Resilience is the ability to overcome difficulties and return to a homeostatic state, i.e. return to a state of balance, in the face of adversities – and it can be developed from childhood. In our adult life, resilience is important to overcome life’s obstacles in a clever and kind way to yourself.
The story Fatima, from Truth and Tales, tells the life of Fatima, the main character who goes through many hurdles but always picks herself up and dusts herself off to continue on her path. The story doesn’t talk about resilience in itself, but it’s one of Fatima’s predominant traits, showing how she handles hard times, tragedies and frustrations while persisting to pursue her goals at the same time.
Let’s understand more about resilience? We have based our article on several materials from Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child.
Resilience can be defined as “a good outcome in the face of adversity”. Linda C. Mayes is a professor of Child Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Psychology in the Yale School of Medicine. Linda defines resilience as the “ability or set of capacities for positive adaptation, allowing you to keep in balance”.
We are all born with the ability to be resilient, but since it’s a skill, it needs to be developed. Resilience is built over time just like our brain’s architecture is formed. It’s an individual skill, but it requires interaction between people and the child and the overall community. Resilience needs several factors in order to be developed: responsive relationships, safe community, qualified parents or legal guardians, healthy diets, etc.
:: Read Also: School Adaptation: How to Prepare Kids and Parents ::
To understand the development of resilience in a more precise way, let’s imagine a seesaw whose base, which is usually fixed in the center, can now move and slide to the left or to the right. On one side of the seesaw, there are protective experiences and skills to face challenges (which help us overcome periods of stress); on the other side, there are adversities.
Resilience is evident when the child’s health and development tend to yield positive outcomes, even when a load of factors is piled on top of the adversities side of the seesaw. Over time, the cumulative positive impacts of our life experiences and our ability to face challenges are able to move the position of the seesaw’s base, which starts to slide closer to the adversity side, making it easier to reach positive outcomes.
The most common factor for kids to develop resilience is by having at least one stable and committed relationship with their parents, caregivers or other adults. These relationships provide the base, protection and everything that is necessary to develop the responsive ability according to the moment’s need. This alleviates the kids’ halt in development.
They also build key abilities – such as to plan, monitor and regulate behaviors – which allow children to respond adaptively to adversities and, still, prosper. This combination of supportive relationships, the development of adaptive skills and positive experiences are the foundations of resilience.
Kids who handle difficulties well are usually resilient to adversity and have strong relationships with important adults in their family and in the community where they live. Resilience is the outcome of a combination of protection factors. Alone, not even individual traits or social environments can guarantee positive outcomes for children who go through long periods of toxic stress. It’s the interaction between biology and the environment that builds the kids’ ability to handle adversity and overcome threats and guides them towards a healthy development.
The abilities related to resilience can be strengthened at any age. The brain and other biological systems are more adaptable in the beginning of life. While its development establishes the bases for a wide range of resilient behaviors, it’s never too late to build resilience.
Activities that promote health and are age appropriate can significantly improve the chances of recovery of an individual whose experiences are stress-inducing.
For example, regular physical exercise, stress-reducing practices, and activities that actively build executive functioning and self-regulating skills improve both children and adults’ ability to handle, adapt to, and even prevent the adversities that can happen throughout life.
Adults who strengthen these skills in themselves may even serve as role models and show healthy behaviors in a more effective way to their kids, thus improving the next generation’s resilience.
In the face of the mishaps that occurred throughout Fatima’s life – which is a character from one of the Truth and Tales’ stories – many people can interpret that she is a poor thing persecuted by bad luck and a victim of so many tragedies. However, Fatima demonstrates a lot of power and wisdom by facing and overcoming these obstacles. Her ability to bounce back from all the challenges, despite the pain, exhaustion and adversity, is the result of resilience.
Stories that are filled with challenges and frustrations are important for kids to have contact with adversity without living them in their own skin. This helps to prepare them to face challenging situations in the context of their own lives.
Text: Luisa Scherer
Translation: Mariana Gruber
Resilence – Center on the Developing Child – Harvard University
In Brief: What is Resilience? – Center on the Developing CHild – Harvard University
Stress and Resilience: How Toxic Stress Affects Us, and What We Can Do About It – Center on the Developing Child – Harvard University
The word empathy has gained a lot of popularity in the last few years and, because of this, you must have heard of this expression. However, despite its new-found popularity, have you ever wondered what it means?
Have you ever questioned how is it possible to develop empathy and from which age does it start to manifest?
We can feel empathy in several situations from an early age. When we come across completely different realities from ours, such as when we see someone being insulted by someone else or going through a situation that causes someone some kind of discomfort, we feel empathy. You can do this exercise and try to remember situations that made you feel empathy.
According to the University of Cambridge’s dictionary definition of empathy, it is “the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation”.
The Greater Good magazine, from the Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) from Berkeley, published an article in which it pointed out that “emotion researchers generally define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling”.
Feeling empathy is an emotional and cognitive experience. The emotional components of empathy are the first to emerge in the human being. Babies immediately start to reflect on the emotional states and the facial expressions of the people around them. Thanks to mirror neurons, babies as young as 18 hours usually show some response capacity regarding other babies in danger. We don’t teach babies how to do that; they are born programmed to map other people’s experiences onto their own brains and bodies.
According to Lawrence Kutner, North-American child psychologist and author of six books, kids as young as 2 years old might see their mothers crying, for example, and move to offer her what they have in hand, such as a toy or food. However, in the face of this action, it isn’t clear whether the 2-year-old kid recognizes their mother’s feeling as she cries.
The author writes, “By the time a child is about 4 years old, he begins to associate his emotions with the feelings of others. While one child says he has a stomachache, some 4-year-olds may come over and comfort him. Others, much to the bewilderment and horror of parents and teachers, will walk over to the child and punch him in the stomach.”
“Yet in each case the healthy child is demonstrating his empathy for the one who is ill. The aggressive child does not know what to do with the skill he’s been developing. The other child’s pain makes him feel uncomfortable. Instead of running away or rubbing his own stomach, as he might have done a year earlier, he feels frustrated and lashes out.”
Making Caring Common, an initiative from the University of Harvard, posted some tips for cultivating empathy:
1. “Empathize with your child and model empathy for others.”
Children learn empathy both from watching us and from experiencing our empathy for them. When we empathize with our children they develop trusting, secure attachments with us.
Those attachments are key to their wanting to adopt our values and to model our behavior, and therefore to building their empathy for others.”
2. “Provide opportunities for children to practice empathy.“
Children are born with the capacity for empathy, but it needs to be nurtured throughout their lives. Learning empathy is in certain respects like learning a language or a sport. It requires practice and guidance.
Regularly considering other people’s perspectives and circumstances helps make empathy a natural reflex and, through trial and error, helps children get better at tuning into others’ feelings and perspectives.”
3. “Expand your child’s circle of concern.”
As parents and caretakers, it’s not only important that we model appreciation for many types of people. It’s important that we guide children in understanding and caring for many kinds of people who are different from them and who may be facing challenges very different from their own challenges.”
4. “Help children develop self-control and manage feelings effectively.” Often when children don’t express empathy it’s not because they don’t have it. It’s because some feeling or image is blocking their empathy. Often the ability to care for others is overwhelmed, for example, by anger, shame, envy, or other negative feelings.
Helping children manage these negative feelings as well as stereotypes and prejudices about others is often what “releases” their empathy.”
According to psychologist, researcher and author Daniel Goleman, who wrote to Harvard Business Review about the subject, there are three types of empathy:
He reached these definitions based on research done by the Harvard Medical School. These studies also present the existence of a social brain, which can be explained as parts of the brains that interact in order for us to engage with one another.
The psychologist explains that the social brain isn’t made of one small part of the human brain, since varied parts of the brain interact to perform the functions involved in social coexistence. The term “social brain” encompasses several active parts that cover the entire human brain. These active parts are implied in the actions we execute when we interact with other people.
According to the researcher and author, these three types of empathy directly related to the social brain are paramount for communication in different types of environments, whether that’s at work, at home or in school. “When two people are in such a state, giving each other their full attention, it creates a feeling of well-being and makes space so that exchanges can happen, since they’re feeling safe and supported,” he states.
The author reiterates that our ability to truly connect with people, regardless of the situation, is extremely important for us to understand what others are telling us and what they feel. In order to improve this connection you need to know how to listen to others and ask questions.
Daniel Goleman states: “I literally feel your pain. My brain patterns match up with yours when I listen to you tell a gripping story.”
One study coordinated by Helen Riess together with other doctors from the Massachusetts General Hospital suggested that emotional empathy can be developed.
To reach this conclusion, the doctor created a program that taught other doctors how to concentrate and breathe deeply through the diaphragm in order to observe interactions. “Suspending your own involvement to observe what is happening allows you to interact with “conscious awareness”, without being completely reactive”, affirmed Dr. Riess.
She states in the research that if a doctor notices she is feeling annoyed, for example, it may be a sign that the patient is also feeling disturbed.
:: Read Also: What is Homeostasis? ::
Michelle Borba, an educator, parenting child expert and author of more than 20 books, in an interview to Revista Crescer explained that “the last scientific discoveries have shown that the ability to be empathetic positively affects healthy and finances, brings happiness and contributes to the satisfaction that relationships offer, in addition to increasing the ability to overcome adversities in the future. Empathy also prepares kids to live in a globalized world and provides them with a boost to do better career-wise.”
In her book Unselfie, Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, the author dedicates an entire chapter to the importance of kids being in contact with literature.
According to her, “Books have the power to transport kids to other worlds and transform their hearts. Books can be portals to understanding distinct universes and points of view, helping our kids to be more open to differences and to cultivate new perspectives. We always feel what the characters feel. It’s like walking in their skins – emotionally, at least – identifying ourselves with their discomforts and feeling their pains. (…) That is why we need to find time for kids to read and put them in contact with books.”
By reading or listening to stories, kids can broaden their perceptions regarding their own lives and, therefore, experience empathy. Our app Truth and Tales also shares this vision since it encourages kids and adults to perceive themselves more and more. By doing so better, we can also see others more easily and, that way, be more empathetic.
Written by Débora Nazário
Translated by Mariana Gruber
Empathy is popular right now and we can see it being mentioned in several lectures of the most varied genres. People claim it’s the “skill of the future”. Despite many talking about empathy, however, in practice, most still confuse it with sympathy.
As it was said in the article above, we feel empathy when we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes – when we are able to see the situation from someone else’s perspective. It’s the ability to experience the same feelings as others.
Sympathy, on the other hand, isn’t a shared experience. Sympathy concerns our own feelings from our own judgment of a situation. To feel sympathy is to express that, despite not knowing what the other person is going through, you feel for them.
For empathy to occur, a connection between two people is indispensable, whether they know each other or not. In a world where online connection is getting easier and easier, physical ones are getting lost. We advise, therefore, that you spend some quality time with your kids away from screens and the internet.
Truth and Tales, our original app, develops empathy through interactive kids stories. This is done through the customization of the main characters, which allows kids to choose the character’s skin, eye and hair color, the hairstyle, the clothes, the accessories, etc.
Kids could come up with the craziest combinations, but they usually put together characters whose physical traits are similar to themselves. That makes it easier for kids to put themselves in the character’s shoes, thus developing empathy.
Music can evoke distinct sensations in each one of us. Some songs allow us to relive our memories and can take us back to our childhood, meanwhile others make us feel excited regardless of the situation. Sometimes we may even feel nostalgia when listening to a specific song or band, and we may even remember people who are no longer around us.
Considering these sensations that we are all familiar with, have you ever wondered how the act of listening to music is processed by our brains?
Daniel Levitin, a psychologist, neuroscientist, musician, music producer and the author of the book This Is Your Brain on Music explained in an interview to Globo’s Portal G1:
“… Each time we listen to a musical pattern that is new to our ears, our brains try to make an association between any visual, hearing or sensory sign. We try to contextualize new sounds and, eventually, create these memory links between a particular set of notes and a certain place, time or set of events”.
This explains the fact that we associate music with moments and people.
Daniel also states that music has a direct connection to our brain and stimulates the production of the so-called happiness chemicals, such as serotonin, endorphin, dopamine, oxytocin and prolactin (the latter in pregnant women).
Carolina Octaviano has a Master’s degree in cognition and philosophy from the Universidade Federal do Paraná (UFPR). In her article, she explains how music is received by our brains.
She writes that “once the sound is transmitted by molecules through the air, it reaches the eardrum, which vibrates in or out, according to the breadth and volume of the sound it receives as well as its frequency – that is, whether it is low or high. However, at this stage, the brain receives incomplete information, without a clear understanding or what the noise really represents – whether it is a voice, the wind, machines, etc. The final result, decoded in the brain, represents a mental image of the physical world, which is generated by a long chain of mental events”.
Carolina explains that the first process of this chain is the “characteristics extraction”, when the brain only perceives music’s basic characteristics through specialized neural networks. “In this stage, the sound is decomposed into basic elements such as frequency, timber, its location in space, intensity, among others. This occurs in the peripheral parts of the brain. The second step occurs in the upper parts of the brain, when the newly-acquired basic information needs to be integrated, therefore obtaining a complete perception.”
Carolina states that musical activity involves almost all brain regions as well as neural subsystems.
“When a song is emotionally touching, structures from the instinctive regions of the cerebellar vermis (a cerebellum structure that modulates the production of dopamine and norepinephrine neurotransmitters and its release by the brainstem) and the amygdala (the cortex’s emotional processing’s main area). In musical reading, the area used is the visual cortex. The act of following along with a song is able to activate the hippocampus (responsible for memories) and the inferior frontal cortex. For music execution, the frontal lobes are activated – the motor and sensory cortex”.
:: You can also read: What is homeostasis? ::
In an interview to the newspaper O Globo, psychologist Daniel Levitin shares that recent studies have reinforced the notion that listening to music “improves physical and brain health, increases the immunological system function, promotes social bonding even without the presence of other people and improves general well-being”.
“Actually, we use music to regulate our moods throughout the day, even if we don’t do it intentionally. We choose different songs for working out and having dinner, or relaxing before going to sleep. The neurochemistry of these feelings and moods was attributed to music’s ability to modulate the levels of dopamine, endorphins and opioids in the brain. For example, techno tends to increase stress hormones (cortisol, ACTH, prolactine, growth hormone and norepinephrine), while meditative music reduces them significantly. On the other hand, listening to music we like may affect our well-being hormones”, he explains.
The physician and researcher Mauro Muszkat wrote an article in which he shows that music can act as an improving factor for diseases like depression or Alzheimer. Through this statement, he instigates art-educators, musicians and teachers to carry out an exercise of child observation and, along with them, to participate in a “process of language construction, in order to find answers to the kid’s struggles and for their inclusion, both educationally and socially”.
“Music can’t be understood without taking into account the subjectivity, the playful engagement and the transitivity which characterizes art. Music, in any of its dimensions, be that aesthetic, therapeutic or ritualistic, involves the perceptual motor and executive brain functions. Feeling and processing music imply the analysis of the physical and acoustic signs of the air molecules vibrations (sounds) and its decodification in a subjective and complex cultural system. Therefore, physical signs transform into emotional states that reflect expectations, tension, rest and movement as well as cause fluctuations in our endogenous physiological rhythms such as heartbeat, respiratory rate and brain electrical rhythms”, he explains.
“Listening to music also affects the functioning of our brain. The physiological alterations due to exposure to music are multiple and range from the neurovegetative modulation of variability patterns of heart rate endogenous rhythms, respiratory rhythms, cerebral electrical rhythms, and sleep-wake circadian cycles to the production of several neurotransmitters linked to rewards and pleasures and the pain neuromodulation system. It also intensified linguistic abilities”, he writes.
“For people whose cognition is declining, music can facilitate the activation of highly plastic neural networks, which are involved in episodic autobiographical memories in individuals with brain malfunctions. Therefore, the benefits of music are already widely known for many international groups, due to its ability to evoke emotions and bring back hidden memories”.
Mauro also explains that kids are not the only ones who benefit from listening to music; teenagers do as well, as music acts as a helping factor to them during the difficult transitioning stage, in which they encounter “changes that are not only hormonal but also neurobiological, as well as changes in impulsivity, motor agility and periods of oscillating moods and boredom”.
Written by Débora Nazário
Translated by Mariana Gruber
According to an article about neurodevelopment and musical education, the human brain goes through four main stages of structural development.
The first one happens during fetal development, during pregnancy, where the formation of billions of cells occurs in order to form the brain’s structure.
The second stage is soon after the birth and in the first few years of life with the emergence of connections between the cells, which create the brain’s “mind maps”, responsible for sight, language, hearing, etc.
The third stage happens between the ages of 4 and 10, during which every new learning reorganizes and reinforces the connections between the cells of the human brain. And the last stage happens after the age of 10, when the brain is still able to undergo physical changes and learns and memorizes information throughout its life.
In other words: half of the brain’s formation stages is during childhood, when the best “conditions” for learning are presented.
Another common concept in neuroscience is the “windows of opportunity”, periods in which kids appear to develop each type of intelligence more easily, making each stimulus and development more efficient. It’s worth remembering that such windows are not fixed and definitive, they are simply estimates.
Taking into account the windows of opportunity, we can mention here some types of intelligence which are developed more easily during childhood and how to stimulate them.
Our app Truth and Tales, for kids between the ages of 5 and 10, has many activities that can stimulate the four types of intelligence mentioned above.
The interactive stories stimulate the Linguistic or Verbal intelligence by telling stories in rhymes; the Musical intelligence by the soundtrack and some sound identification games with musical notes; and the Logical-Mathematical intelligence by problem solving games using drawings and representations.
The audiobooks also stimulate the Linguistic or Verbal intelligence for the same reason as the interactive stories; and they also stimulate Musical intelligence due to their soundtracks.
The exercises from Move It-Move It, that restore kids to their homeostatic state, stimulate their Body Kinesthetic intelligence through movements interpretation and motor activity games. .
We highlight here the soundtrack of the app itself, which covers the entire Truth and Tales’ experience: from the menu to the activities. Knowing about the effect of music on kids’ brains, we asked qualified professionals to create a soundtrack especially for the app. Its musicality makes the entire experience even more special.
The term cognitive development is frequently used by therapists, doctors and educators. We have also used those two words together in a lot of content published here in our blog. But do you know what it means?
In an interview from December 2019 for the Maria Cecília Souto Vidigal Foundation — which has worked for the cause of early childhood and the first stages of child development since 2007 — doctor Drauzio Varella explained a little about cognitive development.
“We are born with our entire neurological equipment set up, but not ready: our brain is a miniature of the adult brain, i.e. morphologically speaking, the shape is well-established. However, what allows for the development of cognitive activities isn’t brain shape but the neurons. It is the links between them, because it is through them that information is communicated, through these established connections. If you stimulate these connections with games, made-up stories and by reading to children, they will start to develop their cognitive ability based on the stimuli of synapse formation, which is the interaction between neurons,” he explained.
In order to explain these connections that happen in our brains a little further, we will present three core concepts of early childhood development, developed by the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child from Harvard University.
These three concepts show how the advancement of neuroscience, molecular biology and genomics offers a much more thorough understanding of how our first experiences are built in our bodies and brains, for better or worse.
The experiences lived by children during their first years of life have a lifelong impact on their brain architecture and development. Genes represent the diagram to be performed, but experiences shape the process that will define whether the brain will build a strong or weak foundation for learning, behavior and health throughout their lives.
During this important stage of development, billions of brain cells called neurons send electrical signals that communicate among themselves. These connections build the circuits that establish the brain’s basic architecture. Circuits and connections are multiplied quickly and are strengthened by their frequent use.
Our experiences and the environment we live in determine which circuits and connections will be used more. The most frequently used connections get stronger and become permanent, whereas rarely used connections disappear through a normal process called pruning. Simple circuits are built first, forming the foundation upon which more complex ones will be built later.
It is through this process that neurons build circuits and connections for emotions, motor skills, behavior control, logic, language and memory. All of this happens during the early stages of development.
With repeated use, the circuits become more efficient and connect to other areas of the brain more quickly. Despite originating from specific areas of the brain, the circuits are interconnected and there cannot be one type of skill without others that complement it. It is similar to building a house, everything is connected, and whichever comes first builds the foundation for what will come later.
A solid architecture of the brain is shaped through the serve and return interaction between the child and the adult. In this game of development, the neurons create new connections in the brain as the child instinctively makes face expressions, sounds, and gestures, and the adult reacts in a very significant way and with a focus on the child’s action.
This starts quite early in life, when babies try to express themselves and the adults interact by calling the babies’ attention to their faces or hands. This interaction shapes the foundations of the brain circuitry upon which all future development will take place.
The serve and return interaction helps to create connections by means of the neurons from all brain areas, establishing the emotional and cognitive skills that children need to live. For example: language and literacy skills are formed when a baby sees an object and the adult utters its name. This builds connections inside the baby’s brain between the specific sounds and their corresponding objects.
Later, adults show to kids that such objects and sounds can also be represented by marks on a page. With the adults’ constant support, children learn to decipher the writing and, then, to write themselves. Each stage is built from the previous one.
Ensuring children’s caregivers are involved in the serve and return interaction from their first few months is to promote the construction of a solid foundation in the brain for learning, behavior and health — for the rest of their lives.
:: You can aldo read: Physical activity, games and lots of fun: Health for our children! ::
Learning to deal with stress is an important part of healthy development. When we experience stress, our response system is activated, the body and brain become alert, adrenaline takes over and heart rate increases, as well as the stress hormone levels.
Stress is relieved when children get the nurturing support they need from an adult. Their bodies react to the adult’s response and slow down, returning to homeostasis in no time. In severe situations, such as continuous abuse and negligence or when there is no nurturing adult to soften the impacts of stress, the response to stress remains activated. Even when there is no apparent physical damage, the prolonged lack of care and attention on the part of the adults is able to activate the stress response system.
The constant stress response activation overwhelms the developing systems. As a result, there are serious long term consequences for the children, and this process is known as toxic stress. Over time it results in a stress response system that is permanently on alert.
Science shows that the prolonged activation of stress hormones during early childhood can reduce the number of neuron connections in these important regions of the brain in a period that children should be developing new connections. Toxic stress can be avoided if we ensure that children grow up and develop in warm, reliable and stimulating environments.
When questioned about early childhood development and lifelong health on The Brain Architects Podcast by Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, the center director, Dr. Jack Shonkoff, explains that one of the new science’s most important messages compels us to connect the brain to the rest of the body. “Because what happens early on is not only important for learning and social and emotional development and school achievement, but it’s an important influence on your physical and mental health for the rest of your life. .”
Jack also says that there are no perfect brains or immunological systems. “How we grow up, how we learn, what our health is like is related to the interaction between how we are individually wired to begin with and what our life experiences are about. And the important part of our life experiences, the most important, is the environment of relationships that we grow up in. And then also of importance is the physical environment in which we grow up. How safe is it? How protected or exposed are we to toxic substances in the environment, lead, mercury? How much space do we have to move around? So all of these things together, interacting with how everybody is unique from a genetic point of view results in a wide, wide range of normal development.”
In order to understand how pedagogy explains cognitive development, we talked to Carol Mota, who is an educator, clinical psychopedagogue, and author of the book “Autism in Children’s Education: an Outlook on Social Interaction and School Inclusion” (loosely translated). She explained that play is the best way to stimulate this development.
“As children play, they are continuously learning. When they play by exploring a specific toy that involves spatial or sensory matters, for instance, their logical thinking and memory are stimulated,” she said.
“While playing amongst themselves, they are also learning a way to engage with others, which in turn expands their cognitive processes. We need to think that, even though cognitive processes exist, they don’t expand outside a cultural context of social interaction. It is by interacting with others, with an interactive exchange between pairs, between children and adults, that kids take ownership of new skills,” explained the educator.
Carol highlighted that, more than games that stimulate logical reasoning, what is key and most important is the social interaction that happens during these moments.
“Social interaction and interactive exchange: that is how we are going to approach these matters in a more significant way. As we interact, communicate and talk to each other, we need to reflect about our behavior, we need to think about which answer to give to specific questions. When we reflect and formulate questions, our cognitive processes are active and it is in this dialogue between me and the other person that these processes expand, and that cognitive development starts to emerge.”
“It is through play that children will learn how to use their bodies, from the contact with different languages that may involve music, visual arts, etc. Therefore, children will get to know others and the world through several different perspectives, which helps to develop cognitive skills,” said the psychopedagogue.
Written by Débora Nazário
Translated by Mariana Gruber
Mental health problems during childhood are more common than we imagine. About six to seventeen percent of children and teenagers are affected by anxiety disorder or depression. Research has identified that many children and teenagers with an anxiety disorder showed cognitive distortions, which are characterized by negative thinking patterns — in other words: when the repetitive exposure to derogatory and negative content has a negative impact on thoughts, emotions, and behaviors — affecting their well-being, the way they see the world, and their adaptive functioning.
According to this article, these cognitive distortions are the result of negative thinking patterns. When this negativity in the way of thinking becomes a pattern as early as childhood, it directs how information and events are interpreted throughout one person’s life.
Negative thoughts are common and everyone has them, from kids to adults. But you need to be careful so that this does not become so recurrent to the point of becoming a pattern, especially during childhood.
If you notice your kids are having cognitive distortions — if their thoughts are inflexible, their expectations are chronically negative, or their feelings are too strong for them to reflect on their thinking patterns, it is time to look for the help of specialists. Kids who are suffering with this in a way that their routines, behavior and perspectives of the world are affected need to be monitored by a professional.
What is it: It is seeing things in only two ways, categories or possibilities, therefore thinking that they are either good or bad, black or white, without any gray area in between. It is a common distortion that makes you think — and then feel — that if something is not everything you want, then you do not want any of it. It is also thinking that you must perform excellently at everything (perfectionism) — otherwise you have failed miserably.
Examples: “I did not get into my first-choice university, therefore all my hopes are lost.” Or: “if I don’t get a 10 on that test, I have completely failed.”
What is it: It is believing that, because you feel something, it must be true, even if there is no other evidence to support it aside from this feeling.
Examples: “I feel alone, therefore no one likes me.” Or: “I’m afraid of elevators, and that is why elevators are dangerous.”
What is it: It is talking about a negative detail or event related to a situation and turning it into an universal pattern which is true about your entire life.
Examples: “Someone does not want to hang out with me. No one ever wants to hang out with me!” Or: “I messed up a chemistry experiment today. I never do anything right!”
What is it: It is putting a negative label on yourself — or others — so that you no longer see the person behind the label. When you reduce someone to this kind of thought, your understanding becomes so rigid that there is no more space for you to see yourself or someone else in a different way.
Examples: “I fell today at soccer, trying to score. I’m so clumsy!” Or: “I didn’t have anything to add to this conversation. I’m so boring!”
What is it: It is predicting something will happen in a negative way. This can turn into a negative way of seeing the future and can impact behavior, increasing the chances of your negative predictions happening.
Examples: “I know I’m going to fail this test”; and then you get nervous and your performance deteriorates. Or: “If I talk to this person, they won’t talk to me or accept me”; and then you don’t talk to them or have the chance to connect with someone whom you want to get to know better or who could help you.
What is it: It is assuming that you know and understand what other people are thinking, and usually, being sure that it reflects badly on you.
Examples: “I am talking to someone else and they don’t seem to be paying attention. I’m sure they don’t like me”; and, actually, you don’t know what the other person is thinking: for example, they may only be distracted or worried about something completely unrelated to you and are finding it hard to focus.
What is it: It is distorting a problem or something negative out of proportion.
Example: “This party is going to be the worst experience ever!”
What is it: It is minimizing something positive that happened so that it “does not count” as a good thing or a pleasant experience in your life. It dismisses any evidence that goes against your negative vision of yourself or of a situation.
Examples: “I did well in the exam, but that was pure luck.” Or someone says: “I love going out with you!” But you think: “They were only being polite, they didn’t mean to say that.”
What is it: It is seeing only the negative side instead of the positive or all the aspects of an experience.
Examples: You write an article for a teacher and they give you a lot of positive feedback — but you wrote someone’s name wrong. All that you can think of is the wrong name. Or you have many positive conversations throughout the day and in one of them you say something slightly awkward. Appalled, you focus only on the embarrassing thing you said, forgetting all the other nice interactions you had that day.
What is it: It is making everything become about you when it is not. That includes blaming yourself even for things beyond your control and taking things personally when they don’t mean to be harmful to you.
Examples: “If I wasn’t such a burden to my parents, maybe they wouldn’t be getting a divorce.” Or: “How dare that person walk in front of me, that is so disrespectful!” When the person simply didn’t see you and cutting in front of you was merely a distraction.
What is it: It is thinking “should” and “must” (and the opposites “shouldn’t and “can’t”).
Examples: “I should present my school work in class without feeling anxious. What is wrong with me?” However, thinking like that at the height of your anxiety will only make you even more nervous regarding said presentation!
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Going to therapy can help! Cognitive behavioral therapy helps to identify, challenge and restructure these thoughts.
For actions beyond therapy, it is important for you to start observing, identifying and recognizing your own negative thinking patterns. For example, if your kids have anxiety, you may end up personalizing it, blaming yourself and labeling yourself as a “terrible parent”. Always remember that it is a cognitive distortion, which is reversible, and avoid judging both yourself and, mainly, your kids.
In order to help kids learn about cognitive distortions, you can explain them with fun cards or a game of questions and answers. It is important to keep this team work lighthearted, without putting too much pressure on yourselves, and to be careful so as not to invalidate your kids and tell them what they are feeling — even by accident — or tell them these negative thoughts are “wrong” or “unreasonable”. Even if they are, we cannot assume children are ready to handle them and see them this way. Each person has their own time, including (and especially) kids.
An important reminder is that, if you notice your kids are having too many inflexible thoughts and putting too much pressure on themselves, or that their expectations are almost always negative, it is time to seek the help of a pediatrician, therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist.
Written by Luisa Scherer
Translated by Mariana Gruber