5 Ways to Help Students Combat Negative Thoughts
“I’m so stupid.”
“I’m always messing things up.”
“No one wants to be with me.”
Sadly, these types of negative beliefs are common for many kids. They become ingrained in their brain from the cruel things others say and from the bullying many of them are forced to endure. Getting picked on not only impacts emotional and social functioning, it also can have biological consequences that extend into adulthood.
Kids and young adults are faced with a host of challenges at school. Besides the pressure to perform academically, they are inundated with unhealthy stereotypes and bombarded with negative messages on social media. Many give in to peer pressure and develop harmful habits and behaviors that can adversely impact their lives.
Of course, not all negativity comes from external sources. Many kids are plagued with self-doubt, are insecure socially and have poor self-esteem and body image. Also, they may struggle with anxious or depressive thoughts.
The Power of Thoughts
What we think has a powerful effect on our lives. While it’s common to trust everything we think, the truth is our thoughts constantly lie to us. For instance, we may incorrectly assume things about other people or may inaccurately interpret how others view us. Our thoughts become our beliefs if we think them often enough.
The unfortunate reality is that many kids beat themselves up with self-defeating thoughts. Whether it’s from mistakes or critical things others have said, negative thoughts can spontaneously pop into their head, sometimes days or even weeks after the hurtful event. When pessimistic thoughts occur at random times, your child might be experiencing automatic negative thoughts.
What Are Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs)?
When negative thoughts enter the mind without warning or invitation, they’re called Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs).
Here are the 9 types of ANTs and a brief description of their harmful effects:
- “All or Nothing” Thinking– Thoughts that are all good or all bad.
- “Always” Thinking– Thinking in words like always, never, no one, everyone, every time, everything.
- Focusing on The Negative– Only seeing the bad in a situation.
- Fortune Telling– Predicting the worst possible outcome to a situation with little or no evidence for it.
- Mind Reading– Believing that you know what another person is thinking even though they haven’t told you.
- Thinking with Your Feelings– Believing negative feelings without ever questioning them.
- Guilt Beatings– Thinking in words like should, must, ought, or have to.
- Labeling– Attaching a negative label to yourself or someone else.
- Blame– Blaming someone else for your problems.
Whenever a negative thought pops into your head, combat it with these 4 questions:
- Is it true?
- Can I absolutely know that it’s true?
- How do I react when I think that thought?
- Who would I be without that thought? Or, how would I feel if I didn’t have that thought?
Killing Your ANTs:
Whenever ANTs creep into the mind, they must be killed. You kill them by talking back to them; if you don’t, ANTs can feast on your emotions and create anxious or depressive thoughts.
- Whenever an automatic negative thought enters your mind, train yourself to recognize its type and write it down.
- Talk back to the ANT – this takes away its power so you can gain control over your moods and start feeling better.
Killing ANTs can reduce stress and improve your child’s outlook on life.
In addition to taking brain-directed supplements, eating healthy foods, getting plenty of rest, water, and exercise – correcting negative thinking to reduce internal stress is key! Here are 5 ways to decrease negativity and increase positivity in your child’s life:
1. Snap to It- To prevent recurring negative thoughts, have your child wear a rubber band on their wrist. Whenever a negative thought enters their mind, train them to snap the rubber band (not too hard to where it leaves a red mark). Over time, this action will help trigger a response in their brain to switch gears from the negative thought to a positive one.
2. Shift Their Focus- If you recognize that your child is in a rut of negative thinking, help them shift their attention to something else by: spending time with a friend, reading a book, solving a crossword puzzle, or listening to soothing tunes. One of the most effective ways to prevent your child from thinking about something negative is to shift their focus to something positive.
3. Get Them Moving- If your kids are stuck in a funk, get them outside. Take your kids to a park where you can toss around a frisbee or just let them run around and let off some steam. Physical activity stimulates mental activity and improves blood flow to the brain, so get your kids up and moving.
4. Open Lines of Communication– If you notice that your child is stressed out from excessive school work or demanding extracurricular activities, make sure you’re keeping the lines of communication open by asking how their day went. It may be that there’s a deeper problem, i.e. bullying, that you need to address with the school’s staff. Failing to engage your child in conversation may make their problems worse. Always make sure good communication exists in your home.
5. Focus on Strengths- It’s natural for kids who deal with negative patterns of thought to only focus on the bad things in their life and to overlook the positive. Be intentional in encouraging your child to stay active in sports, clubs and hobbies that they do well. You will improve your child’s outlook when you focus on their strengths rather than dwelling on their weaknesses.
You can help your child learn how to reduce stress by killing their ANTs and embracing more positive, accurate thoughts. Better choices can lead to a better life!
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