How to Tell if Your Kid Is a 'Worrier' Or a 'Warrior'

worrier warriorThere's no question that our kids are growing up under staggering amounts of pressure -- probably more pressure than any generation prior. From sports to academics to social media, virtually every single pursuit is considered high stakes. The competition is fierce even when the activity is supposed to be "non-competitive."

Personally, I don't think these levels of stress are healthy for anyone -- not adults, not children, not anyone -- but as  mom, I'm most concerned with what being in a constant state of fight-or-flight is doing to my kids. Because while some kids thrive under pressure, others fall apart. Thankfully, science is finally looking at the genetic reasons behind that difference -- the difference between "Warriors" and "Worriers." Do you know which category your kid falls into?


First, a bit of background. The research we're talking about here basically boils down to one particular gene responsible for clearing dopamine from the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain where plans and decisions are made and conflicts are resolved). There are two "variants" on this gene, one that slowly removes dopamine and one that rapidly removes dopamine. People with fast-acting dopamine clearers are the Warriors, primed for "threatening environments" (high-stress situations) where "maximum performance is required." Those with slow-acting dopamine clearers are the Worriers, who tend to score higher on I.Q. tests and excel at complex planning and cognitive reasoning ... advantages which not only disappear but reverse themselves in high-stress situations. 

My daughter definitely falls into the "Worrier" category, so I know that while we obviously we need both types to make the world go 'round, Worriers and Warriors alike need our help, too. Here's how to tell whether you've got a Worrier or a Warrior, and how to show your support either way.

The Worrier
Characteristics: Intelligent, thoughtful. Performs best under normal conditions. Falls apart when the pressure rises.
How to help: Don't shelter your kid from stress, no matter how tempting. According to Douglas C. Johnson, professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, "stress innoculation" is a better goal. "Training, preparation and repetition defuse the Worrier’s curse."
The Warrior
Characteristics: "Underwhelmed" by the everyday. Depends on stress to kick performance levels up a notch.
How to help: Encourage Warriors to compete on a regular basis -- their brains are designed for this. Cultivate an appreciation for "losing" as well as "winning" (Warriors learn from both experiences).
Do you have a Worrier or a Warrior at home -- or both?

Image via Andy/Flickr

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