Promote Positive Self-Talk
Sometimes changing how we think, helps to change how we feel and behave. People who think positive tend to be happier, healthier and cope better during challenging times – but it's important to be a 'realistic optimist'.1 It's not realistic to pretend that everything is fine during difficult times. Being a realistic optimist requires being able to put situations in perspective by using thinking skills to help develop a positive outlook.
- Pay attention to 'self-talk' and recognize negative thinking 'traps'. Self-talk are the thoughts we say to ourselves throughout the day. It's important to identify 'thinking traps' – or faulty thinking – because such thoughts can lead to feeling sad, anxious or angry.2 Ask the young person to share what they are thinking – and listen nonjudgmentally.
- Help the young person develop 'realistic thinking' and 'reframe the situation. Think about all aspects of the situation in a balanced way – identify both the negative and positive aspects of the situation.3 This helps to balance out the negative thoughts with positive ones leading to more positive feelings (calm, satisfied). Say something like, "I can see why you might think that, but maybe we can think of the situation in another way."
- Encourage gratitude – an appreciation of life and the moment. Cultivate optimism. Help the young person think ￼about one or two good things happening at that moment – being mindful of what can be seen, heard or felt that is positive. Taking time to 'count our blessings' on a daily basis, either by writing or saying them can improve mental and physical health and feelings of happiness.4 Let's think of 1-2 things we're grateful for right now. (e.g. I have good friends; I'm healthy; I love my dog) Help students savor life experiences. Let's enjoy seeing the sun shine today. Make sure to enjoy your time outside at recess!
- Look for opportunities to learn from the situation. Help young people view difficult situations as a challenge to overcome and opportunities to learn and become more resilient. Facing this challenge will help me know what to do the next time.
Simple strategies and user-friendly resources:
- Complete the Thinking Strategies lessons from The Zones of Regulation (Kuypers, 2011).5 Lessons include worksheets and activities that can be embedded into language arts learning. Consider having your occupational therapist, school counselor or speech therapist co-teach these classes.
- Size of the Problem Thinking Strategy Activity. (p. 122) This lesson helps students think about whether problems are 'big', 'medium', or 'little' and how such problems affect people around them.
- Inner Coach vs. Inner Critic Thinking Strategy Activity. This lesson (including worksheets & activities) helps students identify negative self-talk (inner critic) and develop positive thinking (inner coach).
- Superflex© vs. Rock Brain© Thinking Strategy Activity.6 (p. 131) This lesson helps students learn about rigid thinking (rock brain, getting stuck on a negative idea) and flexible thinking (superflex thinking, being able to consider different points of view).
- After reading stories in class, have students identify characters who demonstrated being in a negative thinking trap. Have the students reframe the situation and identify realistic thoughts, or a balanced view. Talk about what the character might learn from the situation.
- As an adult role model, demonstrate how you reframe situations by talking about positive and negative aspects of what happened. Show students how you remain optimistic! e.g. I am a bit flustered because I was in a small fender-bender accident this morning. This is upsetting, but I'm grateful that no one was hurt.
- Look for ways to promote optimism and gratitude throughout the day. For language arts or handwriting practice, have them write a gratitude journal or a thank you note to a family member or friend. Help students express gratitude verbally to each other.
1 Kids Matter: Australian Primary Schools Mental Health Initiative. How thinking affects feelings. Retrieved from https://www.kidsmatter.edu.au/families/about-emotions/childrens-emotions/supporting-children's-emotional-development-how-thinking
2 Actions for Happiness. Action 31: Be positive but stay realistic. Retrieved from http://www.actionforhappiness.org/take-action/be-positive-but-stay-realistic
3 Tartakovsky, M. (2015). 3 Handy Ways to Help Your Child Overcome Negative Thinking. World of Psychology. Psych Central. Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2011/07/17/3-handy-ways-to-help-your-child-overcome-negative-thinking/
4 Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). The HOW of happiness: A new approach to getting the life you want. London: Penguin Books LTD.
5 Kuypers, L. (2011). The Zones of Regulation. Social Thinking Publishing. This curriculum can be used by an interdisciplinary team. See http://www.zonesofregulation.com/the-zones-of-regulation-book.html
6 Madrigal, S., & Winner, M. G. (2008). Superflex: a superhero social thinking curriculum. San Jose, CA: Social Thinking Publishing.