Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Do Kids Need Positive Thinking?

Like adults, children are not immune to the stressors of life. In managing personal and academic challenges, kids quite often experience frustration, expressing high concern and self-doubt with remarks such as:
  • I can’t do anything right.
  • I messed up again.
  • I’m so stupid.
  • I’m a failure if I can’t do this.
  • Nothing works out for me.
  • I’m going to do awful.
  • I know I’m going to fail this test.
  • The other kids think I’m weird.
  • Everybody makes fun of me.
  • I know something bad is going to happen.

Most children seem unaware of this pattern of negative thinking, missing the important connection between repetitive and pessimistic self-talking (negative thoughts) and a low self-confidence with high anxiety. Like with the rest of us, these kinds of negative judgments or beliefs put us down; we criticize ourselves harshly for common errors and mistakes, doubt of our skills and abilities, and anticipate only the worst. With children specifically, negative and pessimistic thinking strongly correlates with low motivation in school and learned helplessness; the latter is the tendency to give up when facing challenging and difficult tasks in school, even when the child has the skills and ability to deal successfully with the academic task. As we can see, habitual (common and recurrent) negative thinking and beliefs are extremely damaging to anyone’s self-confidence, especially children’s. When we think positively, on the other hand, we anticipate good and favorable outcomes, trying harder and perseverating longer when things get tough. Positive thoughts and more optimistic expectations open the mind to ideas, words, and images that are in harmony with good mental health. This is why is so important for teachers, parents, and caregivers to openly discuss the value of positive thinking and talking with children, so that we help build resilience, or the ability to recover quickly from troublesome experiences. Here are some activities that caregivers can use to train children in positive thinking:

Help the child write a list of five-to-ten positive things about himself or herself. When the list is ready, have the child practice by saying the list softly a number of times. Discuss events or times when the child can use the list (e.g. when coping with angry feelings or when teased).

Have the child complete an Inventory of Strengths where she lists her positive qualities, skills, and efforts. Questions to answer can be:
  • What are my strengths?
  • When do my strengths help me?
  • Where do my strengths help me?
  • Do I use my strengths?
  • When do I use my strengths?
  • Where do I use my strengths?
  • How do I use my strengths?
Use the child’s answers to customize a set of positive self-statements that she can use to reinforce her self-confidence and to stay motivated. Examples of customized self-statements for a specific child can be:
  • I’m hard worker and I want to do well in school.
  • I enjoy poetry and love writing stories.
  • My spelling is strong.
  • I have tons of friends; my parents call me a people’s person.
  • My friends like about me that I’m a good listener.
  • My friends also like the fact that I know how to keep a secret and I can be trusted.
  • I’m strong-willed; I do not give up easily.
  • Okay, I may be stubborn, but I’m fair and respect other people’s opinions.

Once children develop skills in recognizing negative and anxiety producing thoughts, and they identify their strengths, the final step will be teaching them to reverse the thinking, substituting negative and pessimistic thoughts with more positive and optimistic ones. Children experiencing high anxieties and insecurities benefit from having at hand a set of coping self-statements that they can use to neutralize the worrisome thought. The insecure child can use these coping statements individually; several statements combined, or coupled with other behavioral management interventions such as anger management and/or relaxation. Some examples:
  • Things will be fine.
  • I’m upset now, but things will get better.
  • Soon, I’ll feel happy again.
  • When I start to worry, I relax and feel better.
  • There’s no problem so big that it cannot be solved.
  • I can problem solve. And I will.
  • One-step at a time will get me there.
  • Trying my best is what counts.

Related Reading...

The Heart of Disciplining- For Parents: Understanding and Delivering Feedback, Criticism, and Corrections that Teach Positive Behavior- To preview this book on Amazon, click here.

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