Reframing your way through hard times

anime_girl_in_gir_hoodie_by_daveneff-d35ix6mYou’re studying a new topic in math that you just don’t get.

You’re fighting with your sibling about every little thing.

You did something embarrassing in front of other kids.

No matter what your specific situation is, I bet you’ve had times when you hear bad thoughts in your head. And some of those times, you probably say things aloud:

“I’m so stupid!”

“He’s an idiot!”

“I hate them!”

“It’s not fair!”

All of us do it—you’re not alone! We react to a hard situation with negative thoughts and speech, and it just makes things worse.

What really happened?

random_anime_gurl_by_daveneff-d38h99hThere’s a way out of this negativity, and the first step is to think about what really happened.

Did you do badly on a math test because you’re stupid, or did you do badly because you weren’t prepared for it?

Is it all your sibling’s fault, or are you part of it, too?

Did everyone in the world really stop and laugh at you, or did you just do something embarrassing that people are going to forget soon?

Step back and think about it: is being angry, upset, or defiant helping the situation any?

Probably not.

Smash that picture and paint a new one

demon_cyborg_by_itsbirdyart-d9niqixThe next thing to do is what psychologists call “reframing.” Yup, you’re going to take that ugly picture in your head and smash it.

Then you’re going to make a new one.

This picture is still going to contain the thing that upsets you, but you’re going to take the thing that happened and “put a good spin” on it. Start with this thought:

If you win a million dollars, that means that billions of other people didn’t win that million dollars!

Everything on earth can be painted “good” or “bad” if you want, but most things are a mixed bag. It all depends on how you look at it.

So you’re going to take your picture and paint it in a different light:

I didn’t do well on that math test because I wasn’t prepared and it was a hard test. What are some things I can do to be better prepared next time?

My sibling and I fight all the time, and I know that means that I am half of the problem. They are really different from me, and I can’t change them, so what can I do to make things work a bit better in our house?

I did a pretty embarrassing thing. Is it something that needs to be fixed (like, did I hurt someone’s feelings and what can I do about that)? Is it something I just need to power through (like, did I act in a way that isn’t like me, and from now on I’ll show people what I’m really like)? Is it something I can deflect with humor (“Yup, it’s true, my pants really did fall down while I was doing a presentation in class! Wasn’t that ridiculous?”)?

Why not just be negative?

It turns out that although being angry, resentful, sad, and frustrated can sort of “feel good” in the short term, it will hurt you in the long run.

If you want to avoid some of these things, here are some ideas. Think about whether you do these things, and how you can stop yourself next time:


Don’t make it out worse than it really is. It feels great in the short-term to think about catastrophe, but it’s harmful to your emotions in the longterm.

Zooming in on the negative

Remember that there are always multiple views on any event. Don’t focus so much on the negative that you can’t see the bright side at all.

It’s not fair!

The perennial cry of the child! It’s not fair! Well, if your parent has ever said, “Life isn’t fair” to you, believe me that they are right. The question isn’t whether it’s fair; the question is, how are you going to deal with it?

I can’t!

The short version is this: Do you remember the kids’ book “The Little Engine That Could”? It turns out, if you have a positive mindset about challenges you face, no matter what they are, you’ll be more likely to succeed. [Read the longer version about why “mindset” is important]

Ganbatte! 頑張って

I notice that lots of great pieces on learning and teaching are written for adults, but I hardly ever see them written for the people who need them—kids! This piece was based on a piece for teachers. If you and your parent or teacher want to read more details, please visit “For Teens Knee-Deep In Negativity, Reframing Thoughts Can Help.”

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