Last Modified: May 16, 2023 | Published: May 12, 2023

Parenting Pitfalls: Positive Thinking

If your child is often anxious or angry, you may have heard about teaching them to think more positively. This is easy to say and hard to do. Many kids have what psychologists call ‘cognitive distortions.’ These are ways of thinking that are not only untrue but also unhelpful. For example, if your child ‘thinks in black and white’ that would be a cognitive distortion. When they have this common distortion you will hear a lot of words about extremes like ‘never’ and ‘always’. 

Your child may say something like, “everyone hates me”, “I never get a turn” or “I never get invited!” You know these statements are untrue but you are not sure how to help your child see that. Perhaps you tried to help your child think more positively but it just didn’t work. As psychologists, we know it is pretty hard to help a child reframe their negative thoughts. In this blog you can learn some common mistakes parents make when trying to help their child think more positively.

3 Common Parenting Pitfalls

Here are some common pitfalls to avoid when trying to help your child think more positively. These negative thoughts can have a very strong pull on your child’s thinking and emotions. Even if you are trying to be helpful, you may accidentally be ‘squashing’ their experience with your response. Here are 3 common examples of how this can go wrong…and then how to make it right.

#1. Interrupting your child 

When your child comes in the door, saying something like, “Everyone hates me,” it can be natural to respond, “Oh, please don’t say that, Honey. Everyone loves you.” This approach does not help for a couple reasons. For one, you haven’t really listened. Secondly, it is not true that everyone loves your child. You want to respond with empathy and honesty.

Instead, do thisGive your child a chance to ‘air that thought out.’ You want your child to feel heard. Get curious about these thoughts. When your child says, “everyone hates me” try to really listen. Then, you can say, “Oh, you must feel pretty bummed out.” Or, you might say, “Oh, did something happen today that got you feeling this way?” 

#2. Getting impatient

When your child says something extremely nonsensical, it may be natural to quickly lose your patience. You might find yourself saying something like, “Oh, c’mon now. You know that’s not true.” Try to resist the urge to do that.

Instead do this…You want to let your child spend a little more time thinking things out. If the child says, “You always help my sister first. I never get a turn” try to wait a minute. Sit quietly with your child and say, “Oh, it seems like you feel frustrated by waiting for a turn.” If the child nods or looks interested, you can help them begin to shift. You can say, “I know it is hard to wait. What could we do?” If the child can’t think of anything, you could say, “Let’s count how many turns your sister gets and how many turns you get, okay?” 

#3. Underestimating the impact

As a parent, you may start to feel your child is just too sensitive. You may be frustrated as they meltdown over the smallest thing that happens. Perhaps your child didn’t get invited to a playdate or a birthday party. Your child says, “I never get invited.” You might catch yourself saying, “This is no big deal. You just need to get over it.”

Instead do thiswhen your child is melting down, simply sit nearby and wait it out. You might model deep breathing for your child. Sit there breathing for a minute or two before you start talking. You might say, “It can be hard to feel left out.” 

Often, if you just let the child be upset about it, they will start to see that the situation is not as dire as they were thinking.

When to Seek Professional Help

You can be a great support to help your child improve their outlook and perspective. 

However, consider seeking professional help if your child continues to experience distress. A therapist would work directly with your child to help them realize that their cognitive distortions are unhelpful and untrue. More importantly, once your child learns to identify unhealthy patterns, these negative thoughts have less control over their thinking and behavior. In time, new, more healthy patterns can emerge.

Download the app

Try Cadey’s iOS mobile app to discover specific ways you can help your child. Created by a team of child psychologists, the Cadey mobile app is for parents like you who want to help their children. From hyperactivity and impulsivity to sensory seeking and other concerns, ask a question and get an answer. 

Cadey is a new kind of child psychology: immediate, inexpensive, and impactful.