for example, it makes senseMore to look at strategies which can help that child, such as working on study skills or getting a tutor. On the other hand, futurizing in this scenario might be looking at one poor grade on a test and starting to think that the child is going to fail the course or might not graduate when there is no evidence to support that line of thinking. In addition, it’s going to be most effective to focus on where you have control, which is over yourself and your own actions. In the end, your son is his own person, and can make the choice not to implement the advice and guidance you have given him. Of course, he is also responsible for handling the outcomes of those choices. You can read more about this concept in another article by Debbie Pincus, Throwing It All Away: When Good Kids Make Bad Choices. Please be sure to let us know if you have additional questions. Take care.
  • SheilaBallinger
    I needed this article as well today, thank you God Almighty who reigns on Heaven an Earth. I do this all the time. We have custody of our 9yr granddaughter and she has began to have terrible anxiety episodes that lead to a lot of behavioral issues. She is soMore different than her mom in a lot of ways, but yet seems to struggle like her mom did when she was a child. Her mom lives on her own, has an autistic son but still struggles with how to deal with people. She has made some bad choices that have made her life even harder, but she still has severe anxiety and meltdowns even as a adult. We helped her as best we knew how so many years ago, but I still feel guilty that we didn't know enough then to really help her. I am ALWAYS worrying that my granddaughter will be like her and I don't want that to happen, because they are so different in many ways. I have more knowledge now, and want to give my gd a better chance than my daughter had. I find myself worrying very much about the future!!!! I will keep this article around to re-read and remind myself that I can only help and control what is happening now. The better I teach her now, the better chance she WILL have to have a great, successful future. I love Empowering Parents, they have helped me so very much over these last couple of years.
  • Cruzin75
    This is a great article and hits home on point. I have a 21 year old daughter that i constantly worry about. She still lives at home thankfully has a job but does not feel she needs to contribute to any household chores and gets offended at the thought ofMore her having to pay rent. I know she doesnt make nearly enough. She does pay for her own student loans cell phone car payment and insurance. Which is a plus. But also feels like since she is an adult she can walk in and out of my home not do chores and come and go as she pleases at all times and not ever be questioned. My husband and i have had numerous discussions with her and both us and her have said pretty hurtful things which we have come out in the open and talked about but i feel like she just plays along and never sees how severe theses arguements are. While i am the one who is stressing and loosing myself in the process. Sometimes i feel like there is no repairing our relationship with her and since we have never seen eye to eye we have never had that close mother daughter relationship now that she is 21 and with our continued disagreements there is no making up for lost time. She has made it clear she doesnt want to live in our home but cant leave because she cant afford to move out. Im so lost and need some guidance.
    • SheilaBallinger
      Cruzin75  I would just make sure she picks up after herself. Remember, you would still be doing the rest of the housework even if she didn't live there. As far as coming and going when she wants, she is an adult and we always told our adult kids to showMore us the same respect we will show them. If someone is not coming home for the night or a few days, to please be courteous and let the others in the home know. And if your rule is no overnight male guest, than she can like it or leave. We did always make them pay "rent" of at least $25/mth to kinda get them in the habit of paying "rent" and they had to supply their own food or add a certain amount (whatever you agree on) to the monthly rent for a food allowance. And if they didn't agree to this.......they were OUT. Just because you know she can't afford a place of her own, doesn't mean that she can't or can't find another place to live. Oh yeah, we also kept her 25/mth and put it in an account so that when they were ready to move out, they had their deposit and first months rent or at least a portion of it. Don't do her laundry or cook for her. They do make locks for refrigerators and she can use a dorm refig that she herself can purchase if she doesn't want to agree to your terms about food......OR she can move out. DON'T be an enabler. You can help her but don't enable her. I would not longer fight with her about it. Tell her the rules, if she doesn't abide by them put her personal belongings outside and change the locks on the doors!!! Bottom line is that she is now an adult. Many, many adults go to college and live away from home. They have sleeping rooms in places that aren't usually to expensive. There is NOTHING wrong with kicking your adult child out if they are going to be so disrespectful. NOTHING. I didn't get along with my mom real well until I was almost 40, and then she became my best friend. Don't worry about what the future will bring, sometimes tough love is what our children need.
  • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport

    @Desperate Mom  

    Thank

    you for sharing your experiences.  It can be difficult not to fall into

    predicting a bleak future when your child is engaging in such troubling

    behaviors, and it makes sense that you would be worried, given the potential

    consequences, legal and otherwise, which your son continues to experience as a

    result of his actions.  It sounds like your family has also experienced

    success, despite these behaviors with your son, and I hope that this has been a

    source of optimism for you. I hope that you also have some additional supports

    in place for yourself to help you get through this challenging time.  You

    might find it useful to contact the http://www.211.org/

    at 1-800-273-6222 to assist you in locating available resources in your

    community.  I realize how difficult this must be for you and your family,

    and I wish you all the best as you continue to move forward.  Take care.

  • LeanneBeatty
    This sure came at the right time.  Thank you so much for putting a "name" to what I was feeling and doing but more importantly some tools to assist me in this journey!!
  • DebbieCanavan
    Empowering Parents is starting to become my lifeline! As a single parent, one of the things I envy the most is when I see a Dad, there for his child, helping him, encouraging him, disciplining him. This site is giving me the belief in myself that I'm doing something rightMore and my gorgeous son will be ok and find his own way.
  • Donna58
    I cannot believe I got this today. It was sent from God I am sure. Our 18 year old son married in August. We found out the following day....we were shocked. The girl was 8 months pregnant....not his child. He was away at school andMore working a part time job....we thought heading in the right direction. Not so sure anymore. He has made some bad decisions and we are afraid of any new happenings on a daily basis. He is a bit distant from us and I believe he knows we do not approve. We are somewhat more accepting of the situation but I often backslide and become bitter. I do go for counseling now and it helps in the short term. I have done everything this article states.....constant worry, anxiety, etc. I will be saving this in my inbox to reread as a constant reminder. Thank you for the wonderful insight.
  • Imahageneralit
    Wow! I thought you had an inside camera to my home and to my heart. This is exactly what I am going through with my son. I futurize and worry constantly. I see him going down the wrong road and feel powerless to stop it. He is brilliant and creativeMore but has no executive management skills and thinks he knows it all.
  • Keon Price
    So very true and very very helpful. Thank you so much for the advice and confirmations, that I'm now on the right track.
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