Using cognitive behavior modification, teachers and parents can train children to generate an internal dialogue that structures their thinking and control their behavior. Through “thought catching” and becoming “thought detectives,” children learn to monitor the things they say to themselves, and to substitute their irrational beliefs (angry and self-defeating thoughts and ideas) with rational thinking. The cognitive-emotive approach helps children see the direct link between their thinking and their emotional reactions and behavior. The goal of this training is to teach children how to see themselves accurately, so that when problems are their fault, they take responsibility for it and try to correct their behavior, but when problems are not their fault, they still feel worthwhile (Seligman, Reivich, Jaycox, and Gillham, 1995).
The cognitive-emotive method involves treating children’s angry and self-defeating beliefs as “hypotheses” that they can test, and then changing the belief or hypothesis when it is proved wrong. This adds D and E to Ellis’s classic A-B-C Model of Emotions (Ellis in Ellis and Grieger, 1977). In this model, A is the activating event or experience (what happened or the trigger), B is the belief about the experience (rational and irrational ideas), and C is the emotional (feeling) or behavioral (reward or punishment) consequence. Neither A nor C is the determining factor in how children feel; what matters is what they are thinking or saying to themselves at point B (beliefs) about the activating event and/or the expected consequence. At point D, the irrational thinking is attacked for its veracity; that is, D is the “disputation of the belief” (B), or the argument the child makes to counter the belief. When the child disputes the belief at point D, he winds up with a new effect or philosophy (E); that is, the child develops a new way of thinking (cognitive effect), feeling (emotive effect), and behaving (behavioral effect). This new, rational thinking aligns with emotional health and improved behavior.
Ellis, A. (1977). The basic clinical theory of rational-emotive therapy. In A. Ellis & R. Grieger (Eds.). Handbook of rational-emotive therapy (pp. 3-34). New York: Springer Publishing.
Seligman, M. E., Reivich, K., Jaycox, L., & Gillham, J. (1995). The optimistic child. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
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