Teaching Kids to Tame Negative Thinking 

By Laura Driscoll
Read Time:  min
Learning to manage and replace negative thinking.

No school counselor would say that negative thinking is their top referral concern. BUT if you really stop for a second, isn't it? Aren't your little worriers filling their head with negative self-talk?  Isn't anger often the result of some quick (automatic) negative thoughts?

Just like building a student's awareness of their feelings, it is important to teach them to how to challenge negative thinking patterns. If they can tame their negative thinking, this will have a big impact on negative feelings and behaviors.

Let's dig into how to teach this invaluable skill step by step no matter what the referral concern is.

CBT for Kids: Negative Self Talk

Students can be taught to spot their own negative thinking and use strategies to change it. But before they can do that, it is important that they understand the difference between thoughts and feelings. Check out this post if they are confused about this difference.

Thoughts, feelings, actions poster

Spot Negative Thinking

Once a child knows the difference between their feelings and their thoughts, you can start to focus on negative thinking. 

First step, have them sort negative thoughts from positive thoughts or realistic thoughts. Write down thoughts on cards and have them sort them into piles or bags. 

Negative thinking sorting activity to help students identify negative, positive, and just right thoughts.

Once they can tell negative thoughts from positive thoughts, start exploring the types of negative thinking.

  1. Gloomy: focus on small negative parts of a situation.
  2. Hype: make something into a big deal.
  3. Omen: predict bad things will happen.
  4. Fault: blame ourselves or others.
  5. Rule: focus on what should happen.
  6. Heart: only listen to feelings.

Explain to students that being aware of the type of negative thoughts you have can help you spot them better and challenge them.

It is also helpful to explore the ones they don't have since it's often easier to see how those are too negative when it is less personal.

Understand Negative Thinking

As you are exploring negative thoughts and the types, discuss what makes the thought negative. Is the thought untrue? Is it ignoring facts? 

Make sure to also emphasize the impact that negative thinking has on them and also the people around them. Negative thoughts influence our feelings and our actions.

For example, we might think someone else is cheating at a game because they are winning. This isn't a true thought or one we have evidence for. But we still feel angry and then we refuse to play with them anymore. Not only did that thought impact our feelings and actions, but it also had a negative impact on our relationship.

Make It Personal

Once students understand what makes a thought negative and that there are different kinds of negative thoughts, they can determine which ones they have. 

Provide students with opportunities to spot their negative thinking in a scenario. It's best if it's scenarios that are from their life or something that was close to a situation that already happened.

To make it less abstract, have them create names for their types of negative thoughts or use the ones in this poster.

negative thinking poster with 6 types of negative thoughts

Challenge Negative Thinking

Now students should understand what a negative thought is and be able to spot it. They should also be able to talk about the kinds of negative thoughts they personally have.

Now they can learn strategies to challenge their negative thinking. Strategies should help them find facts for their thinking, see a situation from another perspective, or think through what may happen.

Check out this post on 9 positive thinking strategies

Once they find a few strategies they can use to challenge negative thoughts, give the student scenarios with their negative thinking that they can practice the strategies.

Replace Negative Thinking

After students can spot and challenge negative thinking, it is time to replace it with a more realistic, sometimes positive, thought. 

How to Challenge Negative Thinking Worksheet

Lastly, they should make a plan for the next time their negative thinking creeps up. Where or when does it usually happen? What strategy could they use to manage it?

How to challenge negative thinking pattern

Taming Negative Thinking

  1. Understand what a negative thought is.
  2. Spot a negative thought.
  3. Recognize the types of negative thoughts you make.
  4. Use strategies to challenge your negative thinking.
  5. Replace your negative thoughts with more realistic thoughts.
  6. Make a plan to be in charge of your negative thinking.

Get started helping students understand, spot, and challenge negative thinking with the free negative thinking poster.

Helpful Resources

CBT Counseling Bundle

CBT Bundle

CBT activities for kids to help them understand their feelings, thoughts, and actions. Students will learn to identify negative thinking, change behaviors, and problem solve.

Challenging Negative Thinking

Challenging Negative Thinking Resources

Help students with automatic negative thoughts identify them, find strategies to challenge them, and create positive replacement thoughts.

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I’m a school psychologist who left her office (closet?) and got busy turning a decade of experience into ready to use counseling and SEL resources.

I live in New York City with my adventurous husband and relaxed to the max daughter who’ve grown to appreciate my love of a good checklist.

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  1. Positive and forward thinking is one of the key elements of strong character. However, sometimes, kids’ thought processes get impacted due to several external factors such as too much of online games of aggression, poor relationship of parents, stressful home environment due to financial crisis or routine brawls.
    This article provide additional tips on this subject: https://allgoodschools.com/blog/17-recommendation-to-manage-negative-thinking-in-kids/

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