Hira, you’re a dedicated student, but you never take the lead in any activity or project even when you know yourself that you can be a good frontrunner. Sir I know but, there is a voice inside my head that keeps saying to me that – I am a loser… I will mess up things for sure. This was the conversation I had with one of my students last week at parent-teacher meeting. Her parent took her confession as an unserious attitude towards her education. However, it was apparent from her impressions that she was not kidding and instead was asking a solution to her problem. But the thing that puzzles my mind after that conversation was ‘from where she hears these voices? Is it a result of some adverse childhood experiences or something else?
Usually, teen or adult, we all have voices of our own inside our heads; commenting on our day-to-day experiences, our past and present decisions, mistakes we could have avoided, and what we should have done differently. These voices have a significant impact on our lifestyle and the way we live our living. However, at times, these voices can become really mean and make a bad situation much worse. Instead of empathising with our sufferings, it criticises and ridicules our present situation. These voices have a sense of emotional urgency that demands our attention.
Psychologists believe these voices are the residues of childhood experiences stored in our brains, dissociated from the memory of the events from which they are trying to protect us from. These fear-based self-protective rubrics perhaps helped us, especially during our worst times when we are in dire need of help. These situations most likely happen during our teenage phase where we just start experiencing life. Unlike adults where they can make a choice not to listen to their “critical voice”, it sometimes becomes difficult for teenagers to ignore or avoid them resulting in making unhealthy decisions for their social and academic lifestyle.
However, the good news is, there are ways through which parents can help their kids to control their negative thoughts. According to the child psychologist Tamar E. Chansky, you have to first:
Spot Negative Thoughts (Source: Psych Central)
- Exaggerating and extending the importance of an adverse event
- Blaming self for something that was caused by external circumstances; blaming big for small things
- Generalising that whatever happened always happens
- Becoming easily angry with self
- Not trying activities unless sure can excel
- Thinking about bad things always happen, good things never happen
- Trouble tolerating mistakes, disappointment or losing
- Shutting down in the face of any obstacle
Strategies to handle Negative Thoughts (Source: Psych Central)
- Distinguishing Between Negative and Positive Thoughts
It’s difficult for a teen to distinguish between negative and positive thoughts. One simple way is, take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. On one side, write Negative Thoughts or Meany Brain Thoughts. On the other hand, write My Good Thoughts or “Smart Thoughts. Ask them to start jotting down whatever puzzling them. For their convenience give them some space or a while for sorting out their thoughts.
- Becoming an Optimistic Thinker
Cultivating optimism in kids also is key in addressing negative thinking. Parents can play the Unfortunately, Fortunately game with their kids. Together with your child, come up with five sticky situations, which you write down on cards and put in a hat. Each person then pulls out a card and says the unfortunate situation. The other person responds with a fortunate perspective (But fortunately, I went to see another movie). Then you go back and forth, each mentioning unfortunate and fortunate circumstances. These fortunate things will later help your children wherever they go through any difficult situation. Similarly, the above exercise can also be done by the kids themselves.
- Building Distance from Negative Thoughts
It’s also important to help your child get “some distance and perspective” on a situation. To do so, avoid saying that they’re negative. Instead, blame the “negative brain.” According to Chansky, this relabelling begins to demote the validity of negative thinking, encouraging the child not to trust it as the ‘truth,’ but as the annoying, upsetting, overprotective or just sort of ill-informed voice that it is.
Ask your child to pick a name for their negative brain. For example, Mr Sad, Meany Mouse, Fun Blocker. Have them draw the character and create a voice, too. Plus, they can brainstorm ways to talk back to that negative brain: “You’re not the boss of me; you make me feel bad; I’m not listening to you; you see everything as awful; you need new glasses!”
Hence, there are no ways through which you can ‘RUN’ out from your negative thoughts for yourselves. Instead, you need to make a healthy relationship with your ‘Mean Thoughts’. In a way that they can help, boost your personality, motivate your spirits and help you to overcome any obstacle that hinders your development. I know its easy to say that ‘Use your weaknesses as a ladder to climb and achieve your destiny’. However, this is the attitude every teen, youth and adult should practice in their lives. In this way, nobody even your own thoughts can hurt or demean you in any walk of your life 😊