Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking; Powerful, Practical Strategies to Build a Lifetime of Flexibility, Resilience and Happiness – Tamar Chansky, PH.D.
I will be taking a copy of this book along with me on the Manic Mommies Escape Cruise for a door prize. I have another copy that you can win simply by commenting below and/or calling 206-309-7318. Tell me about your child and how you think this book may assist in changing his/her focus or maybe even your own.
TAMAR E. CHANSKY, PH.D., founder and director of the Children’s Center for OCD and Anxiety, is the author of Freeing Your Child from Obsessive -Compulsive Disorder and Freeing Your Child from Anxiety. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughters.
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Carrie: Tamar, what inspired you to write Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking?
Tamar: The first sparks for this book came to me about four years ago, when in the midst of doing my work as a child psychologist for anxious children, I had a couple of weeks when it seemed like every other child in my office was stuck in a spin of negative thinking. These are children who are saddled with a strong negative first reaction to any situation, tend to be hard on themselves and others, are perfectionistic and pessimistic in their view of themselves, the world and the future. I saw the parents of these children trying desperately to cheer their children up and reassure them, to no avail. What these children needed was not to hear that everything was fine (they knew that somewhere deep down), but rather they needed to understand that negative thinking is not the truth, far from it, it is more of a knee jerk reaction in the brain to disappointment or failure. Rather than the brain sending helpful messages like, this didn’t go well, let’s see how to fix it, the negative brain goes to extremes—This is unfixable! You are a failure! Give up, if this didn’t work, nothing will! So these children needed to hear from their parents that these thoughts and experiences are normal, temporary, and completely surmountable.
When children understand that negative thinking is an “over-reaction” in the brain, they can look at it more critically rather than believing it word for word. They can learn to shrink back the magnitude of whatever disappointment or failure they are contending with and move on, I call this “specificizing” or right-sizing their concerns. Given that negative thinking is the gateway to depression, and we are facing an epidemic in depression in this country, our children being most vulnerable, I was determined to do what I could to arm parents and children with the tools they need to not only prevent depression, but to promote resilience and happiness in kids. An important message of this book, is that freeing your child from negative thinking is a two-person job, it’s what I call “interactional optimism.” Parents will find in the process of working on these challenges that they are freeing themselves from their own negative thinking styles and they will be healthier and happier as a result.
Carrie: Tell us about your writing process.
Tamar: About a year before I wrote the book I had completed an outline and a sample chapter and was determined that this time—this is my third book—I would stick with the outline and simplify the writing process. That didn’t happen, that never happens. Part of why the writing is more of a process for me is that, as a working child psychologist, every day I have the challenge and the opportunity to refine my ways of explaining basic concepts of cognitive behavior therapy, and the ins and outs of the brain and behavior in ways that are most accessible to parents and children. The metaphors that come to me while explaining ideas to a particular family may get woven in to my writing and inspire the illustrations that reinforce the messages throughout the book. It makes the writing process less linear (read, less efficient), but ultimately I think that the texture that yields is worth the time and effort.
Sometimes other life experiences inspire changes to the writing—I had been working on a chapter about dealing with issues of negative thinking at school, and then I attended a meeting of my local writer’s group and the topic was “dealing with failure.” That conversation made it clear to me that the skill of learning how to manage failure is so crucial to persevering and succeeding, that I reworked that chapter to be, Losing, Failure and Jealousy, Oh My! Walking Your Child Compassionately through the Less Than Pleasant “Givens” of Life. It is one of the chapters I am most excited about as so many parents have come in saying, “my child doesn’t know how to lose, what do I do?” When parents can learn themselves how to destigmatize mistakes, see partial successes and how sometimes apparent failures can lead to important learning and ultimately to successes, then they can convey these lessons to their children.
Carrie: What are you reading now?
Tamar: After a busy year of reading psychological research while writing this book, I am treating myself to a re-read (for the third or fourth time) of David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day. That book always makes me laugh. I like reading excerpts to my family, but I don’t do them justice because I’m always laughing so hard, they can’t understand what I’m saying. Sedaris has a way of making it safe to laugh at ourselves—we all need that sometimes.
Carrie: Give us a glimpse into your everyday life.
Tamar: Home life is very inspiring, though not very organized. My husband, Phil Stern, is a sculptor, and somehow with his paintings and sculptures throughout the house, creativity abounds. Our older daughter is a singer, and we usually have interesting music playing… blues, jazz, classical or world music, and our younger daughter is just a ball of energy, and sort of the family clown, she’s always cooking up some silliness or other. We spend a lot of time together and family meals tend to be long, because we are talking or singing at the table. It is very unrealistic given homework, dishes, etc., but we don’t seem to be changing that any time soon. Aside from my family, another focus of my life is my commitment to teaching families about non-toxic living. Just today I brought non-toxic soaps and sprays to my younger daughter’s school. The other side of the “green” movement, besides saving the planet is saving the people on it, and living without dangerous and unnecessary chemicals is essential for our survival.
Carrie: Tell us something very few people may know about you.
Tamar: It’s funny, I’m pretty high on self-disclosure. Just about all of my patients know about my fear of bugs (that I have overcome!) and my fear of cooking—which I have likewise, much to the relief of my family—overcome too. Once a friend told me how she de-compresses by cooking. I didn’t understand how cooking could be relaxing, it was so stressful to me! Now I love it, someone taught me the secret of just starting by sautéing onions and garlic—every great meal begins there.
Carrie: Would you be willing to share your greatest struggle / something you may have once considered a failure?
Tamar: Before I wrote Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking, I was working on another book, one about non-toxic living. I poured my heart and soul into that book, wrote over a hundred pages of it and after two years of shopping it around, the word was, this is too scary, people aren’t ready for this. It was a really hard time for me, the personal failure that I felt was that I knew that people would want this information, because it’s all about being healthy and protecting our children, but somehow I had failed to convey it in a way that people could access. After a while of feeling bad and stuck, I realized that the book was not the only way to get this message across. I started to talk to people in our community about non-toxic living. I wrote letters to the editor, talked to people at our children’s schools, to our friends, my patients, any one who would listen. This other way of communicating emerged and I felt energized. The specific way I had envisioned working on this problem didn’t work, but that didn’t mean that the project had to die there… that was a great relief. Eventually too, that left me free to return to my writing as a psychologist, which is what we call in my writer’s group, staying in my lane, and that was really how I was able to dive into Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking.
Carrie: How about a success?
Tamar: I am not one to focus on successes that much; life is a work in progress. But when I think of a really proud moment for me, I go back to my college graduation. I found out a couple of days before graduation that I was graduating with distinction, and would be inducted in to Phi Beta Kappa. The great thing about that though was that I didn’t know that one could graduate with distinction, and I didn’t know what Phi Beta Kappa was! It was a great feeling for those honors to be a total surprise for me, nothing that I was planning on or working towards; I was just doing my thing at school. I think that sums up how I have approached my personal and professional life, I just do what is important to me, and along the way, this has led to great contentment in my life.
Carrie: What’s next for you?
Tamar: A few years ago I wrote a children’s story about vegetables, inspired by my then four year old daughter for whom vegetables were a personal affront. Now at age 7, she is insisting that I finish that book next. I’m really going to try.
Freeing Your Child From Negative Thinking Book Excerpt
Cultivating The Two-Track Mind: It’s Not the Thought, It’s What You Do With It
When it comes to flexibility, many children seem to have an on/off switch. During a video game when children encounter an evil bad guy, or hit a dead end, they’ve got flexibility in spades. Their resilience is fluid. They know there are options: That’s the whole point of the game. Faster than you can say “Turn it off, it’s time for bed,” they’ve escaped the dragon, found the treasure, saved the world, rerouted, and forged ahead in a new direction multiple times. But when these same children hit a glitch in their own lives, they don’t pick up their controllers or look right and left for their options. They crumble, they get stuck, and it’s “game over.” Children use cognitive flexibility playing computer games because they see the options right there—colorful, dynamic and inviting—and, they want to win. When they encounter an obstacle, they don’t get scared or discouraged; they get determined and competent. And the more they play the more competent they get. So herein lies our challenge: If we want our children to persevere in the face of adversity, we need to help them seek out the options, to make those options more inviting, and help our children see that in withstanding the challenges of navigating through the dark lands of their own thinking, they can win. Just as fish don’t know they are in water, they just swim, children who tend toward the negative often don’t know they’re thinking negatively—they’re just thinking. The first step in changing negative thinking is knowing when it’s happening. Once children recognize the sound of their “negative brain”, they learn that following those messages leads them to a dark place they don’t want to be. Instead, they can choose to call on their “smart brain” for another interpretation of the story that will lead to a more promising pathway. This is what cultivating the two-track mind is all about: Just because you start with a negative thought doesn’t mean you need to stay stuck with it. You get to choose what you think. Negative thoughts should be treated as hypotheses—questions or theories to be proven or disproved—rather than decrees. Especially as children learn that negative thoughts are typically unreliable (however speedy) reactions, they will be less tempted to pull up a chair and listen. So, it’s not the thought, it’s where you go next. Much as we can’t control who calls us on the phone, we can’t control the calling of negative thoughts, but we can decide how carefully we listen, how long we stay on the phone, and who we keep on our speed dial. From the book Freeing Your Child From Negative Thinking by Tamar Chansky, Ph.D. Excerpted by arrangement with Da Capo Lifelong (www.dacapopress.com), a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2008.
We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are
There’s nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so