Intrusive thoughts are universal among humans, and toddlers are not an exception. When toddlers become distressed, upset, or have difficulty managing their feelings, they may experience unwelcome involuntary ideas, thoughts or images. Parents can implement cognitive behavioral strategies that can stop negative thoughts and replace them with positive thinking.
Negative vs. Accurate Thoughts
Not all children, or even adults, can easily distinguish negative thoughts from accurate thoughts. Every person’s mind produces a steady stream of thoughts. When these thoughts turn to frustration, fear or doubt, toddlers often experience negative thinking. Negative thoughts are often associated with negative phrases like “I can’t do it!” or “Nobody likes me.” Accurate thinking may sound initially negative but is actually more realistic, such as “I need more practice.”
Discussing Thoughts and Feelings
Toddlers often have difficulty expressing their feelings, resulting in negative thoughts. You can encourage positive thinking by discussing the possibilities of what your child wants and what the possible outcomes of a situation may be. For example, if your toddler is worried about attending daycare and making new friends, discuss the joys of developing friendships and learning new and interesting things.
Implementing Positive Thinking
There are various techniques that parents can use to immediately stop negative thoughts in toddlers, such as using a “buzz” word. Have your child select a word that denotes positivity, such as “love,” “sun” or “light.” Have your child repeat this word aloud when he begins to think negative thoughts, to help calm down. Your child may also benefit from giving his negative thoughts a name, such as “Mr. Mean.” Brainstorm ways to deal with negative thoughts, such as saying “I’m not listening to you, Mr. Mean,” when he’s feeling negative. Some children benefit from visualization, where they imagine stopping the negative thoughts in their minds. Have your child practice positive thinking during everyday situations, such as “I will learn one new thing today at daycare; I can do it!”
Building Distance From Negativity
It may take time for your toddler to cease her negative thoughts. In the meantime, help your toddler get distance from her negative thinking. Avoid telling her that she is being negative; instead, blame her “negative brain.” Blaming the negative brain can help demote the validity of negative thinking. Children can learn not to trust their negative thinking as the “truth,” but simply as the upsetting, annoying voice that it is.