The brain is an odd thing. It will have moments that make you feel like a superstar and the next, you are a grey cloud amongst the sunshine. Most of the time, you don’t even know what is happening or why it is happening. One thing you do know, is that when bad thoughts visit, they can get pretty damn nasty, and they can stick around for a long time. The important thing to remember though, is that you can change them – and it isn’t as hard as you may think.
This is called cognitive reframing and it basically means that you are identifying and changing the way you view things in life. It’s a process that challenges your thoughts and forces them to be reassessed. Strange I know, but it works wonders on shutting up that negative voice.
This week’s Knowledge module, Reframing Thoughts, is linked to others in the THOUGHTS series. It talks about how behaviours, thoughts and emotions are connected, common thinking traps kids fall into and how to help challenge their thoughts. And honestly, listening to the module has brought to light a few things I didn’t realise was going on with my kids.
Kids are as human as the rest of us and are prone to negative thinking. It sounds so strange as they are so young and innocent, but as I said, the brain is a weird thing. This negative thinking and outlook can cause meltdowns, fighting and other negative actions such as making every situation about them (blaming themselves) and negative labelling (they tripped over once so now they are a klutz). Sound familiar?
It sounded familiar to me when I read more into it. My daughter has a nasty habit of what we call “making mountains out of mole hills.” She takes the smallest negative things and will blow it out of proportion, including negative situations of others. We try to reframe her thinking by giving her a mental list.
- Is it hurting you?
- Is it affecting you?
- Is it putting you in danger?
- Is it putting someone else in danger?
- Is it causing the world to end?
If she answers no to 3 of these, she tries to move past it and focus on something else. It doesn’t always work but like all good things, it takes time. In my research to understand Reframing Thoughts, I learnt that this is actually called All or Nothing Thinking, and it is where they only see in black and white – no grey area. So, overgeneralisation for example – where one negative experience happened so that is their life now. My daughters favourite for this one is “They didn’t want to play with me. No one will ever play with me again.” Spoiler: they did.
Few more are – predicting (believing that something bad will happen)
mind reading (assuming people are thinking about them and that it is negative)
mental filter (only ever seeing the negative)
There are many more, but these are the ones that I was and sometimes am guilty of as well. And that is the best place to start when you want to help your child reframe their thoughts.
When helping your child reframe their thoughts, it is important to start with your own thoughts. I know I went straight to thinking I was a terrible parent when we were told our daughter has anxiety and issues with socialising. I changed that thought and now she and I bond over mutual anxiety moments.
But how do you go about it? As always, we got you.
Help them understand: Explain and help them understand what negative thoughts actually are.
Don’t push them: forcing them to challenge the negative thoughts can only lead to stubbornness or tears. Ease gently by giving them time to get used to the idea and use positive encouragement.
Keep it light: If your child is like mine and has a few big thoughts that need reframing, take it one at a time. Piling too much onto them at once will make them rebel and the process harder.
Be realistic: Positive is always encouraged but we have to be realistic as well. Reframed thoughts need to be believable and realistic for them to really help.
Write it down: This is my go-to. By getting them to write it down, they can physically see the negative thoughts. This helps them come to terms with it, a little more. It also is a great conversation starter.
Listen: Let them talk it out. It shows you are a safe place and will help them build confidence to verbalise negativity.
Ask why: exactly that. Instead of jumping to correct them, ask why. Why do they think that? Why do they feel like that? It goes hand in hand with breaking it down.
Everything in life can be viewed from multiple perspectives, sometimes it is just a matter of allowing yourself and your kid to see the sunshine through the clouds.
From experience by Casey Luxford