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Healthy Thinking Strategies

How we think changes the way stress affects us.

Negative thinking can make an already stressful situation seem worse than it really is, and often shoots up our stress levels.  

By shifting a child’s focus from negative thoughts to more helpful thoughts, especially during periods of stress, they develop a more balanced way to approach problems.

And being able to shift thoughts in these powerful and helpful ways can help children deal with stress their whole lives.     

How to change “unhelpful” thoughts to “helpful” thoughts

Everyone has unhelpful, overly negative or worrisome thoughts from time to time. With a little practice, unhelpful thoughts can be changed into helpful thoughts.

For example, break a negative attitude of “I can’t do this” into “It will be hard, but I will do my best.” When your child says “I’ll never be good at this” help them say “I can practice one step at a time.” 

This doesn’t mean you gloss over the negatives. A little adjustment can make a big difference. More realistic positive thoughts serve to reframe the situation and help children tap into their existing strengths and resources.

Use this activity sheet to practice reframing unhelpful thoughts as a family.

More tips for promoting helpful thoughts:

  • Next time that you hear your child saying an unhelpful or overly negative thought aloud, ask them to come up with a more helpful thought instead. Call it the “reframe game”. For example, instead of thinking “Everybody hates me,” help them to shift the focus and announce “Just because ___ isn’t nice to me, doesn’t mean everybody dislikes me.
  • Watch your own thoughts and try to model making helpful statements in your own life
  • View “problems” as a “challenge” that can be solved, but also be realistic that not all problems can be solved.
  • Remind them of times that they did something well, worked hard and improved, or accomplished a negative or seemingly impossible task
  • Practice gratitude as a family. For example, during a family meeting, have each person say one thing in their life for which they are grateful. Or create a funky gratitude journal and write down one positive thing in life each day. This can help model focusing on what’s positive in your lives and being thankful for what you have. Expressing gratitude is good for the body and mind!
  • Try a calming mindfulness exercise to pay attention in the present moment and quiet the racing thoughts in your mind.  

Putting worries away: Building a Worry Box

The “Worry Box” is a popular and simple strategy to help younger children put away their worries in a physical spot at night, so they can sleep a little easier.

Any worries that your child has, big or small, are written down onto strips of paper and added to a box. Whether they’re feeling stuck on their homework, or don’t have anyone to play with, their thoughts and feelings can be recorded and stored securely in the worry box and ‘released’ later.

It works like this:

  1. Make a worry box: Find any box, such as a tissue box, and let your child decorate it. Have them choose the place to keep the box (preferably not in their room as that is their safe space).
  2. Put away the worries: Find time each night (or during the day) where you and your child can discuss their worries from the day. Write down each worry on a piece of paper and drop it into the box. Or, instead of a box, your child could use the Stresslr tool online to store their worries, or older children could use a journal.
  3. Release the worries: The next day, or at a specified time, take the notes out of the box and see if your child still has those worries. If they still do, even after talking about and addressing what you can, place them back in the box. If they don’t, have them tear the paper and throw it away.

This activity is a fun way for your child to learn to process their thoughts. Writing down the worries helps them understand, identify, and address their feelings. And the act of getting rid of their worries when those worries are gone, helps children learn that problems can get better overtime.

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