4 steps to help children think more positively.
Parents are often frustrated, or shocked with their children’s unhelpful, negative, faulty thinking styles. But the fact is that most children have negative thinking and children, teens and adults can all experience cognitive distortions. It’s part of being human! Here are 4 steps to help children think more positively.
Do you often hear statements from your child like “I don’t want to go to dancing, everyone hates me”, “I can’t do maths, I’m stupid”, “I bet people will laugh at me”…?
Rather than rush to make false promises “I guarantee you nothing bad will happen”, criticise “stop being so negative” or invalidate “oh don’t be silly”, you can give you child so much more by helping them learn how to reframe their thinking. Here’s how:
1. Explain what thoughts are
Children (and adults!) often confuse thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Before your child is able to challenge unhelpful thoughts, they need to know what they are! Some good ideas are:
* Get out their favourite book with pictures, and try to guess what each character is thinking.
*Explain that a thought comes from your head and a feeling comes from your heart and body
*Ask your child to draw a situation that happened that day, then draw speech bubbles over people’s heads and fill in the thought.
2. Discuss the difference between helpful and unhelpful thoughts
Explain that some thoughts make us feel good “I love playing with my friends!”, some make us feel bad “I can’t do anything right” and some make us feel neutral “hmmm…where are my shoes?”. Giving a name for positive and negative thoughts can be a great way to distinguish between them. Some ideas are:
*Cheerful Chats vs. Terrible Talk
*Mr Worry vs. Miss Calm
*Negative Nancy’s vs. Happy Chappy’s
3. Gently challenge the thoughts by asking questions
Again, the best way for children to learn how to challenge their negative thoughts is for them to do it themselves. But you can definitely get this step started by asking open, non-judgemental questions to challenge the negative thoughts. Explain to your child that you are going to be detectives and try to find the clues of the missing happy thoughts:
*If a friend had the same thought, what would you say to him/her?
*Is there another way of thinking about the situation?
*Has this ever happened before? How did you handle it then?
*Is your mind coming up with the worst case? Could it be not so bad?
*If that does happen, how could you handle it?
4. Help them come up with an alternative
Make a list of all of your child’s common negative thoughts in one column. Then, together you can come up with challenges for each one. Importantly, do not just come up with a unrealistically positive statement. e.g. if a child’s negative thought is “I hate snakes, I will freak out”, don’t put “I love snakes and it won’t bother me”. They will quickly discover that this isn’t true! Instead, try to come up with a balanced, realistic challenge e.g. “I don’t like snakes, but if I see one I can breathe and walk away”
You can use this reframing chart to get you started!