Using a cognitive approach you can teach your child new ways to think and thus change their behavior and reactions to negative or even positive events. You can help put your child in control of how they think and so influence how they feel and ultimately how they act. This approach can be used with children from approximately eight years of age. It was founded by Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck as a therapeutic tool, however it can he used by parents and teachers in a positive way to help children view events differently and to alter the way they behave.
This approach uses the acronym ABC. A stands for an adversity or an activating event such as a fight with a friend or missing a lift to school. The C stands for consequences of the event – specifically, how you feel and how you act immediately following it. The B stands for your belief about the event, which will determine ‘C’ or your response. The reason why one child will smile at and even embrace a strange dog while another will run away from the same animal is determined by their belief about dogs. One might have had nothing but fond experiences with dogs and has nothing to fear while the other child might have been bitten or scared by a strange dog so he believes that strange dogs are to be respected. The origin of the belief is irrelevant hut it is the belief that determines the reaction when strange dog enters the room.
To change ‘C’, the consequences or reaction to events ‘A,’, it is necessary to change ‘B’, the belie”, about the events. Although this may seem complicated, we do it all the time with ourselves and wit our kids. Have you ever told a child who is having a test at school that there is nothing to be afraid of, or that there is nothing to fear about a visit to the dentist. Perhaps, you have tried to persuade a nine-year-old that broccoli is really worth trying. Every child knows that a visit from Santa is a happy event. In each case it is the beliefs held about the event rather than the event itself that cause the emotions such as fear, loathing and excitement that determine their reaction. Imagine if Santa left no presents one year. What would be your child’s reaction to Christmas the following year – unreserved enthusiasm? Hardly. The child would have developed a degree of skepticism about Christmas – their belief system would have been changed.
So use the ABC in a conscious, positive way with your children. When negative events happen, encourage them to look at the beliefs they hold. Use the following examples with your children to help them understand that their beliefs influence their feelings and behaviors.
If they were called over the loudspeaker to go to the principal’s office, what would they think? They are in trouble? They will receive a reward for a good deed? They will receive some bad news? What is their self-talk telling them in each situation? What messages is their internal dialogue sending them? Their beliefs will affect how they feel and even how they approach the principal.
A friend called to cancel a trip to the movies that you organized. How would you feel if they thought the following?
- The friend was sick and unable to attend.
- The friend was making up a story because she wanted to go to the movies with someone else.
- The friend was inconsiderate as usual, never thinking about anyone else.
Help your child identify emotional reactions to each possibility and their probable reactions according to each belief.