Helping your teen to reframe negative thoughts

Negativity bias is a psychological phenomenon that begins infancy and can last through to middle and old age, when the positivity effect takes over. It’s been shown to have a wide variety of effects on how people think, respond, and feel, and can impact on areas like decision-making, perceptions, and our self-esteem.

For young people, when you combine this with the challenges of puberty, peer pressure, school, and life, this can lead to negative thinking. And that negativity can impact on their mental wellbeing, motivation, confidence, as well as their ability to make good decisions. Thankfully, as parents, we can help our teens reframe these negative thoughts and build a more positive mindset.

Tips for helping teens to build a positive mindset

When teens can reframe negative thoughts and situations, they feel more empowered, hopeful, and confident, and go on to make better choices for themselves.

Challenge negativity

Like nail chewing, negativity can become a habit – once you do it for a while, it becomes nearly second nature. You can help your teen recognise these negative thinking patterns, then be mindful about breaking them.

If they often find themselves using exaggerating words like always and never, encourage them to be mindful about whether these words are really accurate. For example, they might be feeling down about not doing so well on an assignment, and feel like they “always get bad marks” – remind them that this isn’t true and that they have done well on lots of their other assignments and exams.

You can also help them to recognise catastrophising statements, and guide them to challenge these thoughts by asking questions like these:

  • “Can you think of any other solutions?”
  • “Is there another way you can think about this?”
  • “Can you tell you me what facts you have on this topic/situation?”
  • “Could you walk me through your evidence?”

Hopefully they’ll start to see other perspectives and turn around the way they’re thinking.

Promote self-compassion

Adolescents are highly critical and harsh on themselves. Encourage your teen to practice self-compassion by reminding them that it’s okay not to be perfect – nobody is! Ask them to think about how they would feel if it was one of their close friends or a family member talking about themselves negatively, and how they would respond to make them feel better. Then apply that advice and choice of language to themselves.

Be a role model

As a parent or carer, your behaviour serves as a blueprint for your teen. Show them how you handle negative thoughts and situations by using positive language and re-framing. Modelling a growth mindset could also improve how your teen perceives future challenges (and could be good for your own mental wellbeing too).

Guide them towards solutions

You don’t have to (and probably can’t) fix everything for them, even though you might really want to. Instead, encourage problem solving and help them to brainstorm coping strategies and solutions. This will serve them better down the track when they’re more independent and need to make decisions on their own.

Focus on the good stuff

Gratitude journals, mindfulness, and meditation are all great ways for teens to shift their mindsets into a more positive space. But in reality, not all teens may be up for this, and that’s okay. Alternatively, you can encourage mindfulness by having conversations at dinner time, in the car, or before bed. Ask them to think about the best part of their day, something that made them feel good, or something kind they did for someone else, for example.

Celebrate progress

Acknowledge each time your teen manages to reframe their negative thoughts or says something positive. Celebrate in their favourite way, especially if they’ve overcome a particularly big hurdle. You’ll be rewarding their efforts and motivating them to keep doing it.

Seek professional help if needed

If negative thoughts persist and are significantly impacting your teen’s life, consider seeking professional help. Your doctor, a therapist, or a counsellor may be able to provide more guidance and strategies to help your young person better manage negative thinking.

Remember

Being negative is normal human trait, and it’s not something we’re generally conscious of. It definitely is possible for you to help your teen to change their mindset and reframe negative thoughts – unfortunately, it won’t just happen overnight. But your support, guidance, and love will definitely help.

You can find more blogs and tips for parents on our website here.

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