Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Helping Our Children Block Negative Thoughts

"Thought blocking" or "thought stopping" is a cognitive behavioral strategy that can help kids let go of thoughts that cause them to feel anxious. The idea is to stop negative thoughts in their tracks in the brain and replace them with more peaceful, self-affirming beliefs.

Self -defeating thoughts can include unrealistic fears that are age dependent that range from the boogie man under the bed to not wanting to go to school and be separated from parents to fear of failure on tests. They are thoughts that often occupy a child's mind and create difficulties in concentration, focus and their ability to carry out activities of daily living in a reasonable way. Often, these thoughts will manifest themselves in physical symptoms: tummy aches, rapid pulse and heart beat, headache and restless fidgety behavior.
Parents can assist their children to eliminate anxious thoughts by helping them to practice at home what they will say when they are faced with experiences that cause negative thinking.
Parents can role play with their child a scenario that causes stress and adds to the child's anxiety and encourage the child to use thought blocking techniques.
Here's how it works:
  • Have the child verbalize his/her feelings about the situation that causes negative thinking and anxiety
  • Choose a way that the child can immediately and convincingly STOP the negative thoughts. You might create a "buzz" word that denotes peace and relaxation such as sun, sand, light. You might allow the child to say something that isn't normally appropriate in regular conversation so as to have a greater impact, such as: "shut up worry thoughts" or "Bug off". You can use visualization such as suggesting the child picture a red STOP sign or put their hand up in a gesture of "halt"
  • Come up with a sentence that will counteract the negative thought and have the child say it out loud, such as: "I will do my best on this test; I know I can do it" and have the child repeat this thought until it alters their perception of the anxiety provoking situation
  • empower the child to use their own words to counteract the effects of negative thinking; it's important that children learn to manage their own stressful situations as parents cannot always be there to remind them what to do, this is why practice is necessary
About 13 per cent of American children and adolescents are affected by anxiety. Children are often at a loss as to help themselves and need to learn skills for managing their own stress. Parents can be instrumental in helping a child to understand the way that they look at and respond to life events -- perceived or real -- have a powerful impact on how much anxiety they will experience. Teaching thought blocking techniques can be one way to facilitate change in the child's level of anxiety.

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