Negative Thinking

Meet the ANT Buddies

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I hope this post finds all of you cozy and warm in your homes! It’s currently a balmy ZERO degrees here in Indiana. (Don’t even get me started on the snow and wind chill!) So, I’m naturally sitting by the fire with a cup of coffee. What better time to formally introduce all of you to the ANT Buddies than right now?!

Automatic Negative Thoughts and Kids

Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) are normal for all of us. They tend to pop up without us having any real control over them, and it doesn’t take much for them to build and become overwhelming. Unfortunately, our kids are not immune to ANTs. Just like adults, children can easily fall into the ANT traps – leading to meltdowns, frustration, anger, and guilt (among other things).

Thinking of our thoughts is a higher level executive functioning skill. It can be abstract and difficult for children to understand at first. So, personifying these thoughts through the ANT Buddies has given my students an engaging and empowering way to take control of their thoughts when they’re stuck in the negative. This also helps to “depersonalize” the thoughts a bit, allowing us (and them) to challenge the thought (and resulting behaviors) without putting the child on the defensive.

Let’s meet the ANT Buddies, then talk a bit about how we can catch, question, and challenge them!

Meet the ANT Buddies!

The ANT Buddy Activity Kit teaches students 5 ANT Buddies at a time, so that is how I’ll lay them out here, too! Don’t forget – you can find 3 free handouts to help teach these bugs to your students on the Sketches Resource Page!

Overgeneralizing Ollie: Makes us think that ONE bad thing means EVERYTHING is bad. Ollie focuses on a single event that occurred and makes a conclusion based on the single piece of negative evidence that ALL similar events going forward will result in the same failure or negative experience. He tends to use words like always, everyone, and never in his thoughts.

  • Example: Your mom forgot to pack your lunch last week. Because of this, you had to buy lunch on your least favorite lunch day (chicken salad – blech!). When you get home you get mad and yell, “I can’t believe I had to have chicken salad today! You ALWAYS forget to pack my lunch.”
  • Fight Back! Look for the evidence against the thought and be specific in your truth.

All or Nothing Allie: Makes us see things as either totally successful or a complete failure.

  • Example: Your studied so hard for your math test. You took the test with confidence, and felt pretty good when you turned it in. When you got your test back, you only got 18/20 questions right. Your first thought was, “Ugh! I missed two questions! My day is ruined!”.
  • Fight Back! Think in percentages (kind of like a pie!). How big of a piece does this really take out of your day? Look for the exceptions to your thought and flip it!

Labeling Lester: Makes us use ONE word to describe ourselves, another person, or a situation.

  • Example: You ask your friend for help with a classroom assignment you’re working on. Your friend quickly dismisses your attention and does not help you, focusing on their assignment instead. You think, “What a selfish jerk!”.
  • Fight Back! As soon as you hear a negative label come up, tell yourself to STOP. Take a look around you and figure out what the real problem is. Use specific words to describe the situation that is happening to move forward.

Filtering Freddy: Makes us focus on SOME things and ignore the others – typically focusing on the negative. He’s really good at paying attention to evidence that confirms his negativity, taking in all information (positive and negative) and filtering out the good to leave you with the bad. The “left over” negative details are focused on and magnified.

  • Example: You have worked really hard on a presentation for your fifth grade class on famous Americans in history. You are able to get up in front of your entire class and present your information, and everyone compliments you on how well you did afterwards. One person gives you some constructive feedback later in the day, and you then focus only on this detail later at night when you’re telling your parents about how it went.
  • Fight Back! Look for the evidence against the thought and be specific in your truth. Make a list of the facts and positives from the situation.

Blaming Betty: Causes you to blame others for your problems. Rather than taking responsibility for your own actions, you hold other people responsible for your feelings and/or situation.

  • Example: You and your sister were arguing at dinner. You called your sister a bad name, and you were then sent up to your room. On the way up to your room you yell, “It’s not my fault! She made me mad!”.
  • Fight Back! Figure out who is in charge of your emotions – you or someone else? Take control of the situation by owning your mistake and solving the problem.

Catastrophizing Cammie: Makes us think in terms of the “worst case scenario” at all times. She’s really good at making small problems seem waaaay bigger than they actually are.

  • Example: You have a science test tomorrow morning. You are trying to fall to sleep, but you can only think, “What if I make a mistake during my speech and get a bad grade? I just know I’m going to fail.”
  • Fight Back! What are the odds that the worst case scenario is going to happen? Answer any “what if” questions with a reminder of WHO and WHAT can help you cope.

Minimizing Maddie: Makes us ignore how big a problem actually is, and ignores important feelings and experiences.

  • Example: You have been friends with Lucy since Kindergarten. She has recently started to hang out with some other people in her neighborhood, which is fine – until you notice that she’s not being nice to you anymore. She calls you names and spreads rumors about you, but you think it’s all fine as long as she’s still talking to you.
  • Fight Back! Acknowledge your feelings as “okay” and recognize that your feelings matter. Consider the facts and the truth of the situation.

Jumping to Conclusions Jazz: Makes us guess about what is going on while ignoring most of the facts. He really likes to do this when he can guess that things are BAD. He guesses about WHAT is happening and WHY – ignoring any evidence that might prove him wrong.

  • Example: Your mom is five minutes late to pick you up from carpool. You have to wait in the front office for her to get there and you think, “Oh man! I bet she got into a car accident on her way!”.
  • Fight Back! Try to figure out how likely it is that your prediction is going to come true. Look for evidence against your belief or prediction.

Mind Reading Marty: Makes us guess about the thoughts and feelings of other people. Yup, he likes to think he can read their minds. He also thinks that he’s really good at knowing WHY they’re thinking or feeling things too.

  • Example: You finished your homework early, and you’re stoked because it means you’ll get to play some video games. You sign on and invite your friend to play, but they’re not around and not answering. You think, “He’s not answering. He must be mad at me because I didn’t finish fast enough.”
  • Fight Back! Look for other explanations to the person’s behavior. Identify the likelihood that your thought is true.

Emotional Reasoning Ellie: Uses your feelings to make you believe that because you FEEL something, then your thought must be true. Ellie takes feelings as the truth, tangling big emotions up in her web – causing them to stick around. This makes it really difficult to problem solve!

  • Example: You feel lonely sitting outside at recess and you think, “I’m lonely, so nobody must like me.”
  • Fight Back! Remind yourself that feelings are not facts. Acknowledge the feeling you have, but try to also recognize what else is happening around you that might indicate a problem to solve.

Shoulda Steve: Makes you think only with the words should/n’t or must. These words then leave you feeling guilty, ashamed or angry. The guilt and frustration that follow make it less likely that you’ll attempt whatever you messed up again.

  • Example: You are singing a solo in choir. All of your friends think that you did really well, but all you can think is, “I should have practiced more.”
  • Fight Back! Be flexible with your expectations – don’t expect perfection! Replace “should” or “must” with “It would be nice” or “I’m trying”.

Personalization Pete: Makes you blame yourself for something that was not your fault and also takes things personally when they weren’t meant to hurt you.

  • Example: Your teacher forgot to hand you the worksheet for the next activity starting in class. Instead of asking for help, you get very frustrated and start kicking your water bottle. A friend tries to help you, and you tell them, “The teacher just skipped me on purpose! She just wants me to get mad and be sent to the principal’s office.”
  • Fight Back! Focus on the things that you CAN control – determine what (if any) things are in your control for the thought/situation. Remind yourself that you can only control YOU!

Always Right Ron: Always needs to be right and takes personal opinions as facts. He will argue with others and “put them on trial” to prove that your own opinion or actions are the correct ones.

  • Example: You are working on a group project in class. You and another group member have an argument about how one part of the project should be complete. You want to be more creative and ignore the outline that the teacher provided. Your classmate wants to follow the outline because that will give you the good grade. You completely ignore the facts and do it your way anyway.
  • Fight Back! Compromise! Try and find a middle ground in the situation. Listen to the other person and try to hear their perspective without arguing.

Not Fair Frank: Says that all things should be given based on fairness and equality. Everything must be equal in order for things to be fair, and when they’re aren’t anger and resentment occurs.

  • Example: You notice that one of your classmates is allowed to use a computer for long writing assignments. Your hand is cramping as you work on your second paragraph and you think, “That’s totally not fair. I should be able to use a computer too!”.
  • Fight Back! Fair doesn’t always mean equal. Try and figure out what it is that is bothering you about the situation and problem solve from there.

Change ‘Em Charlie: Makes us pressure others to change in order to bring you happiness. He is convinced that your happiness is dependent on the other person changing a part of who they are.

  • Example: You have been arguing with your friend on and off over the past two months. Arguments continue as you realize that your friendship continues to drift apart. You think, “If they would just go back to liking Roblox as much as I do, then we could be friends again.”
  • Fight Back! Recognize when you’re putting your happiness in the hands of another person’s abiity to change. Can you control if they change? What can you control in the situation? Focus on that and move on!

Using the ANT Buddies as a Tool

That’s a wrap! There they are – all 15! I know 15 seems like a lot, but trust me – once your students get to know these bugs, they’ll start to recognize the ones that they use the most often and it’ll become easier and easier to narrow down.

Eventually, through repetition and connection, you’ll be able to challenge negative thoughts as they come up with the use of the ANT Buddy rather than just simply calling the child out (which just makes them defensive anyway).

The ANT Buddies provide a way to personify the thought(s) in a way that separates the negative thought from the child. Letting you say things like, “Yikes! I think I see Marty on your shoulder. Do you really know that she’s mad at you or are you just guessing?” or, “Oh man! Betty has come out to play. Yes you got mad at what ___ said to you, but is it ___’s fault that you threw your pencil?”.

After challenging the thought, you can move on to reframing the thought into a more positive or neutral thought. The important part here is that the new reframed thought is realistic. It doesn’t have to be all rainbows and butterflies, but it does have to make sense to the given situation!

How do YOU teach your students about distorted thinking? Share in the comments below, or add your info on the Sketches Facebook Page!