Here’s another technique you might want to add to your parenting box of tricks. If your child is bothered by negative thoughts, try ripping them up and tossing them in the (recycling) bin. Research suggests it works.
A 2013 study1 involved a group of 83 students at a high school. The students were asked to write down what they disliked about their bodies. Then, some of the participants were asked to rip up the piece of paper and throw it away, and others were asked to keep the paper and check it for errors. The researchers found that when the participants physically discarded a representation of their thoughts, they mentally discarded them as well. Participants who kept the piece of paper to check for errors were much less able to let go of these negative thoughts about themselves. This study also found that the effects of the action were stronger when done physically, rather than merely imagining the process.
Another component of this study looked at the impact of keeping positive thoughts. A group of 284 students was asked to write down positive thoughts on a piece of paper and then keep the piece of paper in a safe place, such as a wallet. The researchers found that doing this can actually magnify the thought, increasing its significance to the individual.
Practically, this can be a useful tool for parents. If your child is battling with negative thoughts about themselves for example, or worries about the future, try suggesting that they write it down, or draw it if they’re still learning to write. Then, ask them to rip it up and throw it in the bin. Something else you could try is asking your child to write down positive affirmations about themselves on a piece of paper, and keep this in a safe space like a jacket pocket or pencil case.
On some level, it can sound quite silly - can something so simple actually have an impact on a child? But these researchers found that it seems to work very well. Physically throwing away your thoughts influences how you end up using those thoughts, and this might be something parents could use to boost their child’s self worth and mood.
Head of Student Development Unit: Preparatory School
1Briñol P, Gascó M, Petty RE, Horcajo J. Treating thoughts as material objects can increase or decrease their impact on evaluation. Psychol Sci. 2013 Jan 1;24(1):41-7. doi: 10.1177/0956797612449176.