Children and teenagers often display ‘difficult’ behaviour because they may not be seeing things in a rational and logical way, and aren’t yet able to manage their emotions. They may ‘fly off the handle’ at something you feel is trivial; over-react to a simple request or minor ‘tricky’ situation or bring the world down upon their shoulders about a matter that seems to warrant a mere shrug of the shoulders. Same goes for adults…sometimes! The human brain slowly matures through the early part of our lives until we are more able to look at things in a more considered way most of the time (hopefully), though we can return to highly emotional and illogical responses quite easily throughout our lives when the going gets tough. Evolution means we still have a primitive part of the brain which tends to respond to seeing threats everywhere. Nowadays there are few wild animals to make us anxious but we can suffer with a brain that likes to click into ‘stress mode’ easily and is liable to do so for any old perceived threat ……even more so when we are young.
For those youngsters (and adults) who struggle to be calm, rational, positive and keep things in perspective, the following techniques are worth a try. They are proven to be effective in reducing anxiety, stress and low mood:
3 Good Things:
- Buy an attractive journal/note book, or 2
- Every evening sit down with your child and talk about 3 good things that have happened during the day
- Go through his/her day and see if you can pinpoint some big or small pleasant moments
- These moments can include things like a nice drink; a yummy piece of fruit; a good game; a certificate or sticker; a smile from the teacher; a good TV programme; a nice, warm, bubble bath etc.
- Write them down or draw them
- The best moments are those that the child has actively promoted (I went to ask Ben to play with me; I did my homework straightaway when I got home)
- The very best statements give more information about the good thing, why it was enjoyable and what the child can be proud of…though not all statements/ideas have to be as detailed
- You do it too…it works best as a shared activity, and can build the relationship between the 2 of you (which will also support their emotional development)
- Date each entry and occasionally look back together to give them a boost
1 Negative-Many Positives
- When your child is worried or upset in any way:
- Take a piece of paper and divide it in 2, to the left hand side write (for them -or they can do it themselves) the issue that is worrying them or the negative feeling they have about something, e.g. ’I am afraid that Hattie won’t talk to me tomorrow’
- On the right hand side write any counter evidence, any ‘silver lining’ to the black cloud, any positive aspect of the situation/event, any strategies to deal with the difficult situation
Be very specific, e.g.
- Hattie was probably just in a bad mood because she lost her best pen
- If Hattie doesn’t speak to me I will get to play with other children
- I will ask other children if I can join in their game, this will help me be more confident
- This is a good chance to make new friends
- I’ll smile at other people and be cheerful even if I feel a bit upset about Hattie-this is a good way to make friends
- Hattie still waved when we left school
- Hattie isn’t the only person in the world
- I’m looking forward to the party tomorrow
- Tomorrow is the day we get our homework back and I know I did well
- I’ve fallen out with Hattie before and made up
- This isn’t the end of the world
- I probably over-reacted today because I was upset
Both of these tried and tested Cognitive Behavioural Techniques allow children, and adults, to gain some perspective and engage the rational and more ‘modern’ part of their brains. Their consistent use supports greater emotional resilience and a more robust and stable outlook on life. People who use these and similar CBT methods begin to notice positive things in their lives rather than tending to dwell on the negative and anxiety-provoking aspects of their days. The act of being gently supported to record positive thoughts can help your child feel valued, more confident and that bit closer to you.