The notion that thoughts are just words, rather than thoughts are facts or the truth, is an ongoing learning process for all humans. We must teach children this from a young age. This is because thoughts are the main drivers of our mind-set. Our thoughts are also the foreground of how we see the world, how we interpret ourselves within the world and whether we can be resilient and successful in life or if we become bogged down by the challenges we face. Understanding this concept from a young age is a great tool to have in your child’s tool kit for life.
How to teach children about their thoughts
A simple way to teach toddlers and children about thoughts is with bubbles. In the MindMovers clinic, we use bubbles as a metaphor for understanding the nature of thoughts. Thoughts like bubbles are fluid, moving, sometimes stick together and are always changeable and “pop-able”.
This is a helpful and fun way to engage young children about thoughts. When we become “stuck” to the thought like Velcro and believe that it is true, this can cause us distress. When we become stuck in these thoughts over and over, we then create patterns in our brain, and these thoughts become fact about our lives and identities.
How thoughts influence how children see themselves
For example, if a child experiences a negative feeling when trying to put numbers together, the thought “I am not good” or “I don’t like numbers” begins to form. This thought when experienced over and over, then becomes “I am bad at maths” or “I am not academic” rather than “I am learning about numbers and it feels hard right now, but I will understand it eventually”.
Equally, if there are early struggles with the alphabet or reading, subconscious thoughts like “reading is hard”, “I don’t like reading” can begin to form and create long-term challenges for parents and kids once children hit school.
The good news is that brains are changeable and that if we choose a different thought again and again, this can become a new, more helpful pattern. Try introducing the bubble concept with your toddler and help support developing more balanced and positive internal thoughts around self, learning and challenges.