Kid or adult, the occasional negative thought is normal. It’s OK to feel bad about a mistake, worry how you did on a test, or wish you performed better. If you find yourself seeing more problems than solutions, constantly worrying, or feeling anxious and frustrated – then it is likely your brain is suffering from an ANT infestation.
ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts) are more than just the random – justifiable – negative thought. They are the persistent, nagging thoughts that take over our brains and tell us that all of our fears are true. And just like real ants, hundreds of them are scurrying around everywhere all the time.
ANTs (or NATs) distort how we see events and people. Because of that, we react to what we believe is going on instead of what is actually going on.
Officially, there are at least 15 different types of negative thoughts (and keeping track of them individually can bring on its own ANT infestation). Fortunately, they fall into four easy to remember categories: worry, critic, victim, and perfectionist.
Worry: These thoughts all run along the lines of if something can go wrong, it will, and it will be horrendous. The worry ANT turns any possible problem into a catastrophe that WILL happen. This ANT also reads minds and only predicts the worst. No matter what, the worry ANT tells us that everything is, or will be, bad to the point of discounting or ignoring the good things that do happen.
Critic: When everyone, especially yourself, is wrong, bad, or stupid then you are plagued by critic ANTs. These ANTs are especially prevalent around and love to propagate insecurities.
Victim: Victim ANTs tell us that anything that didn’t work our way isn’t fair, use “Always” and “Never” way too frequently, and can be very quick to assign blame. The assignment of blame is rarely appropriate and generally goes to the thinker.
Perfectionist: These are the All or Nothing, Black or White, and Should thoughts. There are no shades of gray or middle ground for the perfectionist ANT. Similarly, perfectionist ANTs have very precise – and generally unattainable – expectations.
Because ANTs play on our fears, once an infestation begins, it can be very hard to quash. We enter fight or flight mode and completely bypass the logical section of our brain. It can be difficult to even identify the problem in the middle of all that adrenaline – especially for kids who have not yet developed all of their reasoning skills.
In fact, a kid in the midst of an ANT infestation is much more likely to feel sick or behave in a way that a parent can find inappropriate, confusing, and frustrating.
I help kids and parents look for the underlying thoughts causing the behavior and teach them ways to get rid of the ANTs. This starts by asking questions that help put their ANTs in perspective. Then we work on replacing them with positive and motivational thoughts.