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Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking-- Second Edition Out Today!

Second Edition Freeing Your Child Negative Thinking

What’s the opposite of negative thinking? If you said positive thinking, I get that, but I have a few other ideas for you… in fact, exactly three hundred fifty-five pages worth of ideas! For starters—how about accurate thinking? or, possible thinking? Do we really need the very best news to feel better, or do we just need to not feel trapped or hopeless?

Today is the release for the Second Edition of Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking and I’m excited to share with you a few thoughts from this revised and expanded edition. I’ve added two new chapters to reflect the times: one on Navigating Social Media and one about Suicide Prevention.

What differentiates depressed people from non-depressed people is not the presence of positive thoughts but the absence of negative thoughts. We can cultivate what researchers call the power of non-negative thinking! That’s what my book is all about.

All parents want their kids to have a happy life, but how? It may seem harder and harder to do these days because the outside world has become exponentially more complex. In the past ten-plus years since I wrote the First Edition of Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking, a lot has changed in the world—we’ve witnessed the sudden ubiquity (or some would say insidiousness) of social media in our kids’ lives, increased pressure from earlier ages to build your “resumé” for the future and the attendant anxiety and perfectionism that results, the unbearable tragedy of school shootings becoming a daily reality, and the unbearable tragic the increase in suicide in our youth, the frightening acceleration of the climate crisis--we can’t overlook how this world—with all its wonder— is setting down quite a strain on the narrow shoulders of our kids and teens trying to find their way in life.

What do we do when so many things on the outside feel out of our control? We must remember that happiness comes from the inside. It always has. It’s built not just on positive experiences—like winning, scoring, or being accepted or recognized—there are plenty of very outwardly successful people who are struggling on the inside. Happiness is built in a big way by how we handle the tougher moments in our lives  So what is our task? Helping kids to “build a better brain” or really, a better interpreting system for the meaning of their experiences. What’s better? More accuracy. Here’s what that looks like (or sounds like):

“Today was the worst day ever, everything is terrible, I hate everything,”

With a red pen edit this becomes (edits in bold):

I’m having that “Today was the worst day ever” thought, that “everything is terrible, I hate everything,” feeling right now. I know it’s just a feeling, but it feels bad. Let me narrow it down to see what’s the one thing that’s really bothering me the most.

Do you hear the difference between these two versions of life? The first draft sounds like an open and shut case. This is just how it is.  Everything is terrible. Nothing can be done. It’s hopeless. End of story. The second draft downgrades the authority of that knee-jerk reaction to disappointment or perceived failure. It turns that fact to a feeling, and feelings are temporary. They pass. The rewrite also recognizes that when you hear absolutes like “everything” “ever,” you need to narrow down the problem to the one thing that maybe did happen (maybe nothing even did happen, on closer inspection) that’s upsetting to you.

Please note that the best way, and really the only way parents can be effective in helping their kids pick up that editing pen to their thoughts and build that more resilient brain, is… drumroll please… to do the same in your own life. I call this the “table for two” of optimistic thinking. If you’re upset about your child’s negative thinking and thinking things like, “he’s never happy, he’s never going to make it in the world, nothing is right,” first of all, you are in good company, second of all—time to edit: “I’m having that ‘he’s never happy’ thought (there are exceptions!). I’m getting that ‘he’s never going to make it in the world’ feeling. It’s a feeling not a fact. I’m tired. I need to step back and see that this is a moment not an emergency. We can both work on being more accurate in our thinking.

The miserableness that negative thinkers have—and let’s be true to the program here and say, “negative for now”—it’s changeable. Whether it’s a disappointing grade, being passed over at an audition or tryout, a social plan only discovered on Instagram, kids don’t want to feel this way. Help them help themselves to keep their conclusions about the events around them specific and accurate. Just trying to cheer your child up to see the positive will not work, we know this. Here are some steps to keep in mind to move things in a new direction.

Step One: Empathize with Your Child:

Meet your child where they are: accept and reflect what your child is feeling.

Step Two: Relabel and Get Specific:

Figure out what really went wrong; help your child shrink the problem back to the specific issue at hand.

Step Three: Optimize and Rewire:

Help your child generate different perspectives on and narratives about the situation and choose the one that is most accurate, optimistic, and opens up possibilities.

Step Four: Mobilize:

Encourage your child to “pick up her brain” get busy taking action to fix the problem rather than dwelling on it.

Step Five: Free Yourself, Too!

Remember pessimism is contagious, but optimism is too, it’s interactional—it’s a two person job! It may take a while to step back and not jump to negative conclusions yourself. It’s a work in progress for us all. But if you’re working on it, you’re going to get better at it. And it will feel better every time.

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Kids are counting on us to do this work. And we adults can and must do it. With perfectionism and mental health challenges on the rise—now is the time. I’m here to help. Please check out Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking, Second Edition. Here’s to less worry, less negative thinking and more living in the world of endless possibilities, good health and well-being all around.

Do you know someone struggling with negative thinking? Please share! 

Adapted from: Freeing Your Child from Negative ThinkingPowerful, Practice Strategies to Build a Lifetime of Resilience, Flexibility and Happiness, Second Edition available at all on-line booksellers and bookstores.  


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 ©2020 Tamar Chansky, Ph.D.