Aha! Parenting Blog

Practical solutions for real parenting problems

Don't Believe Everything You Think

"More often than not, fear doesn’t emerge as nail-biting, cold-feet terror. It surfaces instead as anger, perfectionism, pessimism, low-level anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation.  In these many disguises, fear can permeate life, leaving room for little else.  It morphs from one pseudoemotion to another, rarely declaring itself, poisoning each moment it touches." -- Dan Baker, Ph.D.

You may think your moods just come out of nowhere.  But scientists now believe that moods are often a response to what we think, usually without even noticing. 

A thought flits through our mind ("My child should be more like that other child") and in response we feel a little anxious or sad. Those feelings make us more likely to think another negative thought ("Is there something wrong with him?...It must be my fault...If only I were a better parent...") Before we know it, we're plunged into a bad mood, running on our own anxiety.

Without even realizing it, our little fears set up negative interactions that snowball throughout our day, undermining our sense of well-being.

And since our children are so sensitive to our moods, they pick up on our mood and tone, and get anxious themselves. Guess what kids do when they get anxious? They start to act out.  

So those bad moods and cranky days are often created by our own minds. But why is the mind prone to negativity? Because the human mind is responsible for keeping us safe. So it's always scanning for danger, to keep us from shame, embarrassment, failure. The mind gets stuck in the bad habit of focusing on the negative and constantly triggers our internal alarms.

But it doesn't have to be this way! The problem is that we accept what the mind says as gospel. And many of those thoughts might not even be true.

For instance, we can't possibly know what will be true in the future, but so many of our thoughts about the future project a negative reality, which influences us to act more harshly with our child today: 

  • "If he doesn’t start using the potty, he’ll never be able to start school."
  • "I just know she won’t stay in bed tonight and I’ll end up screaming at her again."
  • "How will she ever make it in college if I'm having to check up on her homework so much?"
  • "If I don’t do something drastic to stop this behavior right now, he'll grow up to be a criminal!”

One definition of FEAR is "Future Events Appearing Real."  Fear is what pulls us off the high road and onto the low road of parenting. Fear is what makes us hard on ourselves and our children.  Fear is what makes us anxious and angry. When we give fear a foothold in one area, it has a way of taking over our lives.

Without conscious management on our parts, fear can permeate our thoughts -- and poison our relationships with our children. But we can "retrain" our minds. Here's how.

1. Notice your thoughts. Stop. Take a breath. Notice all that chatter in your mind. Notice how often your interpretation of events is automatically negative: "If only I were more organized, things like this wouldn't happen!"..."I just know she's going to give me a hard time about this."... "I really blew it this time!" You might be dismayed at how quickly your mind gets into a rut of worry or resentment. Don't let it get you down. Becoming aware of these thoughts is the first step toward changing them.  Once we notice, we stop automatically believing and acting on our thoughts.  We have a choice. 

2. Reframe the thought. Notice each and every negative thought and transform it. Yes, even if it's "true." There is ALWAYS another, more empowering way to see the situation, which is at least as true. "It's not an emergency"...."Nobody's perfect"...“No, my child will not grow up to be a criminal"...."He’s acting like a kid because he IS a kid"… "All kids sleep through the night sooner or later"…"No high school kid is in diapers.”

3. Go positive. When you find yourself manufacturing negative scenarios, reprogram your unconscious mind by suggesting a happier ending: “Wouldn’t it be nice if this evening everything went smoothly at bedtime? Wouldn’t it be nice if tonight I stayed calm and cheerful and knew just what to do?” Imagine what you want to have happen. You’ll be surprised at how happy your unconscious mind is to oblige.

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In the next few weeks, watch for more Spring Cleaning for Your Psyche, interspersed with our regular posts about kids and parenting. Did you see these posts?

Spring-Cleaning for Your Psyche

5 Strategies to Tame Your Inner Critic


Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids

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