I decided to write a little about CBT as its talked about a lot these days and if you haven’t heard of it then you’re probably lucky! It’s a talk therapy that’s used to help people of all ages with anxiety, stress, depression; it helps change how we think and therefore how we behave. I learnt about it while studying for my life coaching qualification and I’ve used it very successfully on myself and with my clients – both children and teenagers ever since.
Let me explain it in simple terms and show you how I use it. Imagine you have a child with a bad habit – this bad habit can be anything, but lets use a common one, lets say it’s the way he or she thinks about homework!
Everyday when your child comes home from school, imagine she doesn’t want to do her homework (Our behavior is linked to our thoughts and emotions… so by changing the thoughts we can change the emotion and the behavior). I know the topic of homework is the cause of stress in a lot of houses, especially at this time of year.. trying to get back into a change in routines. (Thankfully its not a huge issue for us in our house at the moment!) But here is how we can use CBT (Cognitive behavioral therapy) to help our kids change – by the way I’m not saying CBT is easy to practice or that you don’t need training, but just for anyone interested in how it works I’m trying to explain it in simple terms (I hope I manage it).
Firstly, I would recommend sitting down and calmly chatting with your child about this at a quiet, calm time during the day or before bed. Not when you’re trying to do a lot of other things/ stressed/ busy.
What is their inner talk or dialogue
This may take a few minutes for a child or teenager to understand. They may be saying some of these things to themselves in their head ‘I hate doing homework’, ‘I need a break’, ‘I’m sick of school work’, ‘I just don’t want to do it’ or ‘I can’t do it’. Now really listen here without jumping in. This part is so important because it’s getting to the root of their thoughts, attitudes and beliefs about homework – which affects behavior.
Get them to realize the impact of what they’re saying
Whatever they are saying to themselves, chances are its not helping the situation. Are their beliefs and attitudes based in reality or not? Are they saying ‘I can’t do it’ because they really can’t and they need a lot of help? Help them to break down what they are thinking/saying to themselves in their head, and help them to see the effect this thought is having on their behavior. As they’re more than likely repeating it over and over in their head, without consciously realizing it.
Whatever comes out here you have to remember not to just bulldoze them with your own opinions or thoughts. Explain the logic of it… if they don’t do it there are consequences etc. Get them to list the consequences.. Find out what is it that’s putting them off and what can you do about it? How can you help the situation? Do they need more of your time and attention during homework.
Come up with a plan or a deal with them:
In order to do this you need to really listen to them in the above step. I know one Mother who makes their children hot chocolate and sits down with them to help them through it – really gives them her time. I’ve also heard recently that it is a good idea to give kids a break after school and before homework is done (what’s especially good is physical exercise with fresh air – ideal if they walk, cycle or scoot home) but I find personally once I let them switch off for too long, its very difficult to get them back to the books.
Can you negotiate something here? What can help you change their thinking and have a more peaceful afternoon/evening! Maybe have a trial run of the new deal? For example if they say they want to do it later on you give them a week to show you that it will work… sometimes all the extra curricular activities get in the way and you don’t have much choice with timing!
- Catch your thoughts:
Here is how CBT works – With the child not wanting to do homework, you ask them to start changing what they’re saying to themselves – every time they start to think ‘I hate doing homework’ they catch the thought and become more aware of their thinking (ask them to imagine saying to themselves ‘Oh look what I’m thinking again’) and then let it go, and replace it with ‘I know I have to get it done and then I can relax’ – or whatever version they come up with. I had a boy say to himself, ‘I’ll just get it done and then I can play with my dog’. You would then get them to picture themselves when homework is over, watching TV or playing outside with friends or on their screens!
Stick to it but be flexible:
Old habits are best replaced with new more helpful habits, instead of just stopping altogether! (That just doesn’t work) So if you are working on an old habit, either yourself or with your children, remember you have to have a replacement for that bad habit. It’s like having chewing gum or an e-cigarette instead of smoking a real one. Except its all in your head – it’s having a more positive phrase to say to yourself in your head instead of saying the old thing. Our thought affect our emotions and then our behavior follows. Be flexible and if something isn’t working change it, again and again until it works.
They say it takes 3 weeks to break a habit, but I think it depends how ingrained that habit is or how hard you find it to catch your thoughts. CBT is very powerful and can be used for many different situations.. its basically catching your thoughts and replacing them with more helpful thoughts, but you have to keep trying and not give up, what’s especially important is not to be hard on yourself if you have a bad day. A Therapist ensures you have tools to help you to stick to the plan, making sure there is motivation to follow through, it’s also easier for a therapist to help someone, as they are removed from the situation and not emotionally tied up in it, or affected by the outcome.
Caoimhe O’Grady Tegart is a Life Coach and Founder of The Confidence Clinic
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