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How Thinking Positively Can Enhance Homeschooling

© Beverley Paine, March 19th, 2006

How we intepret situations in any given moment determines how we feel about what is happening. Cognitive Therapy, a pyschological technique advanced by Albert ellis and Martin Seligman and psychiatrist Aaron Beck, offers the ABC Model as a way to understanding how negative thinking impacts on our decision making processes. If, like me, you are a habitual negative thinker, then taking some time to understand the proceses at work is probably a few minutes well spent.

The ABC Model runs something like this:

'A' is for Adverse situations: There can be real or imagined. We might, for example, let our fear get the upper hand when first taking our children out of school. What if we don't get permission? Will they take our children away from us? These are imagined events, but they provoke the same kind of reaction as if they were actually about to happen, perhaps to a lesser severity.

Another scenario might be your first time at a homeschooling gathering. People don't seem as friendly as you thought they'd be and you detect a few close-knit cliques. There's a group happily chatting away on the other side of the hall: they dress similarly, their children seem similar ages, they're busy doing an activity but they don't invite you over. You feel rejected. You decide that this group isn't what you are looking for. If this happens a few more times you might decide that homeschooling isn't right for your family...

It's easy to jump to conclusions when assumptions are made. The group of parents and children probably knew before arriving what the activity was and had prepared. The children were keen to get started. The parents had little time to socialise with others before setting up and beginning the activity with their children. Little ones need constant attention - it's hard to get away. For some parents this is the only time they get to talk to their friends. Perhaps one or two would love to stop and chat to a newcomer but it might be just as hard for them to break the ice with strangers as it is for you... Sometimes it takes a little time to feel comfortable - if only you'd come back the next time as it was a free-play day and the parents had lots of uninterrupted time to chat. Your feelings of rejection may be entirely misplaced. But the sense of alienation that you feel is real and the result may taint your whole homeschooling experience.

'B' stands for beliefs and automatic thoughts. These are the thoughts that jump into your mind in response to everyday events. They are well rehearsed words and phrases that often go unnoticed in our conscious minds. Positive thoughts are those that are realistic, adaptive and goal directed. Negative thoughts tend to be distorted, unproductive and work against us achieving our goals.

For example, you find solving maths problems difficult. You can follow the formula and do the sums but given a problem from daily life and you're stumped... Because of this perceived deficiency you've set your child up with an expensive math book that gives step by step instructions. You're busy in the kitchen when your daughter asks for help. "I hope it's not a story problem" is your automatic thought, quickly followed by "I'm no good at maths", and then "I'm a hopeless teacher, maybe we shouldn't be homeschooling".

It's so easy to undermine our confidence when, without thinking, we enlarge negative thoughts and allow them to grow beyond the original parameters.

Homeschooling is wonderful because it gives us a second chance to take the time and learn how to do very many things that we stumbled on during our own childhoods. Our children may get bored as we blunder through different ways to tackle that story problem. We may ask their help. Together we may find a way to solve the problem. It probably won't be the way they do it in the book, but that's the way you learned to fail in the first place, all those years ago.

A positive thought, in this situation, would run something like this: "problems are opportunities to think laterally, we'll solve this by brainstorming possibilities together, anything is possible, I might learn something!" This series of thoughts lifts the mood and instead of dreading the encounter you look forward to it.

'C' stands for consequences - we've already covered those: they are the ways you feel and behave as a result of the way you automatically think. They usually reinforce your perception. It's hard to break habits based on recurring negative thoughts. Cognitive Therapy attacks negative thoughts in several ways.

1. Exploring your negative and biased views objectively.

For me, this meant learning to recognise that I am actually thinking negative thoughts in the first place. I needed to learn to listen to my thoughts, catch them in the act so to speak. The easiest way to do this was to keep a journal. I spent years writing down my thoughts each day. I couldn't see for a long time that what I wrote was actually negative. And it took longer for me to recognise that most of what I said to other people was also negative! Learning to be objective, to listen as though I was another person took time and patience. When I felt game enough (which meant I was already well on my way to becoming an habitual positive thinker) I asked people who loved me unconditionally to tell me if they thought I'd said something negative. Often I interpreted their help as uninvited criticism (which it wasn't, but often in a negative mood I couldn't see that...) Bit by bit, I began to recognise and name, then call to account, and then finally change, my negative thinking habits.

2. Understanding that my thoughts are merely reactions to events that are happening right now.

I don't know why I began thinking that my thoughts were all powerful, that if I thought something that made it automatically true. "I'm no good at maths", for instance. This powerful thought is based on a false assumption. It's easy to prove that I'm okay at maths. I use maths every day to successfully navigate my way through my day. Okay, I'm not fantastic at solving some problems, especially at short notice or when put on the spot, but that doesn't make me "no good at maths".

All too often I base my present thoughts of stuff I learned to believe when I was too young to realise that I had the power to question the validity of assumptions made about me. But I'm older now, wiser now. I know better. It's time to cast off the urge to react according to old pattens of behaviour that no longer fit and to choose instead to act.

This leads to a sense of personal control which in turn builds positive thinking. That's the wonderful thing about positive thinking: like negative thinking once it gets hold it's like an avalanche tumbling down the mountain, gaining momentum, taking over, all consuming. Nothing can stand in it's way!

It's our choice - do we want to be consumed by an avalanche of negative soul-destroying thoughts, or one full of uplifting power, energy and enthusiasm?

In each and every moment, as each and every thought arises, we have the choice to chose...

3. Understanding that my thoughts are driven by underlying beliefs or untested assumptions.

These are the templates that we built early in life based on the way we interpreted our early experiences. They evolved from the messages we received about ourselves, about others and about life in general from significant people in our lives. Somewhere along the way we didn't learn to test the assumptions we made - or were taught not to. This led to developing certain biases in thinking: we developed a filtering system with which we screen out and categorise our experiences. We attach importance to some things and not others. Behaviour patterns arose that reinforced these biases: these become entrenched ways of seeing the world and give rise to the way we react to events.

Some days I feel like I'm wearing my 'blue glasses'. These are my days when nothing goes right and I feel it's all my fault. Then there are my 'grey glasses' days when nothing goes right and it's not my fault, but life is unfair. God's fault perhaps? In the last decade or so I've learned that these days aren't really blue or grey, but that my perspective is affected by my attitude and mood. Many things effect my attitude and mood. I've learned to recognise those things that do and this allows me the opportunity to control those factors. Instead of reacting automatically I'm chosing to act consciously. It's not easy, but it's possible.

Some underlying belief systems that make us vulnerable to entrenched negative thinking include:

  • "I must get people's approval."
  • "I must prove my worth through achievements."
  • "I must do things perfectly or not at all."
  • "I must be valued by others or my life has no meaning."
  • "The world must always be just and fair."
  • "If somethind doens't work out it's all my fault."

As a person habitually cloaked in depression I fall prey to all of the above! It's important for me to continually challenge these statements. The cognitive model asserts that negative thinking people make a number of distortions in the way they interpret information based on their underlying belief systems and assumptions. The maths example above demonstrates the kind of loopy or skewed thinking that often arises.

Testing the validity of my thoughts - asking; "Is this really true? Is it true for all situations? When is it true, and when isn't it true?" leads to greater power over the thought. I can then chose to act, instead of react. It stops me from automatically accepting the negative thought and I can consider alternative interpretations. This helps me avoid coming to loopy or irrational conclusions without sufficient evidence to support it. It's easy to ignore other reasons when the mind becomes irrationally focused on a single negative thought.

Wearing 'blue glasses' for a day or a week is bad enough, but having a negative mindset all the time is soul destroying. Not only that, it can put a huge damper on conversation between friends. Too many of my friendships have been eroded by my tendency to think negatively. I may think I'm being constructive and positive when I point out how to 'fix' a situation by 'correcting' the (to my mind, obvious) errors... If, at the heart of my thoughts, I am consumed by a negative slant, then what I have to say will come across as unhelpful or harsh criticism. [I offer a HUGE thank you to my three wonderful children who allowed me to slowly learn this lesson over the period of their entire childhood!]

In homeschooling life this often surfaces as focussing on what you haven't done in a day rather than what you have achieved; or what the children don't know or can't do yet, rather than what they've mastered. We are forever chasing goals and forget to celebrate the milestones, our eyes forever focussed on some distant objective. The further away our destination the more negatively focussed we become in real time.

Another way information is processed to give rise to negative tendencies includes making generalisations; sweeping statements based on one or maybe two incidents or experiences. We read something - perhaps written by someone famous - and extrapolate their theories and ideas to encompass all situations. Our child draws a well-proportionaed house using three dimensional perspective and we feel sure he'll become an architect one day. The next day we're confused and bitterly disappointed when he can't repeat the effort. One 'bad' day and we believe that homeshooling is never going to work for our family...

It really helps to try to work out how and why we think the way we do, what assumptions we are making and whether they are true or not. Examining our thought processes and working to gradually change them can be very beneficial when homeschooling our children.

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

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