Often described as ‘self-talk,’ our immediate and automatic thoughts about the events in our lives have a profound influence on our reactions in almost every situation. We can therefore benefit from understanding these thoughts and how they influence our emotions and behaviors.
Conventional wisdom suggests that our emotions are the result of what happens to us in the world. However, research shows that it is our interpretation of these events that triggers our emotions and behaviors. Simply put, the way we think about a situation matters just as much as the situation itself.
The Cognitive Model
The cognitive model illustrates the relationship between our perception of situations and our response.
Let’s look at some common daily experiences through the lens of the cognitive model:
When looking at these scenarios, it’s important to consider whether it is the event or the thought about the event that leads to the strong emotions and behaviors. Would the following new thoughts help you to react to the situations differently? What if you thought the bank teller is diligently working to fix the mistake and waiting for her supervisor to approve a $50 gift card for your inconvenience, thus making the call last a little longer than usual? What if you remembered that your friend was traveling out of the country or going through a tough time? Let’s explore these same examples employing different thoughts:
The cognitive model illustrates the significant impact our thoughts have on how we interact with the world. More importantly, it shows us that while we don’t always have control over what happens to us, we do have control over how we think about these events.
How Can We Help Our Kids?
At the heart of the cognitive model is metacognitive ability, or our capacity for thinking about our own thoughts. Building metacognitive skills will enable students to tune into their thought patterns and determine whether they are helping them or getting in their way, which functions as the basis for problem solving. Metacognition increases in children the older they get and is associated with greater self-regulation and overall success.
The cognitive model also serves as the foundation for Cognitive Behavior Therapy, a key method for helping trauma-impacted students. Students who experience trauma tend to have intrusive thoughts and negative cognitions, which set the conditions for maladaptive behaviors at school. Understanding and interrupting these thought patterns, i.e. metacognitive ability, can be directly related to reducing erratic behavior.
While we are not yet able to ensure that all trauma-impacted students will receive formal cognitive behavioral therapy, there are small steps we can take to help all kids reflect on their thinking and how it impacts their actions. The article How Thinking About Thinking Can Help Kids, published via the Child Mind Institute, suggests engaging kids using open-ended questions such as, “Can you tell me more about why you think that?” followed by inviting them to reflect upon how their thinking might have influenced their behavior. Planting these seeds of metacognition can help students become more patient, resilient and successful, both in and out of school.
We hope this gives you something to think about,
Bob & Jennifer