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I'm All Ears: Thinking Traps - Listening for Your Child's Unhealthy Thoughts

Welcome to the “I’m All Ears” Blog Series with Therapist Jan Pelletier from Hopeful Horizons! This three-part series will talk about parents’ use of listening. With parents at home every day with kids, we understand that anxiety and frustrations are running high! We hope this will help provide you with some techniques and ideas for managing the next few weeks.

Part Two

Thinking Traps: Listening for Your Child’s Unhelpful Thoughts

“A trap is only a trap if you don't know about it. If you know about it, it's a challenge.” ~ China Miéville, King Rat

How many times has your child done something that defies logic? Maybe he tore up his homework after working hours on it, left a turkey sandwich in a dresser for a couple of weeks, or perhaps she decided to shave her eyebrows off? Okay, maybe one or two of these examples are a bit over the top, but we can all relate to a time or two when a child has left us asking “What were you thinking??

Our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are intricately connected. Altering any one of these pieces will result in a change in the other two. While it is difficult to know exactly what our children may be thinking, what they say and do in any given situation can be clues into their thoughts which can help us understand our children when they are “acting out”. What is the true source of the behavior? What is the thought that is creating these feelings that are so big that the child is acting out by tearing up homework, yelling at a parent, or shutting down completely?

We call these unhealthy thoughts “Thinking Traps.” Thinking traps are common illogical thinking patterns that usually result in negative feelings and behaviors. Everyone uses these patterns sometimes, but some people get stuck or “trapped”, creating unhealthy levels of stress and anxiety. As caregivers, we can help our children not only identify the thoughts that are unhelpful but change the thought for a completely different outcome. Listening for our children’s unhelpful thought patterns helps caregivers keep our loved ones healthy, happy and safe.

COVID-19 has not only changed our daily lives drastically, there are very likely “new normals” that will follow once the crisis has passed and we resume our social lives. Is your child showing some signs of distress during the crisis? That’s normal. Stress can help us remember to stay safe, but it is possible to get stuck in a pattern of negative feeling, even once the crisis has passed.

Below is a list of common thinking traps to help you recognize unhelpful thoughts your child may be having. Listening for your child’s unhelpful thoughts, whether generated from frustration over homework or the ongoing stressors related to a global pandemic, is the challenge. Together, you and your child can identify and alter unhelpful thoughts and create positive ways of thinking, feeling and reacting.

Common Thinking Traps

Ignoring the Good

You pay more attention to bad things and ignore when something good happens.

Sounds like: I cannot believe I forgot the capitol of Maine! I did awful on my test!

Alternative thought: Out of 50 questions, I got 49 right! That’s very good!

Blowing Things Up

Making a really big deal out of something small or making something a little bad seem like the worst thing ever.