“Anxiety, itself isn’t the enemy,” writes Michele Kambolis, author of Generation Stressed. The best way to help anxious children is by learning how to stop (or at least manage) the irrational thoughts and thinking traps that play a big role in reinforcing anxiety.
Negative thinking (often developing into habits) creates thinking traps that children can get stuck in, fuelling anxiety and unhealthy coping behaviours. The trick, instead, is to notice these patterns, see the signs of negative thinking and stop before getting snagged in the trap. With self-awareness and practice, children can learn to see their own thinking traps and reframe their thoughts in a positive way.
In Generation Stressed, Kambolis describes eleven thinking traps and the methods to overcome them. Each is offered in a child-friendly way by giving the trap a delinquent persona so children can recognize them as the real culprits of anxiety. All or Nothing Andy and Eddie Exaggeration are among the culprits.
Find the thinking trap that is fuelling a child’s anxiety. This will help to focus in on the unhelpful thoughts that need to be targeted. Click the link to each thinking trap to learn one of Kambolis’ strategies to avoid the trap.
Perfectionist Thinking shows up as "all or nothing," "good or bad," "perfect or disasterous."
Doomsday Thinking focuses on the worst possible outcomes and catastrophic situations that fuel worries.
Exaggerated Thinking blows things out of proportion making small problems into big ones that seem insurmountable.
Should and Shouldn’t Thinking makes us feel that every decision will turn out to be a mistake. This results in feelings of constant disappointment in ourselves.
Black and White Thinking accepts that things either “always” or “never” happens. “Sometimes” is harder to believe in this thinking trap.
Loopback Thinking shows up when we firmly predict that if something bad happens, it will continue to happen again and again.
Mind Reading “knows” what others are thinking and concludes that it is always negative.
It’s All About Me Thinking adds blame, points fingers and lays on the guilt for things we did or didn’t do.
Skeptical Thinking downplays strengths and positive qualities and rejects any positive feedback from others.
“ISM” Thinking labels a flaw and generalizes it into an entire character description.
Blame Thinking jumps to conclusions and quickly assigns blame.
If any of these thinking traps sound familiar (within yourself or a child), you are not alone and not destined to be stuck! Getting out of thinking traps and then avoiding them altogether is a skill that requires practice.
Step one: Be aware of thinking traps.
Step two: Notice the signs (the thoughts, words or behaviours) and name the thinking trap when it happens.
Step three: Challenge thinking. Kambolis has children thank the thinking culprit for trying to help and then uses trap-specific techniques to focus on using the opposite, more positive thinking style.
Step four: Repeat as needed.
Michele Kambolis is a Child and Family Therapist, Registered Clinical Counselor and Parent Educator. Generation Stressed (2014) is filled with evidence-informed information and engaging exercises for families to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety in children.
Research has shown that Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is one of the most effective treatments for anxiety. CBT focuses on the way people think ("cognitive") and act ("behaviour"). Our thoughts about a situation affect how we feel (emotionally and physically) and how we behave in that situation. CBT helps to find out how we can interrupt a negative cycle of thoughts and behaviours.
Sign up (free) and download the 11 Thinking Culprits like All or Nothing Andy and Eddie Exaggeration.
Strategy: Deliberately do a so-so job on a task to prove that it isn't the end of the world when things aren't perfect.
Strategy: Bring attention to the here and now and acknowledge that the worst possible outcome is not currently a reality.
Tell yourself, "I can do this!"
Be ok with a "good enough" decision and remind yourself you can always make a different choice next time.
Brainstorm a list of exceptions to a situation.
Think about a time when a situation ended in disappointment once, but then went well the next time. Tell someone about it.
Remind yourself that you can't actually read people's minds and that it's only a guess.
Make a list of things that you are responsible for and things that you are not.
Name a strength you have.
Draw yourself in the middle of a piece of paper and list your thoughts, emotions and body sensations - giving the whole picture.
Remind yourself that learning happens with mistakes and blame isn't required.
One example from Generation Stressed is Blindfold Bob - the Skeptical Thinking culprit. If you notice your child downplay a compliment.
1. Thank Blindfold Bob for trying to help.
2. Remind Blindfold Bob "I am a worthwhile person and can be kind to myself."
3. Remind him of your strengths; for example, "I really did do well at track and field today."