Automatic Negative Thoughts
I hope you all have enjoyed teaching your students about how their thoughts, feelings and behaviors are connected using The Triangle video! As I was going through this with my students, one thing became very evident. Many of the negative thoughts that students were identiying were distorted, and NOT helpful AT ALL!
Automatic Negative Thoughts
Our brains are always thinking. You name it, you can think about it. The weather outside (check). The mistake you made on an assignment (check). The conversation you had with your friend (check). Imagining a monster under your desk (check). ALL of these are thoughts. The problem is, many of our thoughts are negative and seem to just pop up out of nowhere. The term for this is, Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs), which was coined by Dr. Aaron Beck in the 1960s. ANTs are completely normal, and they actually do serve a purpose.
At their core, ANTs are around to keep you safe. Your brain uses ANTs to imagine potenital threats and problems. You can then use this information to fix problems as they come up (or before), and also learn from mistakes. Unfortunately, our imagination can sometimes get the best of us – making us get stuck in negative thought patterns. Getting stuck with ANTs can then create a negative thinking pattern, which then creates a negative thinking neural pathway. And thus, the ANT downward spiral is formed.
I have been using the Automatic Negative Thoughts video and ANT Buddies to help my students understand how our mind can play tricks on us to convince us of something that isn’t actually true. Some sources will reference as many as 200 different distortion types (yikes!), but I have focused on 15 that seem to be the most common among the students I work with. While this may seem like a lot as well, once students get to know each ANT Buddy, they also get to know which ones they use the most often!
Teaching students about the different types of distorted thinking provides them with a sense of control and power when the ANT Buddies start to swarm. It normalizes the idea that ANTs happen for everyone and that they have the power to choose what to do when the ANT Buddies come around. Will they accept the thought as fact? Or will they stop, catch and question the thought to find the truth?
First and foremost, if you haven’t taught The Triangle to your students, I would 100% start there before teaching the ANT Buddies. The concepts outlined in this video and corresponding activities lay the foundation for the work you will do with the ANT Buddies!
The video gives a short introduction to what ANTs are. Once you have watched the video, consider introducing your students to each of the ANT Buddies by using some of the ideas below!
Meet the ANT Buddies!
Eeek! I’m so excited to introduce you all to the ANT Buddies! My students have really clicked with these little dudes, and I hope that yours will too!
Aren’t they cute?! Okay, maybe using the word “cute” to describe bugs that can cause problems for our students isn’t the best word…but it HAS been fun teaching them to the kids!
The first thing I do after watching the video is have students sit with their thoughts for 5-10 minutes. I might put some quiet music on in the background, but it totally depends on the student(s) and what they want. I ask students to write down as many thoughts as they can “think” of in that time. They can be positive, negative, neutral or somewhere in between. Doesn’t matter – just write them as they come! They can do this on a blank sheet of paper or by using the thought bubble page.
Once they have their thoughts written down discuss:
- What are some of the thoughts that you wrote down? Are they positive? Negative? Neutral?
- Are these thoughts true? Helpful?
- What is typically happening when these thoughts pop up?
- How do you feel when you think these things?
- What are some things you might do when you’re thinking these things?
- How do these thoughts impact your day?
Then, I’ll move on to teaching the ANT Buddies. I go pretty slow through this process because I want to make sure that students really understand each ANT Buddy, what they do, and how their personal examples (that they wrote down) may fit with each ANT Buddy description. I have students follow along and write down the description and examples of each as we go.
Stopping the ANT Buddies
After I teach students about WHO the ANT Buddies are, we then learn how to STOP ’em! This part is sooooo fun! I mean, what kid doesn’t like smacking a pretend bug with a flyswatter? I mean…really?
There is a method to stop the ANT Buddies in their tracks! It’s super easy to remember, and not complicated to teach.
- Stop! Write down the thought! Say the thought out loud, then use a stopping statement to swat the bug and trap it!
- When students say the thought out loud, they can literally smack the “bug” at the same time. I have done this by putting a fake bug in front of them, then having them smack it with a flyswatter while saying the thought out loud!
- Stopping statements can be as simple as, “STOP!” or “CUT IT OUT!”
- Catch & Check: Take a look at the thought and determine which ANT Buddy is causing the thought. Is the thought true? Is it helpful?
- Change: Reframe! Use a positive or neutral reframe to change the thought into a more truthful or accurate one!
- Release: Let the ANT Buddy go by accepting the reframed thought, solving the problem and/or askingn for help!
ANT Buddies Activity Kit
If you’re looking for a more in-depth way to teach your students how to identify, catch and question the ANT Buddies, then check out the ANT Buddy Activity Kit! This kit was designed to give you a creative and playful way to teach students about ANTs. This kit was written with a small group in mind, but I have used it for individual work as well!
Have ideas on how to creatively teach the ANT Buddies or distorted thinking to your students? Share them in the comments below or on the Sketches Facebook page!