Sounding Off: Turning off negative messages

What is your child thinking?

How do we get to the root of the negative behavior that falls under the subjective category of bullying? By changing the thinking that is driving the behavior, of course. And there is a powerful difference between telling kids what to think and giving them the skills to think for themselves.

A student in one of my positive thinking classes was told by his parents and teachers, "You can be anything you want to be." Meanwhile, he was telling himself, "No I can't. I'd like to be a doctor but I'm no good at math or science." I helped him understand why he formed that belief and how to change it. This gave him hope and enthusiasm for his future goals.

Broken dreams leave kids and parents frustrated. A parent may think, "Why can't you apply yourself? What's wrong with you?" A kid may say, "I don't know what I want to do." Often, he or she knows but doesn't think it is possible. So why bother?

What we believe about ourselves is who we become. Another boy told me, "I got in trouble with the police once and everyone is calling me a bad kid." He learned on top of being told that, he is telling himself the same thing, "I am a bad kid." So, we have a good kid acting like the bad kid we all know.

Negative thinking, and its symptoms of negative feelings and actions, is a social, communicable disease that is carried back and forth from work to home to school. It may go viral on-line or viral inside our minds when we relentlessly replay negative thinking.

While knowledge of a solution is helpful, it's a kid's "self efficacy" or belief in his or her capabilities to overcome social pressure that empowers him or her the most. A parent told me, "We told our daughter if she posted certain pictures on social media it makes her vulnerable to attack. She did it anyway; it makes no sense."

Critical thinking skills help kids to understand how they formed their beliefs about what they are capable of and how to change them, stay positive, set and achieve passionate goals and overcome any adversity along the way.

For instance, when kids are being pelted with name-calling we can tell them, "If they treat you that way they aren't really your friends." Or we can teach them to draw that conclusion. An 11-year-old girl in my class was telling herself, "My friends say bad things about me." She learned how to change her thinking and came up with, "My true friends say good things about me. They are the ones I listen to."

Thoughts and actions work together and while it's great to have a positive thought, if it's buried by an avalanche of negative ones like, "Who do I think I'm kidding?" we tend to stay stuck.

So, what do we believe is possible for us as individuals and as a group, a family, a school or a community?

Some families, teachers and school administrators may think, "They are over-reacting, there is nothing we can do, they don't understand, or, it's no use."

Let's tip the scales of thinking we are powerless to believing we are empowered by teaching kids, and adults, how to think, speak and stay in positive action. I believe children are finding ways to use social media to broadcast an avalanche of positive messages when they are subjected to on-line attacks. I believe that Laguna Beach is leading the way to change the thinking that is driving negative behavior. We are empowering our children with the skills to develop the resilience to succeed in life.

Early education and empowerment is the beginning.

Mischa Martineau operates a positive thinking program for young people in Laguna Beach. She can be reached at

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