How To Break Negative Thought Patterns for Kids and Adults

The act of pausing and stopping to see what you’re thinking is monumental. I’ll share below some tools to help you break the negative thought patterns that spiral you down. I’ve taught these to my kids and I definitely use it myself.

You see the enemy would love to keep us unaware of our thoughts that are wreaking havoc in our hearts and minds. You are probably familiar with those thoughts. You know the ones that keep you feeling defeated, overwhelmed, not enough, too much, alone, abandoned, unseen, bitter, angry… ”

So I want to challenge us as moms and women to start telling ourselves or the devil– Not today!

I love all things that have to do with studying the brain and our thoughts. For a while, I was speaking to women about the brain and our patterns whenever I had a chance to share at either MOTS groups, as a retreat speaker, and on my blog.

****I do want to mention that as a mental health coach and family life coach I always encourage people to seek out a Christian counselor if they are struggling beyond their own ability to cope. There was a time in my life when nothing I was doing was helping me. As a counselor, I knew all of the things to do and I tried to self-counsel but quickly I realized what I was doing wasn’t helping and I needed outside help. So I found a Christian counselor who helped me beyond I could ever imagine. There is something beautiful in having someone hear your story with the only intent to help you heal. Please be brave and find a professional Christian counselor if you’re needing help. It’s worth it! You’re worth it!****

What resources are out there?

So I started by digging for resources on how to help our kids with their thought patterns and I couldn’t find much. There was lots of material for adults and especially women but not kids. Well, I did find material either focused on pornography for teen boys and low self-image for teen girls but I wanted something broader.

I was recently telling a friend that one of these days I will write a book to help kids & teens on how to stop the downward thought cycle. To help our kids become more aware of what they’re thinking. That’s not happening anytime soon so for now I’ll stick to writing on my blog about my research and experience in this area.

Early this summer I found the “Get Out of Your Head” Bible Study by Jennie Allen which is really for adults but I decided to use it for our family. It’s not a kid study so my husband and I have been tweaking each lesson and skipping lots of things so it’s understandable to 9-16-year-old boys.

Easy Enough For Kids to Learn

I took the material I have taught to women at MOPS and I came up with the 3 C’s to explain to my kids what I’ve been telling them for years. This catchy 3 C’s is simple and easy to remember in the midst of a downward spiral moment.

  • Catch it!
  • Check it!
  • Change it!

One of the things I loved that Jennie Allen emphasizes in her book is the idea that “We always have a choice.” This is what’s been on our kitchen chalkboard most of the summer.

So here’s an example of a downward spiral:

  • Trigger
    You’re faced with a trigger situation. Let’s say you saw on social media that all of your friends are together enjoying coffee and you weren’t invited. This may trigger negative thought patterns like: “I can’t believe they went out without inviting me.” Sound familiar? How about “Ugh, of course, they invited her and not me.”? Or “I’m so lame and boring nobody likes me. I knew she was mad at me. I bet she purposely excluded me just to get me mad…”
  • Affects our Feelings & Thoughts:
    Some thoughts & feelings that might arise are: resentment, jealousy, self-doubt, fortune-telling, negativity, bitterness, anger, and hurt.
    Here’s the thing, I discovered several years ago as I read a book by Caroline Leaf called Switch on Your Brain. These thoughts that enter our brain don’t just come and go, they actually grow. They are dendrites in our brains that keep getting bigger the more we feed them.
  • Impacts Your Actions:
    All of this stuff that is going on internally affects you externally. It impacts your actions and behaviors. You may see it with heightened anxiety, worry, outward anger but if you’re good at bottling it all up it may come out through physical ailments.
    So If I’m feeling angry and hurt this may play out by huffing and puffing around the house. Maybe when you see one of those friends you ignore them. Or you write an angry email to those friends accusing them of…
    Again if you’re a peacemaker kind of person or don’t like conflict you may shrug it aside but if it’s still bothering you, you might find yourself being in a bad mood all day, you might get a headache or stomach ache, or possibly neck pain.

Triggering Situation—> Affects Feelings & Thoughts—-> Impacts Your Actions—Consequences

  • Consequences:
    Let’s not forget about those good old “Consequences”. There are always positive or negative consequences to our actions. Remember you always have a choice. Nobody made you do anything. So if you choose to focus on your jealousy and bitterness you’ll ignore your friends when you see them. Then they’ll think you’re mad at them and they really won’t want to hang out with you. Only creating more isolation.

The 3 C’s to Help Break the Negative Thinking Pattern

Listen closely! We can break this negative thinking pattern! We do not need to respond as victims. We have been given victory in Jesus and only through Him will we find the inner healing our hearts need. We can do lots of behavior control and make ourselves think positive thoughts but that internal heart change only happens through leaning into Christ. (Please read my *** paragraph above if you’re struggling with circumstances beyond your own coping abilities.)

Let’s dive into the 3 C’s to interrupt and stop the downward thought spiral that leaves us with consequences like further isolation, bitterness, anxiety or worry.

Catch it!

The process of becoming aware of what is going on in your head is what we have named–“Catch it!” Once you find yourself triggered. You can catch that thought or feeling by asking yourself what am I thinking about? What am I feeling? What happened that triggered these thoughts and feelings. It may take some processing because remember you’ve had your brain on cruise control and learning how to shift gears will take some practice.  Start by reminding yourself–It doesn’t have to be this way. I have a choice.

I was just telling my boys this morning: The enemy would love nothing more than to keep us unaware of what thoughts we are dwelling on. So we must learn to start thinking about, what we are thinking about.

God’s word reminds us to take every thought captive to Christ so we don’t let the thought linger just a little bit, we don’t let them in when they come knocking at our door.

We catch those thoughts and say, “Not today Satan!”

You can download this FREE printable by going HERE!

Check it!

So catching our thoughts is monumental but checking them and changing them is life-changing.

In this step, we are taking it to the next level. The checking part involves asking yourself some questions. Is this true? What are the facts about this situation? What does God say about this?

You can use Philippians 4:8 as a checklist. It’s a great verse that our family has been memorizing over the summer.

Is it true? Honorable? Right? Pure? Lovely? Admirable? If anything is excellent or praiseworthy– think about these things

I constantly have to ask my kids this question as they blurt out in anger or frustration, “He’s always mean to me!”

Once they are calm (don’t try this in the heat of the moment) ask your child, “Is what you said true? You said, ‘He’s always mean to me.’ It’s fine to be upset and hurt but it’s also important that you’re telling yourself the truth in the midst of those moments.”
Once you’ve done this enough with your kids you can simply use code words. With your child come up with a code word to remind them in the midst of the spiraling to come back to the truth. Maybe something like–Is it true? Truth sets you free. Focus on facts…

In this step, I try to remind myself and my kids that I can go to God with ALL of my BIG feelings. I don’t have to fake it or make it all better before I go to God. I can say to God, “I am so angry because my brother is so mean to me.” Or “I feel so hurt and mad that my friends went out and they didn’t invite me.”

We are not attempting to stuff our feelings!  Stuffing thoughts may sound like this: “It’s fine I didn’t want to go anyways. It doesn’t matter. I shouldn’t feel angry they didn’t invite me, instead I should be happy for them.” All of that might be true but it’s okay to acknowledge the hurt, pain or other feelings to God and let Him guide you. So in this step, we are coming alongside our feelings with the truth, we are not stuffing the feelings and we are inviting God into our pain or sadness.

It will definitely involve calling yourself out and asking yourself some hard questions. Sometimes we can’t do that for ourselves. If we struggle with a victim mentality or any of the patterns below you may not be able to check yourself. You’ll need to ask an honest and grounded friend to help you by saying, “Am I only seeing the negative? Is this a fact or a lie? Am I engaging in fortune-telling?

Here are some common negative thought patterns that you can start becoming more aware of as you “Check it!”. I will share a full post on this in the future but for now, here are a few:

  • All or nothing thinking– Something is either all good or all bad. A complete success or failure. It’s either perfect or a complete failure.
  • Fortune-telling thinking– Jumping to conclusions. Assuming the worst will happen without all the facts.
  • Catastrophizing or Disaster thinking– Thinking this is the worst thing ever, the end of the world.

Change it!

Often we are tempted to go straight to this final step and then we are disappointed when it doesn’t work. We immediately quote a verse but then discover that we are still in the same place. It’s important that we start with Catch it! and Check it! first, before we go into Change it! This will allow you to become more aware of what you’re thinking.

Now there are times when you need to immediately go to change it because you find that your mind is quickly spiraling down. In a situation like this just backtrack to help you process how you got there. It takes time to think through and identify what triggered this or to process whether you’re falling back into “Disaster thinking” but it makes a difference in helping your brain not to continue going down the same thought patterns.

Let’s discuss “Change it!” I’m learning that “change it!” doesn’t ONLY mean behavior change but it’s heart change. Sometimes I like to convince myself behavior change is enough. In the midst of the behavior change, we need to ask the Holy Spirit to do the deep heart change that only His healing hand can do. In “Change it!” it is helpful to focus on the facts, not the “what if’s” or lies. It’s a shift in my thinking. Depending on the severity of the situation it may take some hard work to shake it off and shift our thinking.

  • Ways to Change it!:
    Focus on the facts not the what if’s or lies.
  • Change the negativity to positive.
  • Start naming some things you’re thankful for in this situation if you can’t then think about other things you’re thankful for.
  • Sing or dance! Put on some praise music or fun music.
  • Open God’s word and read a passage to fill your mind with truth.
  • Recite a verse.
  • Ask yourself: What is a more helpful thought? What is another possibility?
  • I love that in the book of Lamentations Jeremiah reminds us of this “Change it!” step. He says in the midst of his troubling time– “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope.” So what is it that he calls to mind? In the next verses, he answers that question by saying that He focuses on God’s love, compassion, His mercy, faithfulness, God’s goodness, and provision.

Well, I hoped by now you’ve come to the realization that this whole process is one big constant prayer continuously going before God asking Him to help you Catch it! Check it! & Change it!.

Print out the above printable and place it on your fridge or different places throughout your house to remind you of the 3 C’s and God’s word. You can download it HERE.

Please note: If you are struggling with debilitating anxiety or worry you may need to seek other support like a professional Christian counselor. Though these will help you a counselor will offer support.

If you’d like some support in moving forward in changing your mindset and negative thinking patterns I’d love to help you. Simply fill out this form HERE. You can get more details HERE.

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