Written for Only About Children by Dr Kaylene Henderson, Child Psychiatrist and Parenting Expert. In her recent virtual workshop for the Grow With Us Parenting Series, Kaylene explored the topic of addressing negative thinking in our little ones.
Some of our young children form a habit of focusing on the negative aspects of their day, which can lead to unnecessary hardship.
In my work with young children, I’ve found it helpful to explain that in each situation, there’s so much for us to take in, that our brains try to help by drawing our attention to the most important elements. And we teach our brains about what’s important by what we think about. Over time, habits form and continue – what we focus on allows our brains to learn about what’s most important and in turn, our brains help us by noticing these elements even more.
I’ll give you an example. A few years back, my son was learning to ride a skateboard and while this was in the forefront of his mind, he started to notice people on skateboards everywhere, which made him think about skateboarding even more…
You can see that a cycle can quickly start to develop. For our children with a tendency towards negative thinking, this means that by focussing on the bad parts of their day, they’re inadvertently training their brains to notice life’s negative moments even more, which can naturally lead to them feeling pretty awful.
Of course, their days won’t always be filled with positive moments, but generally speaking, life for our children is made up of far more good than bad. With my own children, I’ve likened this to a doughnut. If you were handed a doughnut, you wouldn’t want to focus on the small hole in the middle would you? No! You’d focus on all the doughnutty goodness you’ve just been gifted!
In just the same way, it’s important that we teach our children to take in the positive moments in their day (the doughnutty goodness!). I’m not suggesting that we encourage them to ignore the negative elements, but they needn’t be their main focus. Instead, teach your child ‘doughnut thinking’ – to notice the good. You can start by asking them to look out for three good ‘doughnut moments’ in their day that they might otherwise have missed. As your child starts to train their brain to develop a more balanced, positive outlook – focusing more on the doughnut than the hole – the cycle will shift and they’ll start to experience greater happiness. What a wonderful gift that is.
Dr Kaylene Henderson is a highly trained, Infant, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, one of Australia’s leading parenting experts and a grateful mother of three. She is also a trusted professional development provider for the early childhood education sector and a sought after media contributor and conference speaker.
In her warm and relatable style, Kaylene shares practical, research based advice with parents and professionals alike in the hope that together, we can bring out the best in the children for whom we all care.
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