Weeding the Three P’s
Some children seem to be stuck in the kvetch cycle. Neutral situations become worst-case scenarios, sullied by murky “what-if” questions and worries. What if something goes wrong? What if they don’t like it? What if I fail? They are programmed to expect the worse – and visualize that as fact. Small setbacks are viewed as major catastrophes. Minor disappointments call for major tantrums. Life is tough, and it’s bound to become tougher. They feel helpless and hopeless.
These children are not clinically depressed. Rather, their negative thinking writes a depressing thought script. They do not enjoy being pessimists and would love to be different. However, they do not know how to switch their brain’s channels.
Negative thinking is inaccurate, exaggerated, and severe. Think back to your last mistake. If your reaction was “it’s okay. I can fix this,” you bounced back well. If your response was, “how silly of me! I always mess things up. What a disaster,” try to recall how long this thought lasted. Did it fade out quickly, or was it like a scratched CD, replaying in your mind, engraving itself into your psyche? Negative thinkers are constantly flooded by these depreciating thoughts. As the thoughts rerun over and over, they gain momentum and credibility; the person starts to believe and internalize them.
Parents often wonder, “Why is my child consistently pessimistic? Why does the slightest tremor cause my child to crumble while most children remain unaffected? Is it possible to prevent negativity, or is this sour attitude permanent?”
Let’s peak inside a human brain. After every experience, the brain lays down tracks connecting point A and point B. These are called neural transmitters, and they are the memory tracks. For children stuck in the kvetch cycle, negative experience’s tracks are cemented in place…permanently. Their thoughts travel back and forth across these tracks, predicting the future as a repeat of all previous bad events, impacting one and all, and, worst of all, being their fault.
For children with a pessimistic style, negative events are processed using the three P’s: permanent, pervasive, and personal. These thought processes bring about feelings of overwhelmed helplessness (Martin Seligman).
They think that nothing bad is temporary, occasional, or manageable. The opposite! The worst is permanently here to stay. My teacher scowled at me today. She will never like me.
They use a single bad event as an overarching, pervasive indicator for everything else. I failed my math quiz. I will flunk all tests in fourth grade.
They think that it’s their personal fault. Our class did not win the raffle campaign because I did not bring in enough booklets.
|Negative Thinker||“I failed my math test.||I will never do well||on any test.||I am just not smart.”|
|Positive Thinker||“I failed my math test.||Next time||I’ll study harder||and do okay.”|
The more often children explain events with the three P’s, the more this thinking pattern becomes a matter of habit, their automatic response to every life situation. As more events are viewed through the prism of the three P’s, life becomes one problematic story.
These children’s brains work on overdrive to concoct the creative, improbable P-explanations. However, since they are so used to these thoughts, even when logically convinced to think differently, the P-thought will still be the first one to pop up.
So, how can this cycle be stopped?
Train children to ride another track – often. After all, the most frequently traveled neural tracks become the brain’s favorite highways. The more a person thinks a certain way, the more he is bound to continue thinking along those lines. So, if children jog along the pessimistic track, explaining events according to the three P’s, they will become more and more skilled at P-thinking. However, if these children are taught to create new tracks – and use them frequently –they will counter their negative cycle.
To teach children how to answer back the three P’s, train them to specific-size problems to reality, instead of distorting them to overblown proportions. When problems are globalized, they seem overwhelming, but when problems are narrowed down, they become manageable.
Try this hands-on experiment together. Examine a leaf under a microscope, and see how unrecognizable it becomes. Explain that monstrous problems often begin as tiny buds. However, when viewed under the magnifying glass, they become unrecognizable, monstrous blobs of green. The next time your child exaggerates one of life’s bumps, concluding, “I’m dumb. Nothing good happens to me. I deserve it,” remind him about magnified leaves. Ask him to identify this issue’s specific triggers and delimitations, so that he can paint a more accurate picture of the problem. This realistic perspective curbs his pessimism; once his problem has shrunk to a manageable size, he thinks and feels more positively about it.
When talking to your child, listen out for “extreme words” because they are red flags for the cognitive misconceptions of the permanent/pervasive thinker. These “extreme words” include nothing, everything, always, and never. Teach your child to substitute these absolutes with more accurate expressions, such as sometimes, some things, and some ways (to undo pervasive thinking) and sometimes, temporary, right now, occasionally, not yet, and at this moment (to undo permanent thinking.) These modified word choices train your child to think more accurately. For example, your daughter complains, “I am never going to be the Teachers Monitor.” First, validate her frustration. Then, ask her, “Was Stacey already the Teachers Monitor? And Kim? And Dorothy? So how many girls were already chosen to be the Teachers Monitor? And how many girls were not the Teachers Monitor yet? Do you think that the girls that didn’t get a turn won’t ever be chosen? Oh, so do you think you’re going to get your chance, too? You just didn’t get a turn yet…”
A creative game that teaches your child to speak up against the “pessimistic permanent voice” is the Pencil or Pen Game. Write down ten negative and positive scenarios. Have your child comment on every scenario. Then, decide whether the comment should be written in pen because it is permanent or in pencil because it is not an absolute.
For example, your child’s scenario reads “I missed the bus.” If he responds, “I always miss the bus,” or, “The bus always come early,” write his responses in pencil because they do not hold true always. Your child’s scenario is “I baked a delicious cake.” She might say, “I am a good baker. I follow directions carefully.” Since these are all-time truths – despite the fact that she may occasionally mess up a cake, these qualities remain – write them in pen.
This game counteracts pessimistic children’s mantra that the bad is here to stay and the good happened randomly. (Response to negative: I lost the race. I will never win a race. vs. Response to positive: I won the ballgame. The other players did not play well. I just got lucky.) This game helps your child see that negative external factors are often temporary, but positive internal qualities are permanent. This gives your child the ability to view the negative and positive more accurately.
For children who are stuck with pervasive thinking and assume that every mishap has lifelong repercussions, you may use a tree analogy. Ask your child, “What part of the tree is this situation? A branch? A leaf? A root?” This helps your child zoom out and think how this isolated incident is really impacting the bigger picture. For example, when your child says, “I laughed during my solo. Now I will never sing in a choir again. I will never get a job when I graduate. I will never have any friends,” ask your child, “Is this one choir performance like a trunk or a leaf? Does five minutes of less-than-perfect performance cause a lifetime of failure?”
While you teach your child to view negative situations more realistically, help your child focus on the rosy parts of life. Highlight positive moments. Harp on how the child made things go well. Train him to build new tracks and to travel on those tracks often, so that this should become his brain’s primary route.
Of course, emphasize a hard work ethic, the importance of perseverance, overcoming disappointment, and being the best they can. Optimistically speaking, I am positive that your child can learn a new upbeat modus operandi – and that’s a realistic, unexaggerated prediction.
Sources: Freeing your Child from Negative Thinking by Tamar E. Chansy
One of the symptoms that anxious children and perfectionists contend with is crippling “what-if” thoughts. These negative thoughts cause them to despair of managing their lives and sap their ability to fight their core challenges. Teach children how to respond to the three P’s in the “what-if” statements. Then, they will have the courage to overcome their anxiety/perfectionism.
I’m sure you’ll enjoy this as much as I did!
Children live by the ideals we practice. As a parent, self-improvement does not only transform you as a person. It has a direct effect on your family. Children respect a parent who is sincere and truly seeks to grow. They are more willing to accept rebuke and improve when they notice that the parent is also striving to better herself. They even end up emulating the parent’s example and striving to attain more in their own way.
To grow, we must have a vision of what we want to achieve during the workable years of our lives. This applies to both our goals as people and as parents.
Ask yourself the following questions:
1. How would you like to see yourself in three years time?
2. If your children were writing an honest description of you, name four traits that you would wish they would include.
3. What have you done in the past two months that could increase the likeliness that they will see you as having these traits?
4. List the steps you would need to take now so that you are more likely to achieve the above-mentioned goals.
5. What contributions would you like your family to say you have made?
6. What difference have you made to your family’s lives?
7. Are you satisfied with the mirror image of your life?
Allow the traits and aspirations that are important to you to be your compass when deciding on your personal goals and a course of action. Once you have a clear understanding of your destination, there are various steps that can help you reach it more speedily.
It is a good idea to write your long-term goals on paper. You can even ask a close friend or relative to coach you, encourage you and gauge your progress. Set up a system of accountability, so that you must answer to someone – even if that someone is you!
Visualize yourself as being the person you wish you could be. This will make success feel more within reach and the process more likely to happen.
At the same time, honestly evaluate where you are holding now. Examine all your behaviors through the lens of your life’s vision. See how many conform to the values that matter most to you. Analyze which steps you can take to express your life’s values in your actions and make your life’s vision into a reality.
Often, although we have our priorities set straight in our minds, we are too busy to act on them. Yes, we are checking all the “chores” of the “Things To Do To Be a Good Mother” list. Dinner : done. Homework: done. Bedtime: done.
Yet, it is possible to do all the right things and not be getting to the right place. It is possible to be busy – and simultaneously, ineffective. It is vital to keep your eyes on your life’s vision, and never lose sight of that goal. No matter how pressured, no matter how distracted, make sure to place utmost emphasis on your true priority. All too often, values are sacrificed at the expense of success. For example, too many homes have paid the price for cleanliness with the children’s happiness, the mother’s peace of mind and the family’s relationships. Too many cakes have been baked to the tune of a mother’s frazzled nerves and impatient tone of voice. Too many “perfect holiday plans” have been created by stilting children’s creativity and bringing stress into the happiest month of the year.
It is vital to map out your life’s blueprint before you begin to build your home. Otherwise, life “happens.” Circumstances force you into acting upon automatic reflex, and that shapes your life’s destiny. If, however, you have clearly defined goals, you can be proactive, instead of reactive. First set your goals – and then see how your goals become a reality.
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All people feel anxious at times. This is a normal, necessary feeling which God has instilled in a person for his protection. Without fear, a person would land up in dangerous situations with devastating ramifications.
Not all people are afraid of the same things. For one child, a dog causes shudders. To another child, a thunderstorm or fire alarm triggers tears. Anxiety is the result of a person’s judgment of a situation. For the most part, anxiety is aroused by a specific situation and subsides when the perceived threat no longer exists.
Fears and anxieties are normal, common and passing. Approximately forty percent of elementary school children are afraid to be separated from a parent. Approximately thirty-three percent of children worry about their competence and seek reassurance. About twenty percent are afraid of heights, are shy in new situations and are anxious about public speaking and social acceptance. In fact, research surveys have shown that as many as forty percent of children aged seven to twelve have seven or more fears. Girls are often more expressive about fears than boys, their issues usually centering on animals, illness, and injury. Boys are usually more concerned with peer rejection and academic failure.
At every stage in life, a person must master different motor, language, social, emotional and psychological milestones. For example, infants learn to roll over and babble, children are expected to read, write and socialize, and teenagers must become independent and prepare for adulthood. When the demands of life’s tasks exceed one’s coping abilities, they may become a focus of anxiety.
Fears change during different stages of life. Young children are commonly anxious about situations that involve safety, security and maturing. Adolescents are concerned about broader issues, such as performance, social evaluations, moral responsibilities and independence.