Notes on Parenting

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

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Using CBT at Home: Encouraging Helpful Thoughts By Challenging Unhelpful Thoughts

I recently broke down a client’s metaphorical concern, and probably one that we all have. That is that we are in a hole, and the dirt is piling up on us, and that there is no way out. So, we grabbed a pen and paper and started drawing this. We drew a hole, and started filling it up. As it filled up we kept drawing the stick person climbing to stay above the latest layer of dirt being poured in. We did this until the hole was filled, and the stick person was on top of it.

We stopped and looked at the outcome. Suddenly there was hope that they would get of the hole. That it was only going to be temporary. This diagram altered mine and their perception of this common metaphor.

For me this was an example of how parents, caregivers, and guardians can help children and teenagers shift their thinking.

Sometimes, and especially children experiencing traits of anxiety or depression, have thought patterns that are negative, or not helpful. It is important to learn and recognize these thoughts, or red thoughts, and know that we all have them.

The goal is to shift to realistic helpful thoughts, or green thoughts. They may not always make us feel good, they may be neutral, but should help us feel better.

Our thoughts impact our feelings and behaviours. If we are having unhelpful thoughts, they can lead to unhelpful feelings, which can lead to behaviours that are unhelpful in the moment. If we are having helpful thoughts, they can lead to helpful feelings and behaviours.

To shift from the unhelpful red thoughts to the green helpful thoughts, we need to challenge the red thoughts with yellow thought challengers. Thought challengers question the truth or validity of the red thought. Some example yellow thought challenger questions are:
  • Can I really expect to be perfect in everything?
  • Am I forgetting to see the positives?
  • What has happened in the past in similar situations?
  • Am I really going to let the red though boss me around?
  • What is the worst thing that could happen?
  • What would I tell a friend who had this thought in this situation?
  • Even if the red unhelpful thought is a little bit true, is it helpful to think this way?
As parents, caregivers, guardians or professionals, we can assist children and teenagers by challenging their red thoughts by using thought challengers to help them find a new green thought that can help them through a situation.

It's important to note that as we challenge our thoughts, that changing from red to green is a difficult process, and it takes time, effort, practice and positive encouragement. So be sure to have patience as this skill is learned.

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