4 Steps to Positive Thinking During COVID-19: A Pediatric Psychologist’s Go-To Coping Tool for Kids

With all that’s changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy for kids (and adults) to get stuck on negative thoughts – like how they’re missing extended family, sports or friends. With Thanksgiving and the winter holidays coming up, there may be other challenges ahead.

But by learning to infuse a bit of positivity into difficult situations – a technique known as “positive reframing” – kids can boost their mood even when things are tough.

Connecticut Children’s pediatric psychologist Timothy LaVigne, PhD, explains.

> Related: Tips and Tools to Support Your Child’s Mental Health

We have the ability to change, or “reframe,” our thoughts.

Our brains work really, really quickly to help us think, but this means that sometimes we might not consider all the facts in a given scenario. This is where positive reframing comes in.

1. When your child is feeling sad, worried, frustrated, or any other tough emotion, help them pay attention to their thoughts.

For example, maybe your son or daughter attends school in a hybrid model and is feeling disappointed that their best friend goes into school on alternate days.

Help them label the thoughts and feelings they’re having: “I’m sad that I don’t see my best friend at school.”

> Related: How to Help Kids Handle Holiday Disappointment During COVID-19

2. Validate your child’s feelings.

First, it’s important to recognize that your child isn’t wrong. They are attending school without their best friend and that is disappointing! You should absolutely validate their feelings and acknowledge that this isn’t what they wanted.

Positive reframing doesn’t mean the original thought is wrong – just that there may be additional information to consider as well.

> Related: 4 Steps to Help Your Child Manage Stress

3. Help your child think about additional facts or evidence connected with the situation.

Sure, your child won’t be in class with their best friend. But what else is true too?

  • Do they still see their friend on the weekends (socially distanced, of course) or play video games together?
  • Do other friends or acquaintances attend school on their in-person days?
  • Have they ever made new friends at school?
  • Are there parts of the school day they are looking forward to, like a favorite class, teacher or activity?

4. “Reframe” (change) the original thought so it includes at least a few of these new facts.

In our example, maybe you and your child come up with something like: “Even though I wish I could see all of my friends when I go to school, I still know a bunch of kids on my in-person days, I love my art class, and I’ll be able to play outside with my best friend this weekend.”

You could even turn it into a totally positive thought and say: “I hope I make some new friends at school this year like I did last year!”

> Related: For Happier Holidays, Practice Gratitude This Thanksgiving

With practice, you and your child can start to recognize which thoughts might be a good fit for positive reframing.

When your child notices a tough emotion like worry, frustration, or disappointment, help them take a step back, think about all the available facts and evidence in the situations, and focus on the positive pieces.

Remember: we all feel upset at times. So it’s important to have some strategies to help out!

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