5 Strategies to Help Your Child Silence Negative Thinking

Teach Your Child to Silence Negative Thinking
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The way children think greatly influences the way they feel and behave. Harsh, overly critical thoughts can damage children’s self-esteem, interfere with their relationships, and cause them to give up before reaching their goals.

Sometimes, negative thinking turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, a child thinks things such as, “The other kids hate me. I must be stupid.” He avoids eye contact and keeps to himself on the playground and in the hallways at school.

His behavior prevents him from making friends and it reinforces his conclusion that no one likes him.

Unrealistically negative viewpoints often lead to unnecessary behavior problems. Temper tantrums, defiance, and sibling rivalry are just a few of the problems that commonly stem from negative thoughts. With some practice however, children can learn to recognize and change their negative thinking habits.

Examples of Negative Thinking

There are several different types of negative thinking habits. While some children primarily put themselves down, others worry bad things will happen. Here are a few examples of the main types of negative thinking and how they influence a child’s behavior:

  • Generalizing a specific situation – A child is told to allow his brother to go first in the game. The child thinks, “He always gets everything he wants and I never get anything!” He storms off and refuses to play.
  • Underestimating his abilities - When told he got the answer wrong, a child rips up his paper and thinks, “I can’t do anything right! I always get all the answers wrong!”
  • Exaggerating the reality of a situation – A child learns he got 2 out of 10 answers wrong on his math test. He concludes, “I’m terrible at math,” and he refuses to do his math homework that afternoon.
  • Predicting bad things will happen – A child thinks about a presentation he’s scheduled to give to his class tomorrow and he thinks, “I’m going to mess up and everyone is going to laugh at me.” He tries to convince his mother he doesn’t feel well so he can stay home from school.
  • Focusing on the negative – A child received a good grade on his science test, made a new friend at recess, and got picked to be on the math team. But when his mother asks him how his day was, he insists it was horrible because he forgot his sneakers for gym class. He spends the evening pouting in his bedroom.

Help Put a Stop to Negativity

Addressing negative thoughts is part of the three-pronged approach to helping children develop mental strength. If you overhear your child saying overly negative things out loud, or if you see some behavior that suggests he’s likely thinking negatively, it’s important to address the issue. Here are five ways to help your child silence the negative thoughts:

  1. Validate your child’s feelings. Rather than say, “Oh you’re fine,” when your child’s crying – whether it’s emotional or physical pain - validate his feelings. Show empathy and make it clear that you’re trying to understand how he’s feeling – even if his emotions seem dramatic. Say things like, “I see that you’re feeling frustrated,” or “I understand that you’re feeling very nervous.” Once kids feel validated, they can then begin to look for healthy ways to cope with uncomfortable emotions.
  1. Gently point out his thoughts may not be true. The eventual goal should be for your child to be able to correct his own negative thoughts – rather than relying on you for reassurance. To help him arrive at his own conclusions, ask questions that will help him see that his thoughts may not be true. For example, if your child says he’s stupid, ask something such as, “When have there been times when you thought you were smart?” Help him identify some exceptions to the rule so he can see that his thought isn’t completely true.
  2. View the issue from a different perspective. Sometimes the best way to separate the emotion from the thought, is to ask, “What would you say to a friend who had this thought?” You can also ask, what a favorite cartoon character or superhero would do. Viewing the problem from a different angle can change his thinking.
  3. Replace negative thoughts with more realistic thoughts. Help your child create a more realistic outlook. Instead of telling himself, “I can’t do anything right,” he’ll benefit from saying, “Sometimes I make mistakes, and that’s okay.” Teach him to treat himself with the same kindness and respect that he’d hopefully give to other people.    
  4. Problem-solve what to do next. Help your child turn negative thoughts into positive action. Actively problem-solve his choices when he experiences negative thoughts. For example, if he’s predicting he’s going to fail his science test, encourage him to take steps to prevent that from happening, such as studying and asking for help. Teach your child to make healthy choices, even when he's faced with tough challenges and uncomfortable situations.

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