Understandably, the wellbeing of children ranks highly among the list of concerns that parents and educators have. How children’s wellbeing can be supported and improved is often discussed and it is not uncommon for the act of ‘reframing’ to come up in these conversations.
Reframing, sometimes called ‘cognitive reframing’, refers to the process of changing the way that we look at things. Essentially, reframing involves identifying unhelpful negative thoughts and replacing these with more positive ones.
According to many therapists, when we as humans are presented with a situation we immediately analyse it and decide what the impact or meaning of this will be for us. This impact or meaning is the ‘frame’ that we have given the situation and this can often be very negative. However, we don’t have to continue viewing it in this frame. Instead, we can give the situation a different meaning by changing the way we think and feel about it. We can reframe it! This reframing is done by examining our thinking to look for cognitive distortions (thought patterns that are unhelpful or irrational) so that we can come to a ‘more positive and realistic view’. So, when going through the process of reframing we are doing two things:
- Putting the situation into perspective.
- Focusing on the positive aspects of the situation.
Reframing a situation includes three main steps:
- Identify the negative thought.
The first step is identifying the negative thought that has arisen from a situation that a child finds upsetting or stressful. For example, ‘Sarah didn’t choose me to be her partner in PE. That means no one likes me and I have no friends.’
‘Sarah didn’t choose me to be her partner in PE’ is the situation.
‘No one likes me and I have no friends’ is the negative thought.
- Look for the positives and look at the evidence.
When helping children to reframe, part of the adult role is to listen for the positive details in a story and help them to focus on these positive details so that this becomes the part of the story that the child then focuses on. Psychologist, Jessica Alexander, describes this as ‘essentially turning something dark and negative into something more positive or empowering’.
For example, if the thought is ‘No one likes me and I have no friends’, evidence against this may be ‘Jane and Ellie asked me to join in their game at playtime’.
The third step is to reframe the situation, looking at the positives.
For example, ‘Sarah didn’t choose me to be her partner in PE but Jane and Ellie wanted me to play their game. It is good to have more than just one friend to play with, I’m glad I have lots of friends around me.’
Because young children are driven by emotions rather than logic, irrational thinking and the inability to be able to put things into perspective are normal and to be expected. This means that children will require support in order to be able to reframe situations.
When children are upset it is natural to want to try to address and solve the problems they are facing immediately. However, children may be feeling very strong emotions that they are struggling to process and regulate. It is important to acknowledge the child’s feelings and encourage them to name these feelings but not try to create a solution while they are feeling these strong emotions. Getting them to a ‘safe’ emotional place first is the priority.
Mentally Healthy Schools have produced a simple gauge prompt that can be used to help children identify when they are thinking negatively, pause, and reframe their thoughts into something more positive. The gauge lists emotions in the following order:
Asking children to stop and reframe when they reach ‘negative’ is key.
Positive self-talk is very helpful for reframing negative thoughts. If a child has any negative thoughts that are recurring then listing and rehearsing some simple, more empowering thoughts they can say instead can help them to think more positively. For example,
Reframing can be a powerful technique to teach children because it can help them handle difficult situations.
The more they do this the more natural focusing on the positives will become for them. At Northampton High Junior School we are committed to guiding our girls to be skilled at reframing and I hope, with some of these techniques and tips shared today, you will feel empowered to do the same.