Anxiety, Regulation, Videos

The CBT Triangle

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Our brains are constantly thinking. Given any situation, at any point in the day, we’re going to be analyzing what is going on around us. When a problem arises, both big and small, taking charge of our thoughts can drastically improve the outcome. Learning how our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are connectd is a major step in this process!

Teaching students about “The Triangle” provides a quick, logical, and powerful way to solve problems and regulate emotions. This strategy also provides an excellent way to dig deeper into situations following an upset to help students map out and timeline their own behavior. Start by watching the video, then consider following up with the activities below!

Understanding the Difference

I like to start teaching the triangle by ensuring that my students understand the difference between thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Students have a habit of mixing up feelings and thoughts, as they seem to go hand-in-hand. I’ll explain the difference, then spend a session or two having students sort through different examples of each.

  • Thoughts can be short phrases or images that run through our mind based on things that are happening around us. A single situation can cause multiple thoughts.
  • Feelings are our body’s way of helping us pay attention to our surroundings. They change depending on what is happening and can come and go as the situation changes. You can feel happy, sad, angry and worried all in one day! Some feelings make us feel good on the inside, while others leave us feeling pretty lousy. ALL feelings are okay! What matters is what we DO when our feelings get too big!
  • Behaviors are the things we DO (or keep ourselves from doing). When we feel good, then we’re more likely to do nice things. When we feel lousy, then we’re more likely to act in ways that we’ll regret later.

Linking them Together

When I first introduce this concept to my students, I always start by presenting examples in relation to other people before identifying more personal examples. I’ll start with a very simple sheet (1) and a very simple example. For instance (starting at the top and working our way down)

  • A boy hears a weird noise when he’s trying to fall asleep (spark/situation).
  • He thinks there is a monster in his closet trying to get him (thought).
  • He starts to feel scared and anxious about the monster (feeling).
  • He has a really hard time falling to sleep (behavior).

If my students need extra practice with this concept, then I might pull in some scenarios using these task cards. I love the scenarios on these cards because they’re very simple and easy to understand. If your students know how to determine size of problem -great!- then you can give them extra practice with these cards. If they don’t know how to determine size of problem -great!- then you can teach them using these scenarios too (psst…a video on this is coming soon – promise!). I’ve also found some CBT Stories that have been super helpful teaching this concept too!

As students get the hang of mapping out situations with thoughts/feelings/behavior, then start moving into more personal examples! I tend to do this by “graduating” them to more complex think sheets (2/3), and I’ll blend in personal examples with those from the task cards. We’ll start to practice reframing thoughts (2) and exploring poisitive/negative consequences to behavior (3).

Extra Practice and Fun!

I love using games with kids – espeically on Fun Fridays! Do you do Fun Fridays? Basically, I give my students 2-3 games to choose from every Friday that relate to what we have been working on for the week. CBT 123 and Don’t Go Bananas are in my rotation quite a bit for Grades 2-5. In fact, we just used them last week and were laughing super hard the entire time! Win!

I absolutely love a resource that can serve multiple functions. When my students need extra practice diving into their thoughts and matching reframes, I pull out Thinking about Thoughts cards. This resource is aaaaamazing! There are sooo many thought cards included, and all of them are categoriezed to make it easy to pull the specific ones you need!

Professional Resources

The three pictures above will link you to the top 3 resources I pull from for CBT strategies. All of them are great by themselves, but I do tend to pull from each of them as I go based on student needs. They all touch on the thought/feeling/behavior triangle, too!

What do YOU use to teach The Triangle to your students? Have a resource you’d like to share? Post it in the comments below or on the Sketches Facebook page!