Image from: https://www.thedailymind.com/deeper-thinking/stop-negative-thinking-dont-believe-thoughts/
With it being SOL season, I have seen an increase in anxiety and negative self talk in sessions. Children with anxiety tend to experience rigid thinking. This depends on your child, but negative thinking may be, ‘if I don’t score as high as my friends, then I am stupid or worthless,’ or it could be, ‘I know I won’t do well because I’m not good at ___.’ Negative rigid thinking likes to try to categorize things around us, ‘good’ versus ‘bad, ‘right’ versus ‘wrong,’ ‘smart’ versus ‘dumb,’ etc. It does not leave a lot of room for anything in between. One child may view “passing” as ‘good,’ whereas another may view it as ‘bad’ because they expect a higher score. To help with this I like to try to have children look at things on a continuum. I explain that even if they did not do exactly how they wanted, it doesn’t automatically make it ‘bad,’ or automatically make them ‘stupid.’ If your child struggles with this, it may be helpful to draw out a continuum and look at it together. Visuals with children are always wonderful tools. None of us are perfect, especially when something is new or we are learning. It may be helpful for your child to be able to rate where they feel like they are on the continuum to see their progress.
When we experience that negative self talk, it influences how we feel, as well as our actions. I think it’s important to explain how powerful our brains are to our children. If we think, ‘I’m going to fail this because I’m bad a math,’ we probably will feel anxious, worried, and sad. When we feel that way it will be more difficult to study. Due to having a difficult time preparing and feeling down, we may actually not do well on the test. If we switch that negative thought to a more rational thought, we can change the outcome! Instead, we can think, ‘I am going to study and do my best.’ When we think this type of thought we probably feel pretty neutral, we can study as we need to, and most likely we will do well. You can model this behavior with your child. If you notice you say a negative thought, call yourself out and model how you can look at the situation with a more rational thought. You can also tell your child, “That sounds like a negative thought. Our thoughts influence our feelings and our actions. How can we think about this situation in a different way?” Most of the time children will be able to come up with a rational thought or a more positive outlook, however, if needed you can help your child look at the situation differently.
Image from: http://marlacummins.com/adhd-negative-thinking-traps-1/
In order to help your child with negative thinking, you will want to empathize with them, validate their feelings, and help them to see how to solve the problem or what the future may look like. We usually automatically want to respond with telling them they are wrong. For example, if your child says, “I can’t do this, I’m so dumb!” We want to respond with, “You are not dumb,” because as a parent you want your child to know they are wonderful and amazing. Instead we want to help them feel heard and understood. We can respond with, “You seem frustrated, you were hoping this would be easy.” Once we validate their feelings and empathize with them, then we can move on to problem solving or seeing for the future. To problem solve, we may say, “What do you feel like would be helpful for you to finish this?” To see the future, we may say, “Sometimes things are hard. You feel like you can’t do it, yet. How can I help you so you can do it?” These responses help your child think about and determine what they can do differently to solve their problem or do something challenging.