Breaking the Habit of Negative Thinking for Students
Common worries for students include getting bad grades, disappointing their parents and dealing with bullying. Kids also worry about stories they see on the news and this has been exacerbated by today’s 24-hour news cycle.
Due to COVID-19 it’s more important than ever for kids to learn how to manage negative thoughts.
To break the habit of negative thinking, students must learn to recognise when they are spiralling into negative thought patterns so they can take a healthier path. These tips will help students become more emotionally resilient.
Talk About Concerns
People who are prone to negative thinking often adopt an ‘all or nothing’ view and imagine the worst possible outcome. They use words like ‘always,’ ‘no one,’ ‘everyone’ and ‘never’ to distort situations and blow things out of proportion. When children share their concerns, it gives parents the opportunity to put worries in perspective.
Fears and concerns that are unexpressed can quickly morph into anxiety and depression so it’s important to pay attention to your child’s mood and behaviour and encourage them to open up. If your child seems troubled but doesn’t want to talk, let them know you’re there to listen at any time. It can also help to take their mind off problems by doing something fun and exercising.
Mindfulness is a simple and effective practice that helps kids learn to take notice of their thoughts and emotions. The goal is to take a step back and observe thoughts and feelings without judgement.
This distance can help students recognise how their negative thoughts influence the way they feel. Once they’ve started observing their thoughts, students will be more aware when their inner critic undermines them with phrases like ‘I’m stupid,’ ‘everyone else smarter than me,’ or ‘I’m not good enough.’
Identifying their inner critic allows kids to replace negative thoughts with healthier ones. Students also benefit from learning about the ‘negativity bias,’ which is the tendency for bad experiences to stick and be replayed over and over in the mind. This was necessary in the past for evolutionary reasons, but today it can lead to unhealthy thought patterns.
Breaking unhealthy patterns through mindfulness creates new neural pathways in the brain that can help students maintain a positive attitude.
Focus on Agency
Young people often feel like they’re completely at the mercy of forces outside their control. When they understand that they have agency over how they view the world and react to events, it can be very empowering.
According to philosopher and psychologist William James, ‘The greatest revolution of our generation is the discovery that human beings, by changing the inner attitude of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.’
To change their inner attitude, kids need the skills to identify negative thinking and consciously channel their thoughts in a more positive direction. Parents can assist by providing plenty of positive reinforcement and encouraging kids to be grateful for the good things they have.