Using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy With Your Child at Home
Ivana PejakovicB.Sc., MA
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a form of counselling that helps clients understand how thoughts and feelings influence behaviour. CBT has helped teens with various issues, including, anger, low opinion of oneself, stress, anxiety, low self-esteem and confidence, and many other problems. For example, a teen who constantly thinks about being made fun of, his weaknesses, his failures and mistakes, his lack of fit in social groups, will very likely avoid social situations (because thoughts affect behaviour).
CBT works by helping teens change their thoughts regarding certain events. The negative thoughts are usually false interpretations of what happened. Once they change how they view the event, they change their feelings from negative to positive. Positive thinking (e.g., optimism, hope) and good feelings regarding encourage teens to try new experiences. Therefore a change in thoughts will provide a change in behaviour. These changes always help teens feel better and try again.
No matter what your situation at home is and what you are trying to help your teen with, address the following steps:
1. Thoughts: By speaking to your child you can get an idea of your child’s thinking pattern. Ask questions to get an idea of his logic, of his experiences, of his conclusions and lessons learned. You may feel you already know answers to the questions you ask, but you only know what he told you previously or what you observed. You don’t know his perspective of the situation and his feelings about it (if he never shared). And that is what matters more than reality. Ask questions to find out the perceived consequences of his mistakes and failures (e.g., public embarrassment, feelings of inferiority compared to peers, anger, and anxiety). Ask him to retell the story so you can see where his logic is biased. This is how to access the root cause of his thoughts. It is an essential first step to help your child.
2. Emotions: Thoughts always affect emotions. If your teen is thinking uplifting thoughts, he will demonstrate an uplifting mood and happy feelings. If he is thinking gloomy thoughts his mood and feelings will match. It is impossible to be inconsistent (positive thoughts, but negative mood). Emotions and mood are 1 indicator of what is going on inside your child’s head. By helping your teen clear up his thoughts you will help him change his mood. If you notice your child is down or angry, telling him to ‘brighten up’ or ‘get over it’ can lead him to think you just don’t get him (if this keeps up it can lead child to distance himself from parent). Ask him to help you understand by sharing feelings and emotions a given situation evoked. Communicating with your child in a clam manner regarding what is going on is the best approach. Sometimes it is better to back off for the time being, however, revisit the issue within 24 hours once his mood lightens. This way you show respect for his feelings and demonstrate caring by following up.
3. Behaviour: Thoughts influence emotions and thoughts and emotions together influence behaviour. Behaviour is the second indicator of what thoughts are being played in your teen’s head. If your child feels he is not good enough, it means he has negative thoughts running through his mind (remember it is impossible to think and feel positively and show the opposite behaviour). The thoughts can be translated into feelings of anger, frustration, or sadness. The thoughts and behaviour will usually translate into behaviours such as shyness, avoiding social activities, not signing up for teams, or avoiding challenges. If you want to address your child’s lack of initiative, ask why he passes on fun activities (and try not to jump to obvious conclusions such as laziness, irresponsible, or too coddled. Don’t accept the first answer such as “it’s dumb,” or “it’s boring.” While your child may feel like this for some activities, it is not true for all of them. Get your child to expand by sharing your opinion on it too. If you find you’re doing most of the talking, that’s OK. He’ll open up eventually.
Best Wishes to Your family!
Ivana Pejakovic, Toronto Life Coach