Dayna Sharp, LCSW
Teaching Kids to Catch Thoughts
Updated: Jun 3, 2019
Does your child live with Too Much Anxiety? Or struggle with appropriately expressing anger? Maybe your child frequently has a negative attitude? If so, you might hear them say things like, "That person doesn't like me!" or "I hate my brother! He's always ruining my things!" or "Today's going to be the worst day ever!".
We all have lots of thoughts in every moment of every day. We tend to focus on the thoughts that match our feelings in the moment. But when we focus on negative thoughts, it only makes our negative feelings stronger, leading to more negative thoughts, and more negative feelings!
Have you ever read the book, "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" by Judith Viorst? Yep, just like that. If you haven't read it yet, take a few moments to share it with your child. See if they can relate. Another good one is "The Grouchies" by Debbie Wagenbach. Both of these books are a playful way to help your child put their feelings into words, and also to begin to understand that no feeling is final. We have good moments, bad moments, but we rarely have all good days or all bad days.
If your child begins work with a therapist, part of the work will be starting to recognize thoughts, how to "catch" thoughts, and discovering genuine-feeling ways to replace them. Parents can help at home too!
Let your child know that we have many thoughts all the time, like clouds in the sky. Some are like white, puffy clouds that feel good. Others are dark, thunderclouds that feel pretty bad.
Explain that if they focus on the dark, scary clouds, they will feel worse.
Ask them if you can help them "catch" the feel-bad thoughts, so that they can feel better.
When you hear them expressing an anxious or negative thought, let them know. "That sounds like an anxious thought. It's only going to make your Anxiety stronger. What can you say to yourself that will help you feel better?"
Remind them about good moments and bad moments.
"No one will like me"
"I'm feeling Anxiety, which is normal when you meet new people. I can't predict the future. I can only be myself".
"I'm going to fail the test!"
"There's my Anxiety talking. I won't let it bully me. I've studied and I will do my best".
"I'm going to throw up!"
"That's my Anxiety talking. I'm not sick, and I can take deep breaths to feel better".
"I hate my brother! He always ruins everything!"
"I'm really angry with my brother right now. It feels like he always ruins everything, but that's not true. I need some space until I can cool down my Anger".
"The teacher hates me!"
"That's my Anger talking. It feels like she hates me right now, but I know that's not true. I can talk things out with her tomorrow".
"Today is going to be terrible!"
"I had a bad start to the morning, but I can reset and turn the day around. Every day has ups and downs".
"I don't want spaghetti for dinner! I hate spaghetti!"
"I'm disappointed we're having spaghetti, but I do like meatballs, and can mostly eat those. I'll ask Dad if we can have chicken tomorrow night".
"Catching" thoughts sounds easy, but it can actually be very difficult. For some kids, these thoughts can be a habit that like most habits, will take significant practice to break. Catching thoughts is also tricky because sometimes kids don't even realize they're having them, and that's why they need grown ups to help! It's also important that parents and caregivers practice mindfulness with their own self-talk. Sometimes we might be sharing our own anxious or negative thoughts out loud without even realizing it. For all those reasons, it can be extremely helpful to find a good therapist to help your child--and family--practice catching and replacing anxious and negative thoughts.
Creating Space Counseling and Wellness can help your child get to know themselves better and to feel safe enough to learn and practice new skills to help them feel better. And when kids feel balanced, families feel more balanced.
Call today to find more harmony in your family's life! 856-281-1664