Absolute Thinking

I love you, I hate you. You always yell at me. You never cook anything I like. Young children tend to think in black and white. Their feelings can be big, bold, and intense. In this episode, we are discussing why this happens in everyday conversations. We will also discuss how we can help our kids to recognize the “in-between”.

Show Notes/Links:

Simplify Siblings – Confidently guide the sibling relationship (without losing your mind)

I love you. I hate you. You always let my brother sit in the front seat of the car and I never get to she's my best friend. I'm never speaking to her again. Today's episode 219, and we're talking about all or nothing thinking. And why do our kids think in such absolutes? Hi, this is Denaye. I'm the founder of simple families. Simple families is an online community for parents who are seeking a simpler more intentional life. In this show, we focus on minimalism with kids, positive parenting, family wellness, and decreasing the mental load. My perspectives are based in my firsthand experience, raising kids, but also rooted in my PhD in child development. So you're going to hear conversations that are based in research, but more importantly, real life. Thanks for joining us.

I am so happy to have you tuning in. This is episode 219, and I'm talking all about absolute thinking, thinking in black or white thinking in all or nothing in childhood, this is often the norm and these big feelings can feel intense. Therefore, I want to explain to you a little bit about the basis for these expressions and why kids come across so strongly and why there's no middle ground or seemingly no middle ground along with some ways that you probably see this popping up and how it can impact you. But before we get into that, here's a word from today's sponsor. The sponsor for today's episode is prep, dish and prep. Dish has long now been a part of my family's life. And I'm so grateful for it. If you would have asked me a couple of years ago, if I would like to try a meal planning service, I would have said, no, why do I need someone to send me a bunch of recipes every week when I can go on Pinterest and go into a recipe book and find recipes myself?

Well, the short answer to that is decision fatigue, because whenever I try to find recipes myself, I get completely lost in overwhelm. But the long answer to that is practice is so much more than recipes. Each week. In my inbox, I get a PDF document from prep dish. And in that PDF, it comes in three parts. The first is the shopping list, and I use that shopping list to do my online grocery ordering. So after I've ordered my groceries, we pick up the order and then we execute prep day prep day is when my husband and I get together and we prep the foods for the week. According to the directions that prep dish gives, I don't have to sit down and sort through the recipes and figure out what to do when it's all laid out for me. So if you want to try it, go to prepdish.com/Families.

Again, that's prepdish.com/Families. You'll get two weeks free. All right. I want to give you a quick reminder that tomorrow, which is Thursday, May 21st. I am hosting our very first simplifying sibling's workshop. It's a one hour workshop and there are two sessions available. You can either join us at 1:30 PM Eastern or 8:30 PM Eastern. And in this workshop, we're talking all about why it feels so darn heavy and complicated to manage sibling relationships. And we're also talking about strategies to help approach it more intentionally. So if sibling relationships have got you weighed down right now, which I know that is the case for so many of us, I would love to have you join us, go to simple families.com forward slash siblings. The price for that workshop is $19. And if you can't attend live, everyone's going to get the replay sent to them.

So you can really watch it at your convenience. Again, that's simple families.com forward slash siblings. Back to today, we're talking about black and white thinking all or nothing, thinking concrete thinking. There's a lot of different ways to talk about this. So this can kind of feel like a dagger in the heart. A lot of times when our kids come at us with stuff like you don't love me, or I hate you. The words that they use can feel so final and absolute. These feelings are often very strong and very intense in the way that they're delivered by our children. And also by the way that they're received in our hearts. But here's what you need to know about these feelings. They can in fact, feel very real to our children. Whenever my kids and I argue, or I get upset with them and I lose my temper with them, I always end the interaction with the same expression.

I say, sometimes we get frustrated with each other, but we still love each other. And that's how we close it out. Now, the reason that I close out these disputes like this is because I know that my children are still in this phase of all or nothing thinking. So when I'm angry with them and I'm upset with them, they immediately go to thinking that I don't love them. Maybe even that I hate them because of the way that their brains are developing. It's nearly impossible for them to reconcile this idea that I'm angry with you, I'm mad at you, but I still love you. Those two things seem directly at odds with one another. So when I get mad at them and I get angry at them and they say things like you don't love me anymore. Are they saying that in part for reassurance?

Yes, they are seeking reassurance, but in some ways that's how their brain processes these interactions. So don't feel shamed. If in fact you have these kinds of interactions with your kids, we all do. But I love closing these interactions down with some positive reassurance because they need it developing brains, think very concretely, this challenge. I don't want to call it a problem. It's more of a challenge arises in part because kids haven't learned the language to express this middle ground or this gray area, these mixed feelings, but also because of maturation and the organic physical piece of their brains, still being a work in progress. So it's a little bit of nature, a little bit of nurture. Can we help support our kids through this and help to teach them? Yes. Sure. But in part it's going to be a waiting process as they grow.

And as they change this important little piece of development is probably something that you see emerging in many ways, across lots of different elements of your life. So I want to go through a few of them to give you a better, deeper understanding of when this type of language and these type of feelings pop up. The first place that I see it very often is with food preferences. I love this food. I hate that food. The way that our kids talk about food can feel very final. But the truth is their taste buds aren't necessarily that absolute the absoluteness of their language doesn't necessarily correlate to the absoluteness of their taste buts. So when a child says, I hate this, or I don't like this food, take that lightly because the thing is, they haven't learned how to talk about that gray area. That, and this food is just okay.

Sometimes I like it, but I don't really like it cooked like this. I hate broccoli. But the truth is I kind of like roasted broccoli when it has like a cheesy sauce on it, accessing that gray area, that middle ground takes a higher level of thinking. And it also takes practice and it takes exposure. And I find, especially when it comes to food, that we very quickly adapt the language that our children are using. So if we are going to make a grocery list for the week, we say, Oh, you know, popcorn, Johnny doesn't like popcorn. When the truth is maybe Johnny wasn't in the mood for popcorn a couple of times last week. And now you have decided that Johnny doesn't like popcorn. Maybe John even said, he didn't like popcorn a couple of times the past few weeks, but you have repeated it.

And you have sort of a locked in those black and white sentiments about food. And if you take nothing else away from this podcast about black and white thinking, it's that food preferences are far, far from black and white. Our children are very much still learning what their tastebuds prefer. Their taste buds preferred different things all the time. But when we start to use the language that our kids are using, or when we start to assign likes and dislikes to food ourselves, they really start to get locked in and to be solidified. So what do I do about this? Whenever my kids say, Oh, I don't like this. I flip it back on them and say, Oh, it sounds like you don't prefer this. I do this with food a lot. I do it with other things too, but especially with food. Oh, it sounds like you don't prefer this today.

So what am I doing with that? I'm giving them new language to talk about and to think about that gray area it's possible to not hate something and to be kind of ambivalent on it, to be on the fence about it, to prefer it sometimes and not really prefer it. Other times. Sometimes I love Mexican food and other times I'm not really in the mood for it. That's very different from loving and hating it. Sometimes I prefer it. And sometimes I don't prefer it. I always like to use sweet potatoes for this example because sweet potatoes are definitely something that I like a lot of kids like, but I like them a lot more when I'm hungry. If I had just had a big meal and someone said, Hey, do you want some sweet potatoes? I'd probably be like, no, thanks. I'm okay. Not because I don't like sweet potatoes.

That's not why I'm refusing them. The reason I'm refusing them is because I'm just not that hungry and sweet potatoes are in my gray area. They're foods that I don't really, really love, love and enjoy because I mean, if you said, Hey, Denaye, do you want some chocolate? And I had just had a huge meal. I'd take the chocolate. I'd make room for the chocolate. Our kids do the same thing. They make room for their most preferred food. So if you cook dinner and your kids refuse it and they don't eat anything, and then you offer them a strawberry yogurt loaded with sugar, they're probably going to eat it. And you might say, Oh, look, look, see how hungry they were. They ate three yogurts. That's like passing me a bunch of chocolate and saying, look how hungry she was. Look how much she ate. We can make room for our most preferred foods fairly often.

So recognize when it comes to food. There are not just likes and dislikes. There's likes foods. We feel just okay about and eat anyways and foods. We really dislike that middle gray area is probably 80 to 90% of all foods. Think about what you eat on a daily basis. You tend to eat a lot of foods that you feel just okay about you don't love everything. You don't hate everything. It's just in the middle. Our kids, haven't learned to think about the gray area yet. And they are still learning to talk about how to explain their feelings about the gray area. So I definitely recommend trying the language that I gave you, which is to say, Oh, it sounds like you don't prefer this today. You'll find that your kids start to pick up and reuse that language. If they hear it from you frequently and language like that, opens them up to a gray area to think about it and to talk about it differently.

The next area you're going to see this popping up is with parental preference, which we talked about last week in episode 218 simple families.com forward slash episode two 18 guard your heart because parental preference can be so, so hurtful. We went through a phase with my daughter where at bedtime, she only wanted me to put her to bed. And she was saying to my husband, I don't like you pop. I get out of here. And it seemed to come on very suddenly. She was perfectly happy and fine with him. And then all of a sudden we walked her in to start putting her to bed and she'd go right to, I don't like you pop. I get out of here, which sounds for lack of other words, nasty, just really nasty. Now I can tell you for sure. She loves her dad, but in the moment she was a four year old who knew exactly what she wanted and she was not sugarcoating it.

So I say, guard your heart because these things can feel really absolute. They can feel very real and they can feel hurtful. Our kids. Don't always exercise grace and courtesy in their words, especially when they're tired and when they're feeling irritable. So in this situation, I flipped her words kind of like I do with food. And I'd say, it sounds like you don't prefer Papa to put you to bed. Let's try asking more kindly, can you ask him for some personal space? And she worked really hard at rephrasing her words and came up with Papa. I'd like mama, to put me to bed. Can I get some personal space please? And I'll tell you that this didn't just happen. Once it happened several times and it took a lot of practicing the new words to really internalize it and to start using it. And to start speaking more kindly another area that you're going to see.

This is friend preference. Particularly as kids get older, when it comes to boys versus girls, the research shows that they exhibit aggression in different ways. Boys tend to use physical aggression with each other and girls tend to use what's called relational aggression and relational aggression means gossiping or using words to be hurtful to one another. Now, boys do this too. But the research shows that girls lean on this method of aggression more often. So in particular with girls, as they're getting older, you're going to hear things like she's my best friend forever. I hate her. I'm never talking to her again. Now. I really don't like the word hate. We don't really use it in our house. It has been used occasionally. I do find that it's used in books a lot. There's not very many things that I filter out of books, but I do filter out the word hate whenever I'm reading a book to my kids and I come across the word hate, I usually rephrase it as like, I don't like rather than using the word hate.

So I do try to shield my kids a little bit from it, but they do hear it. And they say it occasionally. It's definitely not one of my preferred words, but when it comes to talking about friends, especially as they get older, you'll probably hear this word. I hate her and it might change every other day. She's my best friend forever. I hate her. She's my best friend forever. I hate her repeat. And it can feel very worrisome to us as parents. When we hear our kids talking like this, about their friends. And I think it opens us up to a window of conversation about our words and the power of our words, which brings me into the last section of this, which is talking about the strategies. Let's empower our kids by giving them language, whether it's talking about food or parental preference or friend preference, we can give them new ways that are more socially acceptable to communicate their feelings, how it sounds like you're really upset at Julie today.

Sometimes I get really upset with my friends too. It helps if we give it some time and if we talk about it and sometimes our feelings are different the next day, right? So what I've done there is I've introduced this idea that maybe the way that you're feeling right now in this moment is not absolute. It is not finite. Maybe there is more to it. Maybe it will look different tomorrow, but I didn't say it so specifically because a lot of times when our words come across as giving direct advice and undermining their feelings, kids tend to tune us out. And when I say undermine their feelings, if I had said something like, Oh, stop making a big deal out of it. You and Julia will be fine tomorrow. That's undermining their feelings because in their mind, those feelings are very real and very intense.

So acknowledging how intense their feelings are, but also suggesting that there's hope perhaps tomorrow will look differently. I've been through it myself. I felt like this about friends and we've been able to work through it. So whenever possible, we're going to try not to shame and to undermine their feelings. Now, if you have a kid who says, you always yell at me and you say, I never yell at you. Well, in their mind, they hear you as yelling to them. And this is something that I went back and forth with about my mom. When I was growing up, I very much remember her saying something to me firmly and me saying, stop yelling. Why are you always yelling at me? And she would say, I'm not yelling now. Who was right in my ears. I heard yelling, but in her mind, she wasn't yelling. So whenever we disagree with our kids about something like this, we can acknowledge that.

Sometimes something is true to them. That is not necessarily true to us. I know to you, it sounded like I was yelling, but I really didn't think that I was yelling. I was not upset with you. I was just trying to tell you dot, dot, dot, acknowledging their feelings and restating your intent because there's a good chance. It was misinterpreted. Another phrase that I like to avoid is calling my kids liars. So if a child says to you, you never let me go first. I'd really try to avoid saying no, that's a lie. I let you go first. Yesterday. I don't think we have to label kids as liars. Because again, like I said, in their mind, there is truth to their statement. Even if there's not truth to it in your mind. So recognize their feelings and give them evidence. I know it feels like you never get to go first, but just yesterday, you went first.

When we brush teeth, sometimes it's hard to remember. So it's okay to give evidence, to show them that that black or white thinking is not actually accurate. That there is gray area in there. Even if they're not able to recall it or to fully grasp it. So let's give our kids new language to talk about the gray area, the in between. And let's give them evidence when there is evidence that Hey, in, in between does exist. I know you say you don't like sweet potatoes, but you ate sweet potatoes last week. And it looked like you really enjoyed them. Maybe you could try it again next week, but also give them permission to change their mind. I know you said you really don't like Julie today, but let's check again next week. You might feel differently. Maybe, maybe not. So I know black and white thinking can be really aggravating.

It can also be contagious. Sometimes when we hear our kids talk like this, we can start talking like this ourselves. And some of us are ready. Talk like this ourselves. Even before we had kids, sometimes when we're really stressed out and we're feeling these really big feelings, we can go to these same absolute all or nothing. Statements ourselves, an example would be telling your partner. I do everything around this house. You never helped me with anything. Definitely an all or nothing statement. There's definitely evidence that that is not true. There's definitely other ways to give language to that. That aren't so hurtful. And aren't so finite. There's definitely ways to express those feelings without being so black and white without being so intense. Because when you're talking to another adult with black or white thinking, they're rarely receptive of the words that you're trying to say.

They can lead to frustration and confusion, the same way that we feel when our kids use them with us. So watch what you're modeling. See if you're using that language yourself, see if you can work to do better on it. I hope you've enjoyed this episode. I always think that it's helpful to develop a little bit of empathy about what's going on in the brains of embodies of our kids. It helps us to understand them better. It helps us to be more patient with them and it helps us to learn how to talk to them so they can really hear us. Thanks so much for tuning in. If you're interested in joining us in the simplifying sibling's workshop on May 21st, you can go to simplefamilies.com/siblings. I'd love to have you there. If you enjoy the Simple Families podcast, please hit subscribe and leave a rating or review. When you get a chance I'd love to hear from you have a good one.

Denaye Barahona

Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She's a therapist for moms, an author, and the host of the top-ranked Simple Families Podcast. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, Netflix, The Wall Street Journal, Real Simple, Forbes, and numerous other media outlets.