Dr. Tamar Chansky on How to Free Children from Negative Thinking
During this episode, Tamar and I talked about what negative thinking is, whether it is possible to change, how to respond when our child is venting their unhappiness or negative thoughts to us, and Tamar’s four steps to combating negative thinking. And, of course, there’s a good chance that we as the parents and caregivers and adults in the room have our own work to do when it comes to hyperfocusing or dwelling on negative thoughts, so we explore that as well.
About Dr. Tamar Chansky
Tamar Chansky, PhD, is a psychologist and a writer on a mission to teach kids, adults, and couples how to make the mind a safer place to live by changing their relationship to anxiety… one thought at a time. For over two decades she has been immersed in the world of anxiety treatment — in session with thousands of patients over the years, and on her laptop typing away in books and blog posts the things she has learned about how anxiety works—how it gets built, how we unintentionally tighten its grip by engaging with those anxious thoughts, and how we can each systematically and wisely wrestle ourselves from the distorted impact it has to make more room for our (real) lives.
In 1999. Tamar founded Children’s and Adult Center for OCD and Anxiety in Plymouth Meeting, PA, and named it as such in an effort to de-stigmatize and normalize both the experience of having anxiety, and to highlight the assertive and essential act of getting treatment, because anxiety treatment works. That same year, she published her first book, Freeing Your Child from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to help parents navigate the confusing and frightening symptoms of a disorder which, like all anxiety disorders, is very treatable given the right approach. In 2003, she created the educational website WorryWiseKids to further disseminate new ideas for how caring adults could help kids to see they are smarter than their anxiety, and learn to not fall for the tricks that worry can play.
Since then, Tamar has written a few more books, including some of the best-selling in the field: Freeing Your Child from Anxiety—now with a 2nd edition; Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking—in a 2nd edition, too!, and Freeing Yourself from Anxiety, so that grownups can have a book of their own. It’s for anyone suffering from everyday worry, anxiety, or depression. Her books have been translated into many languages including Dutch, Chinese, French, Korean, and Turkish.
Things you’ll learn from this episode
- Whether or not neurodivergent kids are more prone to negative thinking than neurotypical kids
- What the definition of negative thinking is
- Whether it’s possible for a child whose default mode is “glass half-empty” thinking to become more optimistic
- What the negative patterns are that we are trying to disrupt when working on negative thinking with our kids
- Whether venting is something that encourages negative thinking or not
- The four steps to combat negative thinking
- How to navigate the balance of protecting children from adversity and exposing them to the nature of the world around us
Resources mentioned for children and negative thinking
- Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking: Powerful, Practical Strategies to Build a Lifetime of Resilience, Flexibility, and Happiness by Dr. Tamar Chansky
- Freeing Yourself from Anxiety: Practical Strategies to Overcome Fears, Worries, and Phobias and Be Prepared for Life–from Toddlers to Teens by Dr. Tamar Chansky
- Freeing Your Child from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Powerful, Practical Program for Parents of Children and Adolescents by Dr. Tamar Chansky
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Debbie Reber 00:00
Tilt Parenting is proud to partner with Fusion Academy this season. Fusion Academy is a private, middle and high school with one on one classrooms to meet students exactly where they’re at, academically, socially and emotionally learn more about the most personalized school in the world and how they’ve changed the lives of 1000s of families, including mine at fusionacademy.com/tilt.
Tamar Chansky 00:23
We’re no different. We have automatic negative thoughts, and we can have negative thoughts about our capacity to help our children change, to teach them or help them understand. And so in the introduction to freeing your child from negative thinking, I think there’s a picture in there of a table for two. Because I really think of this as a process where parents, we also have to say, when our negative thoughts say like, he’s always going to be this way. He’s never going to change. He’s not going to be able to have a good life. And this is how he’s thinking now. But we’ve got to practice what we preach to say, that’s a feeling or that’s a thought. That’s just what I’m thinking now. It’s temporary. Let me refocus on what’s going on in the present. That’s really what we’re asking our kids to do as well.
Debbie Reber 01:14
Welcome to Tilt Parenting, a podcast featuring interviews and conversations aimed at inspiring, informing and supporting parents raising differently wired kids. I’m your host Debbie Reber and it’s the final episode of the fall season and of 2022 and I have got a good one for you today. This episode is all about negative thinking and how to help kids who are more glass half empty thinkers shift their mindset. To explore this topic. I reached out to the woman who literally wrote the book on the subject, psychologist Dr. Tamara Chansky, author of Freeing Your Child From Negative Thinking. If you are raising a child whose default mode tends to be negative thinking you know how challenging it can be, especially because these are kids who are often rigid concrete thinkers, and supporting them and seeing things through a more optimistic lens can be difficult. So during this episode, Tamara and I talked about what negative thinking is, whether it’s possible to change how to respond when our child is venting their unhappiness or negative thoughts to us. And tomorrow’s four steps to combating negative thinking. And of course, there’s a good chance that we as the parents and caregivers and adults in the room have our own work to do when it comes to hyper focusing on or dwelling on negative thoughts. So we’ll explore that too. Honestly, I’ve listened to this episode three times already, once when I was recording it and two more times before releasing it today because it’s packed with so many nuggets that I personally need to hear right now. I hope that it lands the same way for you. And a little bit more about Tamar. Dr. Tamara Chansky is a psychologist and a writer on a mission to teach kids, adults and couples how to make the mind a safer place to live by changing their relationship to anxiety one thought at a time. In 1999, Tamar founded a children’s and adults center for OCD and anxiety in Plymouth Meeting Pennsylvania. And in addition to the book we’re talking about today, Tamara is the author of Freeing Your Child From Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Freeing Your Child from Anxiety, and Freeing Yourself from Anxiety. Before I get to our conversation, I get emails every day from parents who ask if I do private coaching or consulting for families with atypical kids. And while I don’t work one on one with people, I’ve created what I think is the next best thing, a way to work with me get live coaching, support, learn and practice strategies that work with a typical kids and connect with other parents who totally get you all for a fraction of the cost of private coaching. The Differently Wired Club is a membership community for parents raising neurodivergent kids and over the past three years, it’s become a wonderful home base for many parents like us. Members get virtual office hours, coaching calls, expert guests, monthly themes, connection with other parents, and much more. And I’ll be opening the doors for a few days next week. To learn more and join the interest list visit tiltparenting.com/club. Lastly, a reminder that the podcast will be on a short break for the month of January, during which time I’ll be conducting interviews and getting all set for the winter 2023 season which is going to be a good one. I’m just gonna say that right now. And it’s going to feature a unique new way to engage with the podcast content. But more on that later. For now. I hope that the end of 2022 is smooth and joyful for you and your family and I am so looking forward to what we can do together to shift the paradigm for differently wired kids everywhere in 2023. All right, please get ready For a powerful conversation here is Dr. Tamara Chansky on helping kids overcome negative thinking.
Debbie Reber 05:11
Hey, tomorrow, welcome to the podcast.
Tamar Chansky 05:14
Hey Debbie, thanks so much for having me.
Debbie Reber 05:16
I am very excited to bring this conversation. This is yet again in over 300 episodes. I haven’t talked about this specifically, this focus on negative thinking. And it’s such an important topic for my audience. I was saying it for me personally, too, as I’m navigating this parenting journey. So I’m very excited. And I would like it if you want to just spend a few minutes before we get into the more specific content, just telling us about who you are in the world and your why for doing this work.
Tamar Chansky 05:48
Yeah, it’s an organic process as it is for most people. So I knew that I wanted to do psychology for a long time. And when I got to graduate school, it was very fortuitous that the opportunity, the kind of research assistantship that had the opportunity to actually work with people, because they don’t let you do that. But it was working with anxious kids. And so I was like, oh, okay, I’ll do that. And then basically fell in love with that work from the first child that I saw who, you know, was kind of deer in headlights, not able to ask to leave class to go to the bathroom, or ask somebody what time it was, things like that. And I just thought, Okay, this is where I want to be, I just want to help people to feel freer, understand themselves better, and be able to be who they want to be in the world. And so for a long time, I was working with anxious kids and adults, really all ages, I’ve always done that, and wrote a few books about anxiety for parents and for adults. And then there was a certain point where I was just hearing more and more of parents having a slightly different tune to what they were talking about with their kids, the parents of just anxious kids were talking about how their kids would be just so worried and what if thing about everything, and just sort of all this energy of anticipation and uncertainty that other parents were talking about their kids just being unmovable, just really, really stuck and suffering in that stuckness. And then the parents were suffering in that stuckness, too, because it feels really bad when you can’t help your child see a way forward. But these kids were just really believing their negative thoughts that if they thought people didn’t like them, or that they weren’t smart, or something that was just a done deal. There was no room to kind of create any other narrative there. And what that did, besides, you know, creating a lot of suffering, as I said, it also shuts down opportunities for those kids, because if you’re sure that something isn’t gonna work out, the anxious kids weren’t sure how it was gonna work out. They had a lot of, you know, scenarios of threat about that. But the kids with negative thinking, we’re sure people who are pessimistic are always right, right, what they believe their predictions were exactly how it was going to be. And there was sort of nothing to do. And so I wanted to write a book for parents in that situation to see the opportunities for how even though it’s Prickly, it’s really uncomfortable. You feel like you’re walking on eggshells approaching your child, so unhappy, and often really irritable and angry in that stance, but how you can do it and create movement. And so I was just so happy to have that opportunity to write about that dynamic, which is different.
Debbie Reber 09:08
Yeah, there were so many things in your book and listeners, the book is called Freeing Your Child From Negative Thinking: From Toddlers to Teens. And there were so many things in there, including you just mentioned that idea of we’re walking on eggshells that I read and I was like, yes, resonate, resonate, resonate, like you really spoke to this experience. And it is really challenging. Knowing the audience here are parents and caregivers of neurodivergent kids, is this something that tends to be you’re more prone to negative thinking if you are differently wired. Do you see those go hand in hand because the rigidity, right, that really concrete thinking tends to be part of that experience?
Tamar Chansky 09:50
Yeah, Debbie. I want to answer that question really carefully. Because on the one hand, I absolutely want to support that. I think that yes. With more rigid thinking patterns, maybe a little more rule bound thinking patterns, that lends itself very much to having more negative thinking pile up, that doesn’t move. At the same time, especially in these last few years. I want to normalize more, the phenomenon of having negative thoughts come in, and then what we can do about it. So everybody’s welcome here is really Yeah, is really the point that absolutely parents and caregivers of neurodivergent kids may be really like, oh my gosh, yeah, this is my life, I wake up, I kind of hit a wall right away, it’s about any decision. And that’s really, really hard. And we’ll talk about how to open up that dynamic more. But I also think that just in these difficult times, human beings think too much for our own good. And we’ve had a lot of time in the last few years, and in great difficulty to be thinking about things negatively. Also, maybe for the parents, who maybe aren’t neurodivergent, to understand that I think this has absolutely been a time when this is much more challenging for us to do. And also just so essential for us to be able to have a way of responding to our own negative thinking so that we can pivot and get through our day, raise our children, do our jobs, you know, everything keep our spirits kind of lifted as much as we can.
Debbie Reber 11:38
Yeah, certainly, this has been a time where even the most optimistic person can be challenged to make sense of what’s happening in the world, what the last couple of years have been like, I’m wondering if you have a definition for negative thinking just so we’re on the same page, because listeners might be personalizing this to what they think it means in their family or with their child, but you have a primary definition for it.
Tamar Chansky 12:04
Sure. A lot of times we feel like kids, we’re doing this on purpose. Gosh, couldn’t they just give us a break, or just they’re acting up or something like that with their negative thinking. And so I want to highlight that these are really automatic, negative thoughts. They are catastrophizing or kind of assumption of bad outcomes, negative thoughts either about ourselves, we’re not capable, we can’t do things, we’re unlucky. So negative thoughts about ourselves about how the world works, nothing’s fair, I won’t have any chances people won’t like me, and really about the future, as well, that this is just how it’s going to be, and there’s nothing to be done about it. And so what happens is, those are automatic thoughts, we can add to them once they start. But usually, we don’t kind of try to think that way, it is something that just happens. But then over time, those become pardoned beliefs, if left unchecked, those become beliefs about ourselves and how the world works. And so the tricky thing about it is that where this comes from is so automatic involuntary, if you will. And what we need to do about it has to be so intentional. But again, that’s something to understand about it. You can work that into a conversation with your child, if you’re thinking that you sort of understanding that they’re not trying to think this way that will help you to be more empathic and less scared about what is going on. We’re no different. We have automatic negative thoughts. And we can have negative thoughts about our capacity to help our children change, to teach them or help them understand. And so in the introduction to freeing your child from negative thinking, I think there’s a picture in there of a table for two. Because I really think of this as a process where parents, we also have to say, when our negative thoughts say like, he’s always going to be this way, he’s never going to change, he’s not going to be able to have a good life. And this is how he’s thinking now. But we’ve got to practice what we preach to say, that’s a feeling or that’s a thought. That’s just what I’m thinking now. It’s temporary. Let me refocus on what’s going on in the present. That’s really what we’re asking our kids to do as well. And so it keeps you honest. The good thing is over and over, you have a chance to see how hard this is, in a way. But also, if you can label what’s going on, that’s my automatic negative thoughts like okay, how much meaning do I want to give that how much power do I want to give that and then you’re going to be a more believable teacher for your child because you actually They are in the trenches doing this too.
Debbie Reber 15:02
Yeah, I love the reminder that this isn’t intentional because I think it can feel that way. Sometimes when you’re on the receiving end of negativity, we might think that our child is trying to make our lives more difficult or more challenging. As you’re describing that we default. I’m thinking, were you at my therapy appointment last night, because a lot of the things that you shared are things that came out of my mouth. So I just appreciate that reality check that this is something we all can be prone to. And the importance of doing our own work around that. I wanted to ask about what we can actually change, I want to talk about some of the things that we can do. But you mentioned Martin Seligman, work in your book, and I had done with my teenager, a positive psychology class to kind of learn about how to create more happiness. I’d love to know what is actually possible. If you could just tell us how much can we change if we or our child are someone who is perhaps more wired to be a glass half empty kind of a person? Is it possible to kind of change that?
Tamar Chansky 16:08
Yeah. And I think Martin Seligman has really devoted his career to substantiating that with research in his work on depression prevention, that really what he found is that even if you take students say, who tend to personalize negative experiences, it’s all my fault, I’m capable, I’m not smart, things like that. See that as something pervasive and permanent in their lives, they can’t change it. And it’s, it’s everything, it’s not this one thing, and you teach them how to kind of have an ear out for those patterns, and what they can do instead, that you help them, you help change the trajectory, which otherwise may be headed towards depression. Because over time, it’s sort of like negative brainwashing, if you will, whether it’s true or not, if you’re hearing something unchecked, over and over and you’re believing the authority of it, that’s going to lead to a lot of negative feelings, and over time, potentially to depression. So this work is very satisfying work to do. Because people really learn what to do in these moments how to see them differently, and to train themselves to have different responses to them. It’s not easy work. That’s important to say, to set expectations. And Debbie, you may want to chime in about that, too, you know, just as another human being, it’s like, okay, in some ways, it would be easier to just go with gravity, down into the rabbit hole deep, it takes some work. But if you learn to kind of identify that you’re going into the rabbit hole to thoughts in instead of 30 Negative thoughts, and it’s so much easier to climb out. We haven’t mentioned the word neuroplasticity. But that’s the idea that we learn new habits, even thinking habits get stronger with practice. And so that’s really working on our side as well.
Debbie Reber 18:17
Yeah, that’s exciting, too, when I think about kids and adolescents, because my understanding is that that is a time when their brains are really changing so rapidly and they’re more open to neuroplasticity, maybe because those ruts aren’t as deeply formed. Is that true that they are more malleable at those ages?
Tamar Chansky 18:38
Sure I see adults in their 60s or 70s or 80s. And they still are capable of changing but certainly the less, the less time you have lived proving these theories or working around them, in a sense being limited by them. It’s just, it’s just easier.
Debbie Reber 18:57
That makes sense. And a lot of what you were talking about as examples of negative thinking, I wrote down the word cognitive distortions are these kinds of the typical like, I think of future casting and off realizing are catastrophizing, this is always going to be this way. So these are the things that we’re really talking about trying to disrupt those patterns, right.
Tamar Chansky 19:17
Because they are exactly distortions, what are they? They are just ideas that come into our mind. And again, you know, we may be wired more to look for the problems in a sense, because that maybe was more essential for our survival. But you know, if we can see that that’s what we’re doing and name it. That’s my negative brain, or that’s my automatic thought, what are three other ways to look at it? And we’ll talk about that later, going through the steps of how to respond, but I think there’s such power in naming that even sometimes kids just don’t know that other people think this way or that this is a thing, you know, that’s very powerful to to step back and have that perspective like, yeah, those thoughts make you How do you feel so mad? So angry? Like, right? Yeah, that’s just your first take on that situation, some people have a more negative first take, it’s not your fault. And there are things that you can do about it. But you got to know that that’s just the first take. And then you want to step back and generate some other interpretations and decide which one really makes sense. I mean, the nice thing about this work, I think, from an emotional level as parents, because we get so set off by our kids intensity, or maybe that’s just me, but we can feel right away, like how do I make this stop, I this has to stop. That’s sort of the unspoken feeling. And really, I say to parents, you can have the latitude to not disagree with your child. And just say, you know, that is possible, that interpretation that nothing’s going to work that is possible. Let’s look at some others. So you just don’t get into that tussle back and forth about how upset they are, how they’re seeing things that you can really, that’s part of your empathic response is to say, Now, it really feels that way. And it could, it couldn’t be my, my mind is telling me something else. But let’s just see what sort of present and getting to the point, if you can make that sort of first part not about a tug of war, and get to the options. Everybody wants to feel better. We just don’t know how if we can get to that point of seeing other options, and if one of the options feels better makes more sense to us, the child’s going to choose that likely. So it’s kind of like being a salesperson, you’re these different choices. What do you like, what makes sense to you?
Debbie Reber 21:53
I appreciate that reminder to not get in that tug of war. Because I also think sometimes the negative thoughts to us might seem irrational, or they don’t make any sense. And I know so many parents get caught up in wanting to prove or show their child that their thinking is really flawed, or that it’s not really this way. And I know from experience that that is counterproductive. And that validating and not getting sucked into that tussle is much more effective.
Debbie Reber 22:26
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Debbie Reber 23:18
You talk about venting in the book and I have this idea that eventing might be reinforcing a story that is not helpful. And I can see why there’s value in just getting it out. And so what’s the balance there when it comes to our role being on the receiving end of a vent?
Tamar Chansky 23:36
Yeah, I think that’s really important. There’s not a magic answer about this. But I think it is important for us to understand that the goal is to help kids honor how they’re feeling. And then to be able to pivot to thinking about it differently, or doing something differently, when they’re really upset about something and have something that they want to vent about. So I think you don’t want to think that that’s something that is wrong across the board. But also important to know that sort of too much of that there’s a balance between the honoring, and the pivoting too much of that and you’re gonna be looking at polyvagal response and CO regulation and all of that and other programs. And I think, hey, great nervous system, if we’re getting really kind of worked up. There’s sort of a sweet spot with that of really feeling heard and understood and expressing what you’re feeling. And then it can become counterproductive if we just kind of keep going in there. So I say to parents, don’t be afraid to help your child pivot from that because it’s, it’s kind of merciful, in a sense, because sometimes, I mean, do you ever experience this? You know, sometimes we can get on effectively angry about something and it’s counterproductive. And we need to do that pivot and kids are the same way. But is it okay to give kids a way to safely aim away from people, whether that’s physically or verbally, because we want to protect each other because we need to help each other. So finding safe ways, if your child is saying a lot of very negative things that feel hurtful to you, depending on your capacity there, you might say, that’s really hard to hear. But I know that you’re really angry right now. But I just can’t be in this space right now. But if you need to do that, let’s figure out how you could do that safely. We are who we are, it doesn’t help to pretend you could have the other response to just have no reaction to that. And that’s probably not helpful either. Because you’re not really guiding your child about how to work through what they’re going through and how to understand it better. But if you’re just the bad guy, at the end of every story, we won’t really have a more empowered child to solve the problems that they’re facing. I will say, I know I’m kind of getting into the weeds about this. But I think this will speak to some of your listeners that sometimes parents do come in very downtrodden, just sort of beaten down by this because they have felt that because their child’s so upset, they kind of have to be on the receiving end of a lot of that negativity, I always say like, You got to stay in the game. So you don’t want to do it in a shaming way. Because this is really coming again, pretty involuntarily from your child, but they do need to learn how to work with people and to work with their anger, and so that your needs count to really the message.
Debbie Reber 26:52
Yeah, I appreciate that. Our needs do matter. And I do think a lot of parents feel like they don’t have a choice. Again, for me work in progress. I’m definitely setting more boundaries around certain conversations. And this is feeling disrespectful, or I’m not comfortable with this. Let’s talk about it later. And I agree, our kids need to know that as well that other people do have limits and boundaries and their own experience in these conversations.
Tamar Chansky 27:17
And that, just importantly, if you can have the control over yourself, which you’re modeling very, very nicely there to not shame. What’s wrong with you that you’re saying that that’s not normal, things like that, that we might feel inside are like that, that’s just awful. Look at all I do for you, all those things, but it’s going to be most helpful to just set those boundaries around what you need, and not the blaming and shaming so that your child can maintain their integrity, they do need to adjust to the limits that you’re setting. But you know, a child with a negative thinking is already feeling pretty bad about themselves. I mean, any child you don’t want to parent by shaming. So just another nuance of this, but I think it can help to know that to just say right, those things totally valid, whatever feelings you have, but what comes out of your mouth is like I don’t think you want to hurt me, but I can’t do this. Now we can talk another time, or I need to take a timeout or something like that.
Debbie Reber 28:24
But you have a chapter in the book, which I loved. And it was called Going From the No to the Know, the chapter is about where you’re presenting your master plan, right for overcoming negative thinking you have a plan, which I love. And I’m wondering if you could kind of walk us through the four steps of your plan for how we really deal with this with our kids.
Tamar Chansky 28:47
Right? So it’s Going from the No, N-O, which is Yeah, parents will say to my child no matter what it is that I’m presenting the default responses, no. And to the know – K-N-O-W for the child to understand where that’s coming from, what do they really think about it, they’re imagining something like you were saying the cognitive distortions of how it’s going to be, how it’s going to be bad. And they don’t want to do it because of that. But that’s kind of an airtight system that if we start to unpack it, then there’s an opportunity for kids to see something else. So the steps and you don’t have to do all of them, but just sort of to know like, Okay, this is a helpful way of getting into a conversation. As we’ve been talking about, the first step is empathizing. If your child’s saying like, That’s stupid, I’m not gonna go it’s gonna be horrible something an activity at school. And again, your blood pressure goes up. Yeah, no, it’s not, it’s not going to be that way. Instead, because if you do give into that and to speak in that way your child is going to have To tell you more about how they’re feeling. So it’s going to be a time saver. Actually, if you can say, look, I hear you, this just does not feel like anything that you want to do. It just seems like it’s going to be awful. Is that right? I call this getting to the nodding head. It is a time saver. A lot of times parents will think like, I don’t have time to do this, but you’re not agreeing with your child that their perception is accurate. But you are seeing how your child is experiencing a situation and acknowledging that. And when you can reflect back what your child is experiencing? You will get the nodding head from them like yeah, instead of no. More No. And so empathy is really about getting to the nodding head and being sincere. Again, we’ve said it’s not always easy work. But gosh, does this just keep raising our capacity to do better in the world? I think so in a very humbling way. Right. So empathy is number one, and you might empathize with a little bit of a strategy in there to help them see that it is a right now. Experience, do that respectfully, but to say it just seems right now to you like, this is just it’s not going to work. And there’s not a point to it. Is that how you’re feeling? Or I want to know how you’re feeling. Tell me, once you kind of get that nodding head the next step is really I call it relabeling and getting specific, most important, I think is getting specific relabeling means helping your child understand that this is coming from just that automatic negative place that you might have a name for that with your child, you say, I think of my negative thoughts of just like the pessimist in my head or the perfectionist in my head, how do you want to think about it and they can give it a name. And you say like, it just sounds like that no person in your head is taking the microphone and saying this is how it’s going to be. So going from the everything’s going to be terrible. I hate this, to getting specific about narrowing down. What’s the thing that feels hardest to you? Or what’s the part that feels like? You just really don’t want to do it? And then if they say like, it’s everything. You say like I get it, it feels like it’s everything? Can we walk through the day maybe together? We’ll figure out what is the thing that feels hardest? Or what was the first kind of thing that you thought about this, because I haven’t mentioned this aspect of negative thinking that it really is in absolutes. Everything is Terrible. Nothing is good. Everyone has an easier life than me, no one lives the way I do. And it’s that all or none kind of thinking that can sound very powerful. And it’s a distortion in and of itself. So to counteract that, it’s really about getting specific about what is sort of the thing in that situation, that’s a sticking point, because then you can start to problem solve. Maybe it’s a distortion of how that situation is going to go. Everyone’s going to look at me when I walk into that dance, and they’re gonna think I look stupid, like, okay, walking into that might be right, then we’re sort of in step three, about optimizing and sort of receiving other ways of understanding this. That could be what happens? I don’t know. But can we think about other possibilities? And maybe there’s some things that would help to not have that outcome happen? Like, would it help to walk in with a friend or something like that. But when you get specific, that kind of paves the way to problem solve, like you have a problem than to solve one little piece before we get to the last step, I have mom humor, which is kind of like dad humor, I guess it’s just not great. But folks I work with and also my kids are pretty tolerant of it. One of the ways that I think about countering all or none thinking is using the power of the word SOME. And so the way I capture this in the book, and my husband did all the illustrations in my books, he made a salt shaker that has the word song on it, and it’s the same shaker. So your child is saying like everything’s gonna be in. It’s like, can we bring out the some shaker? So some things might be like this. Some things may be like that it’s campy. But what I find with that kind of intervention is that kids will use it on their parents, which is great that shows that they’ve really learned it. Parents say things like, everything’s a mess in this house. Where’s your SOME shaker, okay, right for the shoes and the backpacks are all over the place, can we pick them up, it would be so much better if a child didn’t feel sort of targeted as like this is your problem because it is a human problem. And so having those kinds of strategies that they can use in the world, on themselves see that with other people that can just really help it to be more of a flow of this is how human beings take care of themselves. That’s what it’s about. So that’s how we help to kind of optimize looking at some things or some other interpretations. One more specific idea for that optimizing step is you could say to your child, okay, tell me the worst thing that you’re imagining, it’s gonna be like, and they’ll be like, Yeah, you’re speaking their language. You say, Okay, now, tell me the like, ridiculously best scenario, just like, everything’s gonna be fantastic. The red carpet will be rolled out for me at the school dance. Okay, now, what’s in the middle? Tell me just kind of like, what do you think is most likely, as the crow flies, you could try to go for that more realistic strategy. But it will probably backfire. Because your child has some things to get off their mind, you know. So if you can take the scenic route more, start with the worst, maybe add some levity to go to the ridiculous and then at that point, they may be able to get to like what they really think it could be like and how to make that happen. The final steps, so you have empathizing, relabeling and getting specific, optimizing and receiving and then the final step is mobilizing. And it’s sort of like anything that your child can do to get out of the corner, that the thinking corner they’re in is probably going to be helpful. So sometimes that saying, unrelated to the situation, I can tell this is really stressful. And we’re not going to figure this out right now. Can we just leave it for a bit to shoot hoops in the driveway? Or let’s go play with the dog for a few minutes, I need to clear my head. And then let’s come back to this or it might be mobilizing about. Okay, so it sounds like you do what you need to call the friend about the dance, you want to find out how to buy a ticket, you don’t know how to do that. So what are the steps to do that? What’s the step that you feel ready to take? First, are there steps that you need my help with. So it’s just again, making an array of choices of how to move forward, suddenly, it feels like there are ways of moving forward. It’s not like you have to do this or else like nothing will happen.
Debbie Reber 37:39
Yeah, it’s such a great plan. And I just want to add that your book, what I appreciate so much is that it is so practical, it felt very doable. You offer some scripts in there, like you just offer a lot of tools for parents to know how to have these conversations, how to do these things. And they do feel really doable. And just a reminder that as much as we would like these to be switches that we could flip and things will change overnight. This is a long game. And my understanding is that every time we can do that, we can help our child change that default pattern and open up this possibility. I love the language of the some shaker and just not having them think in absolutes and showing them there’s another way, like every single time that’s helping to shift that perspective, just so many great insights in here. I do want to before we wrap up, just talk about why this is so important. You have a chapter in the book about the fact that life is full of struggle and adversity. And I think as parents, we so want to protect our kids, especially our kids who may be prone to more negative thinking, we really do want to protect them. And I know that that’s not doing them a service in the long run. So can you talk about how we can navigate that balance and why it is so important that we help our kids learn these skills?
Tamar Chansky 39:02
Yeah, yeah, for sure. I think if we can stretch our definition of what protecting our kids really looks like in action again, the world just gets more complicated and really reinforces why we need to work on these skills ourselves and with our kids is that we could think about protecting as helping kids to be more prepared. And so the best thing is, as you say, because whether it’s you know, small disappointments that happen with friendships or with grades or something like that, or bigger life events that occur that really change our plans and our potentially our worldview, that the best place for kids to work on these thinking patterns is really at home because deep down they may Not say this, but they know that we love them. And that we’re doing this for a reason. And so that you could even use in your preface in talking about these things at any, you know, at any given time, and then your child, you cue them and you say, Okay, what’s my preface gonna be because you’ve heard it, but you know, it’s my speech, and they’re like, I know, you want to be able to protect us, but you can’t. And so you’re gonna prepare us, okay? That’s true that if you can work on the kind of smaller, they’re not, you know, everything is relative, a young child not being able to tie their shoes is not small, that is in their world, really, really difficult and frustrating. But if you can help them to have a different understanding of why things aren’t working, and to understand that it’s the not yet phenomenon, that some things are hard and take time, and that that’s the way it is for everybody that they will persevere. And they will do the things that they need to to, again, be able to move freely in the world that you know, that is just invaluable. To have that lesson. At any point you have, if parents of teenagers are listening, or even have kids that you’ve technically launched, you still have conversations with them, and these things still come up, that it’s sort of never too late to, to use these ideas to help your child understand that the discomfort is not wrong. It’s part of a process that we all feel when we encounter disappointment or frustrations. And that there are things that we can do after that, that that’s not the end of the story. And anytime that you’re talking about these things, you’re planting little seeds. Over time, they blossom. Also, as you’re working on things in this way, you are improving the dynamic that you have with your child, which just feel so much better to everybody. So that’s really helpful. But if you can really kind of settle yourself and use your empathy to to acknowledge what your child is feeling and help them by empathizing, to show that you’re not afraid of what they’re feeling, that what they’re feeling isn’t wrong. But it’s sort of the first part of a process that you’re willing to walk through with them.
Debbie Reber 42:33
Yeah, and I, again, love that you brought this back to how this can improve the dynamic and just the relationship because we know how important that is to all of this work for our kids to have secure attachment to us to feel close with us to trust us. And so knowing that we have these tools that can help de escalate lessen some of those conflicts and help our kids feel more seen, I think the payoff can just be so huge. Before we say goodbye for listeners who are dealing with a child who is more of a negative thinker, and they’re struggling, you’ve shared so many great ideas. And I really recommend everyone check out this book that I’ll have links in the show notes freeing your child from negative thinking. But is there one thing like maybe a challenge or something you’d want parents to like return to their parenting life after listening to this with this thought in mind?
Tamar Chansky 43:27
I’m going to share what I have to work on. And maybe that is what other people have to work on too. I think part of what happens with negative thinking is that we feel that urgency that we have to you know, I’ve said this before, but I think this is one of the greatest obstacles for a lot of us is we have to change this now. Whatever is happening, it has to have a different outcome now, and if we can just do the work with ourselves to say, okay, you know, that was just this moment now, how did this one turn out? Okay, a little better than it might have or not, I think of pointillism. The paintings that have all the little dots, this experience that we’re having with our child right now, it feels like it’s a make or break, but it really is just one.in our life story with them together. We want our kids to understand that about our days, and it’s just really going to help us to down regulate and have more choices to think more flexibly ourselves if we can take some of that pressure off as well.
Debbie Reber 44:35
I love that. Once again, I’m like where are you at my therapy appointment last night. But what I will say is that a strategy I’ll add on to this something that I’ve been doing is when we’re having a really great day, and I’m feeling really peaceful and trusting in everything I will make a note of how I’m feeling I don’t journal but I am starting to just open up a notebook and I’ll write myself, and no to my future self like, it doesn’t always feel hard actually, today, it feels great. And a friend said you could record yourself just doing a little video so that you can watch it. So I think that is so important because in the moment we can get stuck as our kids do. We can just feel like this is this, it’s always going to be hard. This is always going to be terrible. So I’d love that reminder. And now I love the visual of syrup painting pointless of and it’s just one little dot love that.
Tamar Chansky 45:28
Yeah, I really appreciate what you’re saying, too. We might not want to ask our kids to do that. Because again, they may be a little distrusting that we’re just going to say like, oh, but you have to look for the positive. That’s the way to fix it. But for us, I think it’s so important to have that proof. To bring perspective that like Yeah, I did a good job today who’s saying that to themselves? Or who is saying that to us? I don’t think that happens very often. So yeah, that’s just so important. And if your child wants to do that, too, you could share that that’s what you’re doing. And give them the option if they want to do that or not, but you know that it’s helping you.
Debbie Reber 46:09
Awesome. Before we say goodbye, I will have links to your website and your books. Is there anywhere else on social media or online where you would want listeners to go check you out?
Tamar Chansky 46:20
Yeah, I mean, my website, I do blog as regularly as I can in this time. But there’s also so many blog posts that I have put out over the years about parenting issues, other anxiety and negative thinking issues. So there’s a pretty good search function on my website. So if you go to tamarchansky.com and you type in the thing that’s on your mind, there may well be a blog post, if not, let me know. And maybe I will write it. So that’s probably the best place to find me.
Debbie Reber 46:52
That’s great. Well, thank you. I’m so glad to know of your work and to learn from you. And I really appreciate your generosity and sharing all this today. And yeah, thank you so much for what you do in the world. I’m really grateful.
Tamar Chansky 47:06
Oh Debbie, it’s been a real pleasure talking with you. We got deep we really were, Yeah, I just so appreciate that. Thank you to your listeners as well. And I hope this lightens the load and gives some ideas and know that you are not alone in this.
Debbie Reber 47:25
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