At Christmas time, did you experience getting your kid something you thought they’d absolutely love, but they just looked at it like “WTF?” Did you buy it thinking, “they’re going to love this,” but instead you got a response from your child along the lines of “worst Christmas ever” and they ended up storming away?
Did you start to think, “I have this ungrateful brat. Who is this kid? I don’t even know them. I have a child with a bad attitude.”
The thoughts above are an example of cognitive distortions or what I call blackhole thinking – NOT a ‘child with a bad attitude’ or a parent with a ‘bad kid.’ If we would put a pause in place, and realize that biologically we’re designed to see the negative in things, we would have a better chance of walking around these black holes of negative thinking and creating bridges over them.
So let’s talk about the different types of black hole thinking.
If we were able to recognize black hole thinking, and instead respond with empathy and compassion, we can have better relationships based on effective communication and problem-solving. Here are the top three types of blackhole thinking that impact parenting the most:
Seeing only the worst possible outcomes of a situation. Not thinking logically about an outcome and creating a narrative that only caters to a “worst-case scenario” mindset.
Interpreting the meaning of a situation with little or no evidence. Filling in gaps with personal projections or thought patterns brings one to the wrong conclusion.
The belief that things are to be a certain way, and if they are not, it is a failure.
So now that we know the big three, let’s help you determine: Is my child in the hole, am I in the hole, and is one of us pulling the other into the hole? In this blog, we’re going to talk about how to know, and what to do about it – to save your family’s sanity and develop better communication.
Is my child in the hole? Here’s an example to help you find out:
Say your child finishes a soccer game. They scored a goal at the beginning, but at the end, they missed a point. Because of this, all they can talk about is how much they “sucked.” You try to reassure them that they’re really good, or you take a different route and scold them for having a “bad attitude” – which in return makes them mad at you.
So what should you do in this scenario?
Reflect with them, and with empathy. This sounds like: “You seem disappointed. You were hoping to get that last shot in.”
What does this do? A few things, but mainly:
When we deny our child’s own reality, we’re actually contributing to that specific lens, instead of allowing them to have their experience and allow them to work their way thru it.
What about if I’m in the hole?
If you aren’t sure if you’re the one who’s in the black hole, let’s take a look at the example below.
You get home at 6 PM, and you picked up both the kids from their perspective after school programs. Suddenly somebody says “I left my homework at Karate.” This prompts you to respond with, “Great, now what are we going to do, and what are you gonna tell your teacher?”
Your child’s thinking at first, that it wasn’t a big deal – but now they are. Suddenly, the parent (you) is painting gloom and doom and making them think the teacher is going to see them as a terrible student, etc.
So what should you do instead, if you find this being your immediate response?
Take a deep breath to calm down, and then based on the level of your child’s upset, illicit problem solving by asking “So what do you think you can do about it?” Maybe your child says “That’s ok, my teacher won’t care,” or “So and so was in my karate class, and can bring it to me tonight.” Maybe they realize they’ll have to handle it and let their teacher know they forgot it, and see if they can turn it in the next day.
But it doesn’t have to be the end of the world.
What does this do? It teaches your child how to have a say in the things that impact them specifically, while also teaching them to be responsible – aka, having an ability to respond to a situation. It also helps them be a problem-solver, rather than have their problems solved for them, creating independence and accountability.
The overall theme here with both scenarios is reframing your child’s ‘attitude problem’, and allowing them to have their own reality.
Interested in learning more? Does either of these situations sound like you? Then check out my Mindful-IshTM parenting program, where we discuss scenarios and problem-solving skills exactly like these, and learn how to handle, and how to shift. Sign up for the waitlist now!
References for Cognitive Distortions:
1. Beck, J. S. (2011). Cognitive behavior therapy: Basics and beyond (2nd ed.). New York, NY, US: Guilford Press.
References for CBT Thinking Errors:
1. Durlak, J.A., Furnham, T. and Lampman, C. (1991). Effectiveness of cognitive-behaviour therapy for maladapting children: a meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin 110, 204-214.
2. Stallard, P. (2002). Think Good–Feel Good.
I empower parents and teachers to feel calm, capable, and confident so that they can problem-solve and create new possibilities with their children.
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