Not only black & white: Teaching kids to think positively

They see the world in black and white, they are sure that everyone is laughing at them and that they are not successful enough to be popular. Kids might be captives in the misconceptions of themselves and in charges against the world - how can we teach them to see the good things and change reality?

 fresh mom, surrounded by mothers of babies, I noticed that even in the beginning there are babies that magnetize people and get a lot of attention, while other kids get less attention. It didn’t have anything to do with beauty or development - the secret was their smile!


So, there are some who know it from babyhood: when you smile, the world smiles back at you. It’s true in every age, and with some awareness and basic tools, you can help kids with a negative outlook to see a lot of more positive things in themselves and in others, to smile more and to magnetize their surroundings.


A self-fulfilling prophecy

You probably heard the term “self-fulfilling prophecy”. It’s about faith that exists inside of us, that later we discover again and again that exists as well.


The thing is that the reality we see, and experience is relative, meaning that it’s seen through our eyes and therefore it’s subjective. In other words, we will track signals in which strengthen our belief. If we would change our belief, we might have interpreted symbols in an entirely different way.


10 years old Nadav believed that everyone is making fun of him, and you can imagine that wandering with a thought like that hurts the social potential and the self-esteem of this kid. Nadav was sure that it was true, and therefore he told me this story: he went to karate class and a group of bigger kids, that grouped together across the road, was looking at him.


One of them said something and everybody laughed. Nadav was offended and almost didn’t participate in the same class, because he recreated again and again in his head the stinging insult.


Out of this belief, the reality of Nadav was hurtful, and the goal was to free him, so he could see the reality in a different light and get out from the low self-esteem that he developed.


I asked him if he heard what that kid told his friends, that made them laugh. “No” he answered, “but I’m sure it was about me because they looked at me”. I offered him a different angle of view: “Maybe they looked at you because it’s interesting to see a kid walking in the street with a karate outfit, and then that kid said something like ‘He is so lucky! I wished to learn karate, but my parents signed me into a piano class' and then everybody laughed”.


Nadav smiled. “How would you feel if that was what he said?” I asked. “I would feel really good!” he answered. “You really don’t know what he said. You can only guess. So, if you are guessing, why don’t you think about something that will make you feel good?”. Nadav agreed, and that was the starting point of the change of his perception.


Emotion influences the response

More than once we tell ourselves stories, we believe in those stories, make a whole conversation in our heads about others and act out of emotions, emotions that we developed in these conversations, mostly without others being involved, nor have an actual say on the matter.


For example, Noa, sees her good friend Dana pairing up with another girl and is sure that she doesn’t want to be her friend anymore, prefers the other girl and that they are gossiping about her. If she had enough time she would also inspect what could be the source to the change and will deduce that the other girl turned Dana against her - and if Dana got turned so easily so who needs her anyway etc.


In this stage, even if the girls see her and invite her to join she’ll say no, as she is offended. “No favors”, she’ll think, going home telling that Dana isn’t her friend anymore.

This is where you need to help your kids separate the story they tell themselves from the reality. How would you do this? Stick to the cold facts from the field. In this case, the only fact is that the two girls paired up, and all the rest is left as guesses. Noa doesn’t know what is behind the pairing, so she fills up the blanks.


Her guesses reflect on how she feels (hurt and offended), and her response was an outcome of that feeling (avoids approaching the girls even when they call her, muttering “No favors”).


Use the same known fact and try to invent a different story. Maybe they plan a girls’ party and they whispered so the boys that wander around wouldn’t hear? Maybe Dana said that she can’t wait to tell Noa about this? Ask the girl: What do you think? How does that sound to you? How would you feel if that was true? (Excited, happy). And how would you react when they called you? (Running to join them!)


Let her activate her imagination and offer other possibilities. It will help her understand that until you don’t know the facts, everything is a possibility. In other words, let the kids talk to their friends instead of with themselves.


“Laugh at” or “Laugh with”?

I’ve heard more than once that when we laugh, and a kid gets offended we say to them: “We’re not laughing at you, we’re laughing with you”. But that is not true. If the kid is offended, and is surely not laughing, so it’s not really “with”. On the other hand, there wasn’t any intention to laugh at them and surely not to hurt any feelings. So, what is true? We are laughing at the situation.


When a kid slips in the rain and falls in a puddle of water, it’s not very convenient and they think about “how embarrassing” was that, since they realize this probably looked very funny. Kids who will pass by on spot at that moment, even if they were very sensitive and offer help, will have a hard time hiding their smile.


Now it’s all up to the kid that fell. He has a fraction of a second to decide whether to stay in his inconvenience or manages to look at the situation from the sidelines and laugh. If he laughed- it’s guaranteed that they laugh with and not at.


Even when someone is teased on purpose they can choose whether to be insulted or to accept himself with their weaknesses and look at it with humor. Take “Eretz Nehederet” for example. They don’t spare public personas and we are having fun laughing at them, but when one of them comes to the show and participates in a sketch we don’t laugh at them anymore, we laugh with him. More than that, we are impressed and value him for this ability and mention that he’s “Awesome” and “Has a sense of humor”. We value him much more than those who get offended and make noise on the media over the jokes.


A game as a tool for developing positive thinking

Kids who are drawn to negative thinking will express it by the way they play together. They will say sentences like “I surely can’t do it”, “I always lose” etc. Also, during the game, they are concentrated on a possible negative outcome. When they roll the dice and say, “Just not a 4, just not a 4”, and when they get a 4 they mutter: “Aww, I knew it!”.


As parents for a kid with negative thinking, I suggest using games to help him change this perception. When a kid says, “I can’t do it for sure”, answer “sometimes you are successful and sometimes you aren’t”. Avoid getting into an argument if he answers, “But I always lose”, so he won’t feel that he needs to “Prove” that it’s true.


When he says “Just not a 4” again and again he is focusing on the negative. Encourage him to say the number that he wants and focus on it. “I wish that’ll be a 5, I wish that’ll be a 5”. The odds of these 2 “Prayers” coming true is equal, but the feeling that adds up to that is entirely different. When the kid says, “Just not a….” and the number that came out is that number he will experience failure, while if he said, “I wish that’ll be…”, he would experience success!


In good there’s bad, in bad there’s good

Do you know the yin and yang symbol, which implies that opposites complete each other? I use it to portray to kids the fact that good doesn’t exist without bad and vice versa. Kids might be “stuck” in the bad, repetitively complaining about themselves and the world. For example, “I don’t know how to paint”, “I don’t like going to the mall like other girls”, I don’t like soccer”, “I’m fat”, “I’m short” etc.

The symbol helps kids understand that the world isn’t only black and white, and what seems to them as black you can find lit areas. All you need to do is look. We examine together the complaint and look at it from a different angle by asking the question “What do you gain from that? What will come out of this for you?”, when the cosmic rule says that it isn’t good without bad and vice versa.


You have to find the good things - and you’ll find:

I can’t paint, it’s actually not good, but because of that, they let me be in my room with my music.

I don’t like to go to the mall like the other girls, so I’m not in the “popular” group, but I have a good friend that I can talk to about ANYTHING! And that actually means more to me than wearing brands.

When the kids practice this way of thinking, again and again, they suddenly begin to see points of light around them and feel better about themselves.


In this stage, the second part pops up, “there isn’t good without bad”. One kid defined it precisely: If I participated in a competition and I won so it’s good for me but bad for the losing side”. Success sometimes brings along worry and jealousy, and sensitivity which allows seeing the other helps to get a full and broad picture that contributes to the personal and social balance.


There are changeable and there are things that aren’t. You can change conception, and by that, you can change the reality, and this way we can help a kid improve his quality of life, and his surroundings’.