Reframing Negative Self-Talk

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By Leah Lottes, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

Many thoughts fill our brains each day. Some of those thoughts can be positive and some can be negative. This applies to children as well as adults. If children are experiencing more negative thoughts than positive thoughts, it can really affect their self-worth and overall well-being.

Expressing gratitude, identifying the negative thoughts, and reframing the negative thoughts into positive thoughts are just a few ways to help manage that negative self-talk.

Expressing gratitude is a great way to retrain our brains to focus on the positives rather than the negatives. When meeting with students who are struggling with negative self-talk, I often recommend that they start a gratitude journal and encourage them to write down things they are thankful for every day. This practice can help you to get into the habit of focusing on the good in your life.

Helping students identify their negative thoughts is another step toward helping them eliminate those thoughts. Some don’t recognize how frequently they are thinking and expressing these thoughts. If you hear students being self-critical, you can gently point it out to them and help them navigate why they may be feeling that way. Encourage them to be kind to themselves and to give themselves some grace.

Teach your kids to reframe their negative thoughts into positive thoughts. One activity I often like to do with students is a handout where we discuss different types of negative thoughts. We then identify the negative thoughts they are currently experiencing and reframe those into positive thoughts.

We usually start with a generic negative thought that many kids have said expressed before such as, “We have nothing to eat at home.” Then we take that thought and turn it into a positive thought and say, “We have plenty of food. It just might not be something I like.” Then we start discussing deeper negative thoughts such as, “I am dumb.” We can turn that into a positive thought by saying, “I might sometimes make mistakes, but I am not dumb.”

Another example of a negative thought a student might express is, “I’m not good enough. I always get bad grades.” Then we change the negative into a positive by saying, “That’s not true. Tests do not measure my self-worth.” When students practice turning their negative thoughts into positive thoughts they begin to form the habit, a skill they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.

It is normal for kids to be hard on themselves from time to time. Hearing students talk negatively about themselves can be difficult, but there are tools and strategies to help turn those negative thoughts around. If your child is persistently experiencing negative self-talk and you feel as though it is causing a shift in their mood or behavior, don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional. Being kind to others is always important, but being kind to ourselves is just as important.