Milwaukee Edition

Upbeat Kids

Five Steps to Positivity

This is a family master plan for helping both children and adults resist negative thinking.

Step One: Empathize with a Child’s Experience

While the desired outcome is to help a child embrace a different point of view of their situation, the first goal is not to come on too strong with an agenda of change. Instead, start from where they are, based on an expressed emotion. Reflect this with words, a hug or a gesture. Thoroughly accepting how a child feels doesn’t necessarily imply agreeing or sharing the same view, but it does release them from having to show how bad they feel. So when a child says, “I feel like I’m in jail,” resist the urge to say, “Are you crazy?” Rather than try to steer them off their course, go in the direction of their swerve to help direct them back to their best self.

The key is to normalize the experience without minimizing it. Exhibiting too much good cheer means they have no choice but to be grumpy to get their point across. Introduce the idea of choice: “Your thoughts are making you feel really bad. I wonder if there is something different we could do.” Don’t oppressively correct them with the right answer; it makes a child feel bad for being wrong.

Step Two: Relabel

Positive KidsInstead of being led down a thorny patch lined with terrible impossibilities and accusations, we might steel ourselves to remain calm, get some distance or take our thoughts with a grain of salt. Relabeling begins with noticing a familiar ring to a child’s thoughts and distress; like us, they can also learn to recognize when “Mr. Negative” appears. Then they’re better prepared for discussion. As parents, when we learn to predict, “Yep, I knew my negative thinking was going to jump to that conclusion,” we can decide to choose other interpretations.

Step Three: Specify What Went Wrong

Don’t be tempted to try to solve the huge problem initially presented, such as, “I hate my life, everything is terrible, I can’t do anything right.” The goal is actually much smaller, so teach a child to shrink it by narrowing down from some global form to the specific offending thought or situation that needs to be addressed. With young children, frame this approach as doing detective work to locate the source of the problem; with older children, explain that it’s usually a triggering event that makes us feel really bad—the straw that broke the camel’s back. It’s key to helping them know what to do to feel better.

Step Four: Optimize and Rewire

When a child is thinking negatively, their thoughts stall, their strengths and resources lock up, and their energy, motivation and hopefulness are drained. Try different settings or perspectives on the specific problem the child has identified and choose the version or interpretation that works best for them, one that is the least damaging, most accurate and gets their system moving in a new direction.

Step Five: Mobilize to Be the Change

Upbeat KidsWhen we can’t think our way out of a mood, we can move ourselves out of it. Like picking up the needle on a skipping record and putting it down elsewhere, doing something active helps the brain engage in something enjoyable until our nervous system recovers. Thoughts, like a windup toy with its wheels against a wall, can keep spinning fruitlessly in place until manually turned in a new direction.

Redirecting differs from distracting ourself from negative thoughts. Distractions play hide-and-seek with negativity; eventually, it will find us again. The master plan in caring for a child calls for us to first dismantle the power of whatever perspective is bullying them, correctly value ideas and then focus on what matters most. Whether we’re accepting or dismissing thoughts that suggest themselves, either way, we’re the boss because thoughts have only the power we give them and we are equipped to let them float on by or to amend, correct or replace them.

Psychologist Tamar Chansky, Ph.D., is the founder and director of the Children’s and Adult Center for OCD and Anxiety, in Plymouth Meeting, PA. Her many books include Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking. For more information, visit

This article appears in the March 2018 issue of Natural Awakenings.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

More from Natural Awakenings

A Local Author’s Journey of Healing From Grief

Wauwatosa author Mary Lou Bailey tells the tale of how she gained strength after a loss in her book, I Am My Own Rug, released this past November through Broken Wing Press.

White Conch Dharma Center Presents Tonglen Meditation Workshop

Domo Geshe Rinpoche, Buddhist Lama of the Tibetan tradition, will teach Taking Suffering into the Heart of Compassion–Tonglen Half-Day Workshop, from 2 to 5 p.m. March 10, at Unity Church, in Wauwatosa.

Sample the Area’s Best Chili While Supporting Independent Radio

WMSE 91.7 FM radio, a nonprofit, listener-supported radio service educationally licensed to the Milwaukee School of Engineering, will hold its 16th annual Rockabilly Chili Fundraiser from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., March 11, at MSOE’s Kern Center.

Local Farmer Open House Educates on Farm-to-Table Agriculture

Few things are as delicious as locally grown farm-fresh food, and subscribing to a community-supported agriculture program brings that food directly from a local farmer to the table.

Drink a Little, Help a Lot Fundraiser to Help Children in Malawi

Milwaukeeans will have an opportunity to help support construction of a new school in the eastern African nation of Malawi through the Drink a Little, Help a Lot fundraiser, hosted by Milwaukee area residents Niyati Desai and Claire Lang.

Rise Yoga Studio Off ers Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga for All Abilities

Paula Evans offers a flowing style of yoga that connects the movement of the body with the breath. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and Sri T. Krishnamacharya developed Ashtanga during the 20th century.

Letter from Publisher

Today Milwaukee has a diverse, sophisticated palate that includes vegetarian and vegan restaurants and a range of international cuisines that were difficult to find in the area a decade ago.

Outpost Natural Foods

Now over 22,000 owners strong, Outpost is a testament to society’s shift toward healthy food awareness.

Leafy Greens Lower Risk for Heart Disease

Teenagers that eat few leafy greens are at triple the risk for enlargement of the heart’s left ventricle, reducing blood pumping volumes, than teens that eat greens.

Physical Activity Deters Alzheimer's

Walking, dancing, gardening and other physical activities significantly improve brain volume and lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Gooseberries are Good for the Gut

Malaysian subjects with gastrointestinal problems had less pain, vomiting and sleep loss when receiving an ayurvedic remedy known as Indian gooseberry.

Saunas Lower Blood Pressure

Four to seven saunas a week halved high blood pressure risk in a study of 1,621 Finnish men.

Add your comment: