Cognitive distortions for kids (A 3 point guide)

 In this article, we will curate and discuss the cognitive distortions of children.

What are cognitive distortions for kids? 

Cognitive distortions for kids are similar to the ones that have been seen in adults. There are no special cognitive distortions that are only seen in kids. So, let’s start with what cognitive distortions whether in kids or in adults are. Cognitive distortions are the negative biases in thinking that are theorized to represent vulnerability factors for various different mental health disorders. Cognitive distortion refers to irrational, inflated thoughts or beliefs that distort a person’s perception of reality, usually in a negative sense. 

Cognitive distortions are common but can be really difficult to recognize when you don’t know what to look for. Most of the cognitive distortions occur as automatic thoughts. They are habitual that the person often doesn’t even realise s/he has the power to change them. Most of the people who have cognitive distortions grow to believe that’s how things are.  

Cognitive distortions can take a serious toll on a person’s mental health, causing increased and severe stress, depression and anxiety. If left unchecked, these automatic thought patterns can become entrenched and may negatively influence the rational, logical and creative way of decision making and problem solving behavior.

What are the types of cognitive distortions for kids?

Below is the list a few cognitive distortions that might hinder a person’s cognitive processes and ultimately his/her perception of reality:

  • Polarized thinking
  • Overgeneralization
  • Catastrophizing
  • Personalization
  • Mind reading
  • Mental filtering
  • Discounting the positive
  • “Should” statements
  • Emotional reasoning
  • Labeling
  • Jumping to conclusions
  • Magnification

How can parents help with cognitive distortions of kids?

CBT helps kids identify, challenge, and ultimately restructure their thinking so that they can live healthier, better adjusted lives.  Taking a cue from CBT, parents, too, can help kids recognize cognitive distortions, and reduce their intensity.

The best way to start is with your own cognitive distortions. Once you’ve learned the different types, try recognizing them in your own patterns of thought. This reason for the said practice is that if your child has anxiety, you might personalize this, assuming it’s your fault, and then label yourself a “terrible parent.”

It is extremely essential to recognize cognitive distortions in a way that’s not judgmental. When you get skillful at noticing distortions in your own thinking, you are in a much better place to help someone else notice theirs. And be humble about noticing your own – call them out in a playful way when you make them, and let your children call yours out, too.

Parents can help children with cognitive distortion in the following ways:

  • Listen to your child
  • Offer understanding
  • Meet your child where he or she is at that moment
  • Read book on different topics and issues

Listen to your child

Listen to your child and hear what he or she says. Echo or reframe what was said. “I will never win student council president” can be reframed as “It feels like things just never go your way.”

Offer understanding 

Offer understanding that the particular issue shared is a bummer. Then say, “I wonder if there are a few things you could try?”

Remember to hear your child; if you quickly discount a statement or feeling, then you will get resistance back.

Meet your child where he or she is at that moment

Help to gently move them to a less extreme position. You want your child to get there on his or her own and to shift the thought to a more optimistic position of “Maybe I’ll win if I share my ideas.”

The idea illustrated here is that when worries and the tendency to catastrophize take hold, the child feels miserable and trapped. He or she does not realize that a potential solution to the problem could be just around the corner or that maybe the problem isn’t so big after all.

Read books on the issue with your child

At home, reading books like What to do if you worry too much, From Worrier to Warrior, 12 Annoying Monsters are all helpful ways to engage your child in a dialogue about his or her thinking patterns. These thoughts are maladaptive, which means they are ‘getting in the way’ of happiness and well-being. Tell your child, “Whether you are right or wrong, all of this negative thinking is not helping you. It’s getting in your way. Let’s see how we can ‘rethink’ it together.”

If, even with these supports in place at home, your child is still struggling with extreme emotions, excessive worries, or depression, it is time to get help. First, reach out to the school counselor.

Let the counselor know that your child is struggling and could use some help at school. Then, it may be helpful to get a therapist involved. Black and White thinking is often treated with cognitive therapy that includes examining thoughts and challenging beliefs that are negative or not grounded in evidence.

Most importantly, if your child is making many cognitive distortions – if their thinking is very rigid, their expectations are chronically negative, or their feelings are too strong for them to be reflective about their thinking mistakes, it’s time to ask for help from experts. It’s great to collaborate with your child in learning and identifying cognitive distortions – especially as a supplement to good therapy – but a child who is seriously struggling may need treatment from a mental health professional.

CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy includes challenging thinking and changing behaviors to move in the direction you want to go. If your child has very entrenched black and white thinking, consider CBT, which has research and evidence to support its effectiveness in combating this thinking style. Many individuals find a great deal of relief from this type of therapy and often are able to overcome depression and anxiety through this approach.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some of the most frequently asked question related to cognitive distortions of children:

How do you explain cognitive distortions to a child?

Cognitive distortions are patterns of thinking about things in an inaccurate way that makes the person feel depressed, anxious, or have a lowered self-esteem. This kind of thinking involves rigidity. It means that the child cannot see how situations may have some good and some bad aspects. He may have a ‘glass is always half empty’ state of mind.

How do you teach children about cognitive distortions?

You can start with teaching your children about mental health and it’s importance and then slowly go into the concept of cognitive distortions. Tell them that cognitive distortions are patterns of thinking about things in an inaccurate way that makes the person feel depressed, anxious, or have a lowered self-esteem. This kind of thinking involves rigidity. It means that the person cannot see how situations may have some good and some bad aspects. S/he may have a ‘glass is always half empty’ state of mind.

What are the 10 cognitive distortions?

Below is the list a few cognitive distortions:

  • Polarized thinking
  • Overgeneralization
  • Catastrophizing
  • Personalization
  • Mind reading
  • Fortune telling
  • Mental filtering
  • Discounting the positive
  • “Should” statements
  • Emotional reasoning

What are the 15 cognitive distortions?

Below is the list a few cognitive distortions:

  • Polarized thinking
  • Overgeneralization
  • Catastrophizing
  • Personalization
  • Mind reading
  • Fortune telling
  • Mental filtering
  • Discounting the positive
  • “Should” statements
  • Emotional reasoning
  • Labeling
  • Magnification
  • Minimizing
  • Control Fallacy
  •  Fallacies of fairness

How do I change my child’s negative mindset?

Therapists during cognitive behavioral therapy use exercise which can help with the client’s cognitive distortion. You can also try these at home. Some of those exercises are mentioned below:

  •  Cognitive restructuring
  • Activity scheduling
  • Graded Exposure
  • Successive Approximation
  • Mindfulness Meditation
  • Skills Training
  • Problem solving 
  • Relaxation and breathing techniques

Why is Cognitive Behavior Therapy  effective for children?

Usually, a parent or caregiver, the child, and a therapist will discuss goals and develop a treatment plan.

CBT involves a structured approach to solving problems in a specified number of sessions. It can be as few as six sessions or as many as 20 or more, depending on the child and the particular goals. The therapist will work to provide tangible ways for your child to take control and empower themselves. They will teach skills that can be put into practice immediately.

Your child can have CBT alone or in combination with medications or any other therapies they might need. The treatment plan can be adapted to meet cultural or regional differences.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques that are helpful for children

  • Play therapy – Arts and crafts, dolls and puppets, or role-playing are used to help the child address problems and work out solutions. This can also help keep younger children engaged.
  • Trauma-focused CBT – This method is used to treat children affected by traumatic events, including natural disasters. The therapist will focus on behavioral and cognitive issues directly related to trauma the child has experienced.
  • Modeling – The therapist may act out an example of the desired behavior, such as how to respond to a bully, and ask the child to do the same or to demonstrate other examples.
  • Restructuring – This technique is a way for a child to learn to take a negative thought process and flip it to a better one. For example, “I stink at soccer. I’m a total loser” can become “I’m not the best soccer player, but I’m good at a lot of other things.”
  • Exposure – The therapist slowly exposes the child to the things that trigger anxiety.

In this article, we curated and discussed the cognitive distortions of children.

If you have any questions or comments please let us know.

Reference:

Beck, Aaron T. (1972, 2009). Depression; Causes and Treatment.: Second Edition.

Guest, Jennifer (2016). The CBT art activity book: 100 illustrated handouts for creative therapeutic work.

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