I teach a project management class at the School of Visual Concepts. A key part of the curriculum is an in depth discussion of risk management. Project managers need to worry about a lot of stuff but a big part of the job is managing the stuff you’ll end up worrying about. In this discussion I often cite the wife as a project manager with excellent risk management instincts. While I live in the moment and need all the help I can get managing risk, she lives in the future. You can give her any situation and she immediately can see a whole raft of problems and is already thinking about how to mitigate the risk. This would seem to be an excellent super-power to possess but it has a definite downside in loss of sleep.
While I, living in the moment, sleep through the night (not like a baby, have you ever had a baby in your house at night? It takes them forever to sleep through the night!) The wife, however, has spent pretty much every night of her life with a sleepless period where her brain is working overtime.
An aside: the other night our son had a bad dream and came through to sleep with us. The wife noticed that when he and I were sleeping next to each other we would often elbow each other or get in each other’s space. She determined that the problem was we were not communicating. She, on the other hand, was talking to us and getting progressively frustrated that we were not responding. I couldn’t help but point out it was because we were asleep.
Despite these periods of deep sleep where the kids take after me, we have noticed that they are starting to show signs of taking after the wife, not sleeping through the night because their brains have started to work overtime and the worries are starting to intrude.
We could look at the project manager’s traditional methods of risk management but somehow I don’t think the kids will make the best use of my risk log spreadsheet or a good post-mortem meeting. If you want an effective solution you need to work with tools they can engage effectively.
Another aspect of the wife’s good project management instincts is her capacity for research. She sees a problem and starts researching it. And in researching her concern for the kids worries she came across the book What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety by Dawn Huebner. The book is targeted at six to twelve year olds and their parents. It uses helpful metaphors and illustrations to guide kids through common techniques used to treat generalized anxiety. We’ve tried it and so far it seems to be working well. There are a few key points that the kids seem to respond to. Specifically, a worry is like a plant, if you feed it it will grow. We have a tendency to talk through problems, often at great length. You need to address the worry and then put it away. Do something to stop thinking about it and move on.
Another tendency that our kids have is inventing worries. The solution to this one is fairly self-evident. You have to break the cycle of looking for problems. Our daughter in particular is good at dredging up all the potential bad in a situation. In a way I can see her working on the skills that the wife is so good at. But so far all she’s doing is working on predicting the problems and making herself miserable. We need to help her get around to the part where you work on solutions. I like to say to her, stop looking for things to worry about and give it a chance to be good.