You, as a parent, play a pivotal role in shaping the core beliefs that guide your child’s thoughts and behaviors.
These beliefs are more than just thoughts. They’re the bedrock of your child’s perception of themselves and their world.
Understanding how these beliefs form and their profound impact on your child’s mental health is crucial.
This article delves into the world of core beliefs. It will give you insights and practical advice to help you nurture a positive mental landscape for your child.
Defining Core Beliefs and Their Formation
Core beliefs are deep-seated perceptions about oneself, others, and the world. They shape how children view themselves and their surroundings.
These beliefs start forming early in life, influenced by family, school, and experiences.
The Spectrum of Core Beliefs: From Positive to Negative
Core beliefs can be uplifting, building confidence and security in children.
Conversely, they can also limit personal growth, leading to self-doubt and anxiety.
Beliefs like “I am capable” encourage resilience and positivity.
In contrast, thoughts such as “I am unworthy” can contribute to low self-esteem.
Core Beliefs Examples and Their Day-to-Day Impact on Children
Core beliefs, formed from past experiences, significantly influence a child’s daily life. Whether positive or negative, they dictate how children perceive themselves and interact with the world.
Understanding the types of beliefs and their impacts is an important step in guiding children towards a healthier mindset.
A negative belief, such as “I am not smart enough,” often stems from past experiences where a child faced challenges or failures.
This belief can lead to a reluctance to try new activities, impacting their learning and socializing. It’s a belief that requires hard work and alternative ways of thinking to overcome.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be particularly effective in this context. It helps children understand how their thoughts are influenced by their core beliefs and guides them in developing a new core belief that is more supportive and realistic.
On the other hand, a positive belief like “I am valued” can have a profoundly positive impact. It boosts a child’s confidence in a wide range of specific situations, from academic performance to social interactions. This type of supporting belief is reinforced by new evidence from positive experiences and feedback, which in turn strengthens the child’s self-esteem.
In some cases, children may develop negative core beliefs that contribute to more serious issues, such as depression. Here, the role of a clinical psychologist or cognitive behavioral therapist is crucial. They can help identify the root causes of these beliefs and work with the child to develop healthier thought patterns.
The process of changing core beliefs often involves cognitive dissonance, where a child’s existing beliefs are challenged by new information or experiences.
In other words, even though a young person want to believe a new positive belief such as “I am intelligent” and can see evidence in favour of it, deep down they may still feel stupid and it will take time to accept the new belief.
A child who believes they are a “bad person” might be encouraged to look at evidence of their good actions and qualities, eventually leading to a shift in their self-perception.
Cognitive theory emphasizes the importance of understanding how our thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes are interconnected. By addressing the root causes of negative core beliefs, we can help children develop a more positive and realistic view of themselves and their abilities. This not only improves their current wellbeing but also sets a strong foundation for their future mental health.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: A Tool for Transformation
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helps identify and reshape harmful core beliefs into new beliefs. It reveals how thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interconnected.
Children learn to replace a negative or limiting belief with positive, realistic ones through CBT.
Practical Steps: Identifying and Changing Core Beliefs
The first step in modifying core beliefs is awareness. You can help your child challenge core beliefs once you have both spotted them.
Here is how to identify and gently adapt problematic core beliefs:
- Identify the Core Beliefs: Listen to your child’s language and observe behavior.
- Understand the Impact: Recognize how these beliefs affect your child’s emotions and actions.
- Use Conversation Starters: Use open-ended questions to explore beliefs, like ‘How did that make you feel?’
- Introduce Worksheets: Guide your child through core beliefs worksheets.
- Challenge Beliefs: Encourage your child to regularly question and gently challenge negative beliefs.
- Reinforce Positive Beliefs: Praise and support positive beliefs and behaviours consistently.
- Regular Check-ins: Keep the conversation going and monitor progress. Stay patient. It can take many months to adapt a core belief.
Empowering Children to Challenge Negative Thoughts
Nurturing a child’s ability to recognize and challenge negative thoughts is essential for their emotional well-being. Here are effective strategies to guide this process:
- Active Monitoring: Encourage your child to observe their thoughts and feelings throughout the day. Teach them to identify patterns in their thinking, especially when they feel anxious or upset. Help them differentiate between automatic thoughts and rational thoughts.
- Gently Questioning Negative Thoughts: Guide your child to question the validity of their negative thoughts. Ask them to gather evidence for and against their beliefs. Encourage them to consider alternative perspectives. Help them identify underlying assumptions that may be fueling their negative thoughts.
- Reframing Negative Self-Talk: Assist your child in rephrasing negative self-statements into more positive and realistic ones. Help them focus on their strengths and accomplishments rather than their perceived flaws. Encourage them to use self-compassionate language.
- Cognitive Restructuring: Introduce cognitive restructuring techniques, such as Socratic questioning and identifying cognitive distortions, to help your child recognize and challenge their distorted thought patterns. Help them identify common cognitive distortions, such as all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralization, and filtering.
Here’s a bit more explanation for some of the terms I mentioned in point 4:
- Socratic questioning: Socratic questioning is asking focused questions to challenge assumptions, deepen understanding, and discover new ideas through dialogue. Imagine you say “Exercise is boring.” Someone might ask “Why do you think so?” or “What kind of exercise have you tried?” This prompts you to reflect on your beliefs and explore different perspectives.
- Distorted thinking: Imagine your brain plays tricks on you, twisting your thoughts into negative funhouse mirrors. That’s essentially what distorted thinking is: it’s our minds magnifying the bad bits and shrinking the good, making challenges feel insurmountable and successes insignificant. It’s a mental shortcut that can trap us in negativity, but with awareness and effort, we can learn to rewrite the script.
- All-or-nothing thinking: This is like seeing the world in black and white. For example: One bad test doesn’t mean you’re “terrible” at everything. Help your child find the shades of grey in between.
- Overgeneralization: This is the idea that one mistake doesn’t define you. If you forget your homework once, it doesn’t mean you’ll “always” forget it. Remind your child of their past successes to show them they can bounce back.
- Filtering: This is like having sunglasses on for negativity, only seeing the bad and ignoring the good. Help your child celebrate small wins and focus on positive moments, so they don’t feel like everything is going wrong.
TAKE THE QUIZ!
Case Studies: Adapting Core Beliefs
The stories I’m going to share with you highlight the impact of challenging negative core beliefs on reducing anxiety, improving self-esteem, and building resilience.
Core Beliefs Examples: Overcoming Social Anxiety
Sarah, a bright and inquisitive girl, had always struggled with social anxiety. She believed that her peers judged her harshly and that she would never be accepted.
These negative thoughts led to intense anxiety, avoidance behaviors, and a limited social life.
Sarah’s parents, concerned about their daughter’s social isolation and growing anxiety, sought help. Sarah was referred to a child psychologist who specialized in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Through CBT, Sarah learned to identify and challenge her negative thoughts about herself and her peers. She practiced thought-challenging techniques to question the validity of her negative beliefs and gather evidence for more positive alternatives.
Sarah also learned to reframe social situations in a more positive light.
Instead of viewing social interactions as threats, Sarah learned to see them as opportunities to connect with others and share her interests. She practiced exposure therapy, gradually increasing her social exposure and learning coping mechanisms for managing anxiety in social settings.
As Sarah progressed through therapy, she developed a more positive self-image and gained confidence in her social abilities. She began to participate more actively in social activities, made new friends, and experienced a greater sense of belonging.
Targeting Core Beliefs to Enhance Self-Esteem
Michael, a talented young athlete, suffered with crippling low self esteem. He constantly felt inadequate and this affected his performance. This self-doubt threatened his potential.
Michael’s parents saw his struggle and decided to help him build his confidence through family support and self-discovery.
They researched techniques to tackle Michael’s negative thinking. They learned how he could challenge his self-doubt and replace it with positive truths about his strengths and accomplishments. They helped him practise “positive self-talk,” praising him for even small victories and building his sense of achievement.
Slowly, they saw the fog of self-doubt lift. Michael started to see challenges as opportunities to learn and grow, not mountains to climb. He learned to forgive himself for mistakes and be kinder to himself. This reflected in increased self-belief in sport and also in Michael’s everyday life.
Building Resilience Through Core Beliefs
Emily used to be full of joy and energy, but lately, setbacks like school struggles, lost friends, and family issues chipped away at her confidence. She started feeling helpless, pessimistic, and convinced she’d always fail.
Concerned about Emily’s emotional health and her tendency to give up easily, her parents and teachers decided to help her build resilience. The head of pastoral support met with Emily once a week and spoke regularly with her parents.
First, they tried to tackle Emily’s negative core beliefs directly. They talked openly about her worries and doubts, gently suggesting replacing them with truths about her intelligence, kindness, and potential.
Instead of seeing setbacks as dead ends, they helped Emily reframe them as learning opportunities, showing her how each one could help her grow.
They encouraged Emily to see challenges as chances to learn new skills and become stronger. She learned tools to manage stress and bounce back from setbacks, and she practiced self-care to stay emotionally healthy.
Emily’s parents were always there for her, celebrating even small victories and reminding her to believe in own abilities.
Slowly, Emily started to feel stronger. She faced challenges with more confidence, her optimism returning over time.
The Role of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in Adapting Core Beliefs
Some children need external help from a professional to work on their core beliefs, particularly if they are very entrenched.
Mental health professionals that provide cognitive behavioural therapy include clinical psychologists and cognitive behavioural therapists.
- Assess and identify negative core beliefs in children through observation, interviews, and standardized assessments.
- Develop and implement individualized intervention plans to address negative core beliefs and promote positive mental health.
- Collaborate with parents, teachers, and other school staff to create a supportive environment for children’s emotional well-being.
- Individual or group therapy sessions to help children understand and challenge their negative core beliefs.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques, such as thought challenging and cognitive restructuring, to help children develop more adaptive thinking patterns.
- Equip children with coping mechanisms and self-regulation strategies to manage anxiety and improve emotional resilience.
Beyond the Individual: Family and Community Role
Building positive core beliefs in children extends beyond individual therapy and encompasses the support of family and community.
- Create a nurturing and supportive home environment that reinforces positive core beliefs in your child.
- Encourage open communication, empathy, and unconditional love to enhance your child’s sense of security and self-worth.
- Model positive thinking and resilience in your own behaviors and interactions with the world.
- Community organizations and support groups can provide additional support and resources.
- Peer support groups can offer a safe space for children to share.
Dr Lucy Russell is a UK clinical psychologist who works with children and families. Her work involves both therapeutic support and autism assessments. She is the Clinical Director of Everlief Child Psychology, and also worked in the National Health Service for many years. In 2019 Lucy launched They Are The Future, a support website for parents of school-aged children.
Through TATF Lucy is passionate about giving practical, manageable strategies to parents and children who may otherwise struggle to find the support they need.
Lucy is a mum to two teenage children. She lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband, children, rescue dog and three rescue cats. She enjoys caravanning and outdoor living, singing and musical theatre.
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