Feeling vs. Thinking: Teach Your Child to be a Sleuth (Applies to Adults, too.) - Counseling & Therapy Services - The Juniper Center

A sleuth is someone looking for facts. Not feelings. For older kids, especially teenagers, they may relate better to being a good journalist or a reporter. Whatever you call it, being able to stick to the facts and look at what’s really happening is critical.


When I originally wrote this article, much earlier this year, it was about how to help your children navigate conflicts with friends and teachers at school. While the examples below stick to that original premise, the meaning as applies to our everyday lives now is potent: Everything we are feeling right now is 100% normal and valid. But it’s as important as ever to consult multiple resources and maintain focus on the facts.


When feelings trigger fear.


I’m all for understanding and being able to talk about your feelings. I talk to my kids about that all the time…whether they like it or not.  But when things start to feel out of control, when the fear trigger kicks in, it’s important to roll things back and look at the facts. And that applies to things happening in our children’s lives, as well as our own.


How do you teach your child to be a sleuth?


Of course you start by being one yourself. There’s power in how you model the behavior you hope for in your children. Here are three steps to get started.


  1. Stop, take a breath, and get calm.

Facts live in the logical center of our brain. And it’s difficult for us to find out facts when we’re in heightened emotion. Those two parts of your brain, the emotional side and the thinking part, work like a scale. When one part goes up, the other one goes down.


The goal to start is to help your kids get calm—which starts with you. “Take a breath, let’s talk about it. Let’s really look at what’s going on here,” is a good way to start.


  1. Ask, what do you know to be 100% true?

“I feel like she doesn’t like me anymore!” “I feel like he doesn’t want to be my friend!” Or, “I’m afraid I’m going to fail the test,” are among the things my kids may be afraid will happen.


“Okay, what’s making you think that?” I’ll ask. I use the word think on purpose. They’re saying feel, I’m saying think. What’s making you think that?


Now is the time to help them understand what qualifies as a fact. A fact is something that is publishable in a journal or admissible in court. Your feelings really are not. Ask, “is there evidence to support what they’re saying is true?”


In the moment when they are upset they’re going to say yes, of course there’s evidence. And then they’ll tell you all the things that actually happened. “She didn’t look at me,” or “he’s not returning my text” or “I didn’t do so well on the last test.” And then you can start to parse out what it is that has really happened, what they are feeling about it, and to help them see other explanations.


  1. You Have to do it too!

I say to my son all the time, “your crystal ball works as well as mine and I don’t have one. So let’s look at what’s really happening.” And usually when kids do that, when they see you modeling that, they can start to calm down.


The more you do this with your child, the more they’re going to strengthen those connections between the emotional centers of the brain that are fully online, especially with teenagers, and the thinking, judgment, rational, decision making part of the brain that just isn’t quite online yet. It doesn’t mean that they are always going to recognize that there’s no problem. Sometimes there is a problem. But then we can problem solve our way through what are the facts, what is the actual situation, and not just the fear.


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