It happened again last night. My little guy had a few disappointing events happen to him in a row, and then it started: the downward spiral of negative thoughts. “This always happens to me.” “Nothing goes right.” “I hate today.” “Nothing’s fun.”
We’ve all been there. A bunch of things don’t go the way we’ve hoped or planned, and it seems to wreck an entire day or even week, it feels like. As adults, we’ve experienced a lot, and we mostly ride the ups and downs. We know that some good or some luck comes our way, and that there may be disappointments in our future, too. But, we need to keep in mind that our mature brains can process these waves in ways that a child’s brain cannot.
A child’s brain develops incrementally. In fact, some evidence suggests that the brain doesn’t fully reach maturation until well into our 20’s! So, when something doesn’t go as planned for our little ones, they are typically 100% upset by it. Their whole being is upset by the event and their brain can flood with emotion. Enter the tantrum, or in my little guy’s case, the negative thought patterns.
Here is what I’ve done for my children to help break the cycle, once they have calmed down a bit and after I’ve acknowledged their feelings:
- List, verbally or in writing, their favorite things or activities. This switches their thinking immediately to what they love, which generally brings a smile to their face. It also helps them to realize that things do go “right” for them, as well. You can even have a conversation about this balance of ups and downs.
- List 3-5 things they are grateful for. Again, this works to switch their thinking, and it has the side benefit of realizing that there are things for which they are truly grateful.
- Share with them an experience. This can come in any form. You can share with them something that made you happy or sad or how you handled a similar situation.
- Brainstorm solutions. Once they have truly calmed down, you can brainstorm solutions together. This encourages them to think about solving problems and how to work around disappointments. The more you help them realize that their are solutions to most problems, in time this will help them manage problem-solving/troubleshooting on their own.
- Mindfulness. With my daughter who is oldest, I’ve let her participate in some of my meditations with me. It has allowed her to rest her mind and body, and she has come out of it reset and feeling relaxed.
I do work hard to not allow negativity to invade and take over my thoughts. Just as it’s important to ensure that I don’t “hardwire” my brain to go down that negative route, it is vital that I teach my children to break that cycle, as well. I want to acknowledge their disappointment, but I also want them to understand that that disappointment doesn’t have to rule their day or mindset. The ideas above have often helped me to break that cycle, once they’ve calmed down and their brains are receptive to it. These values will then go a long way towards teaching them how to handle frustrations in a healthy manner as they get older.