It may come as little surprise to us as parents; when we ask our child “how was your day?”, we are often met with a negative response! The good news is that we can help our children to counteract this negativity bias (defined as a tendency to focus on, learn from, and use negative information much more than positive information) (Vaish et al., 2008). Negativity bias is particularly evident when despite experiencing several good or positive events in a day, our disposition to focus on the negative can result in us ruminating over small insignificant everyday events (Wisco et al., 2014). An additional example of negativity bias in action is from research demonstrating that on average we have been found to attend more to and experience stronger physiological reactions to negative news in the media than positive news (Soroka et al., 2019).
By focusing on what went well in any given situation, we can savour the good and help to retrain our brain to look for the positives, not only the negatives. This relates to the idea of neuroplasticity which is the brain’s ability to change itself in response to experience or learning (Voss et al., 2017).
- Talk to your child about their changing brain, and how ‘what you focus on grows’
- Each evening, spend time to reflect with your child on three things that went well in their day and why. Where appropriate, you may like to highlight any strengths that your child used along the way (e.g., being brave in a class presentation, showing kindness to a friend). You may like to share this at the dinner table, or before bedtime.
Each evening, spend time to reflect with your child on three things that went well in their day and why.
- Dr Rick Hansen’s article “How to grow the good in your brain” https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_grow_the_good_in_your_brain
- School TV Happiness & Gratitude Edition- https://knox.nsw.schooltv.me/newsletter/happiness-gratitude
- The Harvard Graduate School of Education article on ‘The Biology of Positive Habits’ includes excellent mindfulness exercises to build positive habits over time https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/16/03/biology-positive-habits
Soroka, S., Fournier, P., & Nir, L. (2019). Cross-national evidence of a negativity bias in psychophysiological reactions to news. Proceedings of the NationalAcademy of Sciences, 116(38), 18888-18892. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1908369116
Vaish, A., Grossmann, T., & Woodward, A. (2008). Not all emotions are created equal: The negativity bias in social-emotional development. PsychologicalBulletin, 134(3), 383–403. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.134.3.383
Voss, P., Thomas, M. E., Cisneros-Franco, J., & de Villers-Sidani, E. (2017). Dynamic brains and the changing rules of neuroplasticity: Implications for learning and recovery. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, Article1657. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01657
Wisco, B. E., Gilbert, K. E., & Marroquin, B. (2014). Maladaptive processing of maladaptive content: Rumination as a mechanism linking cognitive biases to depressive symptoms. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 5(3), 329-350. https://doi.org/10.5127/jep.038213