Helping Your Teen Reframe Negative Thoughts and Feelings

Helping Your Teen Reframe Negative Thoughts and Feelings

Many a negative comment has been thrown out there by teens, “I just can’t do the maths” “I look terrible.”  “Nobody likes me.” As parents, as much as we might like to control our children’s thoughts and behaviours (spoiler alert: we can’t and shouldn’t try), we can influence their ability to notice their thoughts and recognise that they have options in what they do with these thoughts. Exposing them to the useful skill of reframing their thoughts and self-talk can help manage insecurities, anxieties, and other big and often overwhelming feelings. Sometimes seeing what you are experiencing from a different perspective will open useful ways of moving forward that may have been closed off because everything was framed in a negative light.

Remember to avoid minimising or dismissing feelings. Saying things like “Don’t be ridiculous for thinking that”, or “Stop thinking those thoughts” are usually words which increase the intensity of thoughts or at the very least add an additional layer of feeling wrong or bad for having negative thoughts. Negative thoughts are normal. We all have them. We don’t want to get stuck in the loop of negativity because that can have far reaching consequences.

So, what can we do to help support our kids’ ability to see beyond the negativity?


Empathy is about helping a person know that you see and understand their feelings. It is not about your approval or disapproval of their feelings. Their feelings are not wrong. When your teen shares that they are having a rough time or something is hard, don’t rush in and just reframe things. So instead of responding to:

“I suck at maths” with, “Don’t talk that way.” rather try, “Sounds like maths is feeling really stressful for you at the moment.”

Help them become aware of their thoughts

Sometimes we feel so very much at the mercy of our thoughts and the way we think becomes habitual. Basically, we can just push play and repeat for certain situations and the thoughts we will have that we associate with that thing. Party at someone’s house – cue negative thoughts about what I will look like and who I will hang out with. English exam – cue negative thoughts about how bad I am at English etc. As parents, we can encourage spaces where our kids start to notice those patterns. Talking about things to a trusted someone as well as things like journaling and meditating can help us become more aware of the patterns in our thoughts so we can be more conscious about what we do with the thoughts.

Instead of responding to “Everyone hates me.” With things like “I am sure they don’t, you are being silly.” You could try, “I notice whenever you come home from school you say such awful things about yourself. I am here to talk to you anytime you want but if you want to maybe talk to a professional, I can arrange that.”

Ask questions that help give more perspective

I am not naïve to the reality that nobody loves to be questioned when we are stuck in our negative thoughts, including teens! We can get understandably irritated if someone is trying to put a positive spin on something that is feeling anything but positive. So, when thinking about asking questions that can help a teen reframe their viewpoint, we need to be mindful of the types of questions we ask and the tone that we use. Sarcasm and condescension are not helpful. We need to read a situation and assess if there is any inroad for us to ask questions that can possibly open them up to a changed perspective. Some helpful questions include:

“Do you think anything else could possibly be going on besides what you think is happening here?”

“Is there any other way you could see that?”

“Could there be any other options beside the one where you are right, and she is wrong.”

“Are there any parts you do like/enjoy?”

“Could this be about something else besides what feels obvious?”

“Is there anything that has happened before that shows you, you are able to get through hard things?”

Remember sometimes less is more and it may require us being quiet and listening rather than filling in all the answers we think to be true.

As a specific example of this, instead of responding to “I hate my body.” With don’t talk like that. I think you are beautiful” you could try, “Are there any parts of your body that you do like?”

Model positive self-talk

This is a biggy. If we are wanting our teens to open themselves up to the possibility that there are other frames to be had, then we should be modelling that possibility. If they are constantly hearing things like, “I can’t even look at myself in that photo.” Or “There is no way I am going to be able to do that presentation” then it feels permissible to talk about oneself in specifically negative ways. Remember I am not asking any of us to lie and pretend we see magnificence in every photo or could present in front of millions no questions asked! I am talking about being more authentic and balanced in how we articulate ourselves, so instead of, “I look revolting, I always do in photos” you could try, “ I feel quite exposed when people take pics of me. I quite like how my hair looks in this one.” Instead of, “I am totally going to screw up the presentation tomorrow” you could try, “I am feeling nervous about the presentation tomorrow, I find presenting stressful. I know I need to take a few deep breaths to manage my nerves better. I am looking forward to it being over.”

Our teens go through big things. What a wonderful thing for them to know that they can reframe things to help them move through the good and bad times with empathy and perspective.

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