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Thinking, Feeling, and Behaving

A Cognitive-Emotive Model to Get Children to Control their Behavior/Book Excerpt

Carmen Y. Reyes

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Copyright 2010 by Carmen Y. Reyes Copyright 2012 by Carmen Y. Reyes

Contents The Cognitive Model of Emotions Cognitive-Emotive Hypotheses Rational Versus Irrational Beliefs Cognitive Errors Related Cognitive Concepts Expectations The Attribution Style Locus of Control Childrens Explanatory Styles Appraisal Self-Efficacy Thinking and Talking Rationally Irrational Beliefs The ABC System Helping Children to Think Rationally Prompting the Student The Disputation Technique Using Rational Self-Statements Rational-Emotive Interventions Techniques Developing Rational-Emotive Literacy Concluding Comments

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The Cognitive Model of Emotions

Since the 1970s, teachers had used cognitive-emotive techniques, also known as rational-emotive techniques or RET, with chronically disruptive students in special classroom settings. One specific population that seems to benefit the most from this approach is the population of angry and/or aggressive students. According to this school of thought, we control our emotional destinies by the way we look and interpret the events that happen to us, and the actions we choose to deal with those events (Ellis in Ellis and Grieger, 1977). At the core of RETs thinking is the belief that the events that happen to us do not upset us; what really affects us is our perception or interpretation of those events. RETs fundamental principle is that all emotions, and the behaviors that follow them, are in response to the persons antecedent thoughts (cognitions) and private speech (self-talking). Each individuals emotional response reflects his or her thinking about the circumstances. According to the cognitive-emotive view, our actual feelings are not so much in response to what happened (the actual events), but rather, feelings are a response of what we are thinking about what happened. To develop emotional and behavioral self-control, then, chronically disruptive students need to learn how to control their thinking. We can delineate how troubled, anger-prone, and acting-out children create their own disturbances using Ellis A-B-C Model of Emotions (Ellis in Ellis and Grieger, 1977). At point A (Activating Experience or Activating Event), something happened; for example, the child received a score of 40 on the science test. At point C (the emotional and/or behavioral Consequence), the child reacts to what happened to her at point A (e.g. the child feels embarrassed and discouraged about the low score). Although we can mistakenly assume that A caused C (the child feels embarrassed and discouraged because of her score on the science test), the

cognitive-emotive model states that C does not automatically follow from A, but from B; that is, from the childs beliefs (rational and/or irrational) about A. Most specifically, the child thinking that her low score humiliates her in front of her peers, and now her peers believe she is dumb. The child creates her own emotional consequence at point C by strongly believing certain things about this particular event at point B. Adding to RETs definition of emotions, we feel a particular emotion based both on our thoughts and evaluations of the situation. In the above example, by assessing the experience as an embarrassment to her, the child troubles herself and ends feeling embarrassed and humiliated. A second student, who scored 28 on a science test two weeks earlier, is thinking about and evaluating her current score of 40 in a very different way. This second child is assessing the most recent score as an improvement from her previous performance, feeling optimistic and enthusiastic about her better score. The fact that two different students perceive, evaluate, and feel about one same experience (a score of 40) in a very different way supports RETS main premise that events do not cause emotions. If events trigger feelings, why these two different students are feeling very differently about an identical score? This is perhaps the most important game-change premise to manage chronically disruptive and angry students. The challenge for the RET teacher is influencing children in believing that events (or other people) do not create their distraught feelings; what students believe and how they assess the event is the determining factor in the way they feel. Backed by this premise, the RET teacher is in a much stronger position to help the distraught child develop insight in one of the most empowering postulates in cognitive-emotive theory: we all have a great deal of control in the way we feel, and by extension, in the way we act. With this new insight, we weaken childrens favorite trick of blaming other people (e.g., I cursed Mr. Carlson because he

yelled at me) and/or the event (e.g., I pushed Ruben because the lunchroom was too crowded) for the things they do. With this postulate, clearly and specifically, we can place the responsibility for feelings and actions (behavior) where it belongs: in the students lap. Once children understand that they are responsible for their behavior, they are one-step closer to accepting that they acted in an inappropriate way and deserve a consequence. Cognitive-Emotive Hypotheses The cognitive-emotive model of emotions derives from several hypotheses. Next, I introduce the most relevant to school-age children. 1. Thinking creates emotion. Emotions and behavior do not stem exclusively from the child reacting to the surrounding environment, but mainly from the childs thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes about the environment. 2. Self-statements influence behavior. The kinds of things children say to themselves, as well as the form in which they say these things, affect their emotions and behavior. 3. Our emotional states (mood) depend on cognition; that is, depend upon what the child thinks, believes, or tells himself. 4. Cognition (thinking), feelings, and behavior are interrelated. When teachers or parents intervene to change one of the three, the other two modify automatically. In other words, when the way the child is thinking changes, his emotions and behavior change too. 5. The child perceived locus of control influences behavior. When the student perceives events, others reactions, and even his own behavior as something within his control (internal locus of control), he reacts differently than when

he sees these situations as coming from external sources and outside his control (external locus of control). 6. Awareness, insight, and self-monitoring of troubled behavior influence that behavior. When we teach children to observe and analyze the disruptive behavior, we can influence and change that behavior. Increased awareness and self-monitoring of behavior (what the child is thinking, saying, and doing to disturb himself) lead to improved behavior. In addition, selfmonitoring of behavior is more effective than monitoring of behavior by an outside observer. 7. We all have the choice of behavioral change, including children with chronically disruptive and/or acting-out behaviors. Rational Versus Irrational Beliefs A belief (B), that is, what we tell ourselves about the activating event (A), has two broad categories: it can be a rational belief or it can be an irrational belief. A rational belief is supported by the evidence (can be proved) and creates a moderate emotional reaction (e.g. annoyance or irritation) to the event. An irrational belief, on the other hand, generates an extreme emotional reaction like feeling enraged or throwing a tantrum. Irrational beliefs are generally stated with an authoritative and commanding voice, for example, How dares Richard treating me that way! rather than being expressed as a preference (e.g., I would really like for Richard to stop treating me like that). Irrational beliefs get no support from the evidence. With a list that is still relevant today, Waters (1982, p. 572) identified ten common irrational beliefs in children: 0ne: It is awful if others do not like me. Two: I am bad if I make mistakes.

Three: Everything should go my way; I should always get what I want. Four: Things should come easy to me. Five: The world should be fair and we must punish bad people. Six: I should not show my feelings. Seven: Adults should be perfect. Eight: There is only one right answer. Nine: I must win. Ten: I should not have to wait for anything. Cognitive Errors In irrational thinking and troubling emotions, we generally find one or more cognitive errors or negatively distorted beliefs. Among them (Ellis in Ellis and Grieger, 1977): 1. Misestimating the probability of an event happening by either overestimating the probability of the negative event happening or underestimating the probability of the positive event happening. 2. Demanding and dictatorial thinking, that is, rigid and absolutistic thinking; a perceived injustice. For example, the child believing that others acted badly by behaving the way they did. 3. Overgeneralization is drawing a general rule or conclusion from an isolated incident and applying that rule to other related and unrelated incidents. For instance, when the child felt discouraged with her score of 40 on the science test (one event at one particular time), she generalized, saying, I always mess up! The use of labeling (e.g., Im dumb!) is one kind of overgeneralization.

4. Arbitrary inference is drawing a conclusion when the evidence for it is lacking, or even when the evidence contradicts the conclusion. 5. Personalization or self-reference is interpreting a negative event as a reflection of own faulty self, and believing that we are personally responsible for the event. For example, My science teacher seems upset. She is thinking that Im a huge disappointment. This self-statement is also an example of an arbitrary inference. 6. Misattribution of cause happens when we jump to a negative conclusion, even when the situation is ambiguous or contradictory. Children who are prone to anger strongly believe that others engage in intentional or malicious behavior against them. 7. Inflammatory thinking and inflammatory language is using obscene language to label events and others in a highly negative way. 8. Black-and-white thinking or dichotomous thinking is an either/or kind of thinking. Troubled and anger-prone children perceive reality in a highly polarized way (i.e. good/bad, winner/loser; other people are always against them and hate them). 9. Selective attention means to attend selectively to the negative cues, or attending only to what reinforces our own thinking. The child reaches a conclusion about the whole event based on a single detail. Children in particular learn to pay attention to interaction patterns and social cues that are similar to the ones they experienced earlier in their lives with their parents or caretakers. For example, if a child experiences aggressive interactions with a caretaker, that child will be inclined to notice mainly and to pay attention to aggressively toned cues in the environment (Larson and Lochman, 2002).

10.Magnification happens when we exaggerate the meaning or significance of a particular event, for example, I gave such a dumb answer in math. Now the other kids think Im stupid. 11.Catastrophic thinking is making the event worse, and interpreting it as something awful and horrible that we cannot tolerate. For example, the child thinking, How terrible and humiliating that I scored a 40 on that test. How am I going to face my friends now? Students are overwhelmed by catastrophic thinking each time they feed the mind with thoughts or selfstatements like, I cannot stand that I failed that test; I should have passed; or I must get a high grade to feel happy.

Related Cognitive Concepts

Expectations Expectations constitute another important factor in the kinds of feelings created. An expectation is the belief that some future event will happen; specifically, we develop expectations of being rewarded or punished. Our expectations can be consistent with what actually happens, or they do not materialize. Regardless of the actual outcome, a core belief in cognitive-emotive theory is that our expectations about the future event influence how we feel and behave in the present. For instance, an expectation of a good outcome (of getting something that we want) creates positive feelings of hope and happiness; on the other hand, an expectation of a negative outcome (either of not getting what we want or of getting something that we do not want) creates negative feelings such as fear or embarrassment. These specific feelings, in turn, compel us to act (behave) in a way consistent with the specific feeling. For example, because the child is expecting to be embarrassed, she acts accordingly to her expectation and, even before the actual event takes

place, she starts behaving in a hostile way. Because the student believes that the expected outcome is negative to her, she rejects the expected outcome, and her angry feelings and hostile behavior are right in the corner. In one sentence, our expectations both contribute to our feelings and influence our behavior. For this reason, one important question to ask an angry or distraught student is, What do you expect will happen? Alternatively, we can ask, What do you want to happen? In addition, we can teach children to ask themselves, Since I am angry at (person), what do I want from him that I am not getting? Alternatively, the child can answer, What do I want that I am not getting in this situation? Having children explore their expectations can give valuable clues that help understand their behavior. The Attribution Style Attribution theory explores the ways in which people explain or attribute their own behavior (self-attributions), as well as the behavior of others. This theory explains how people attribute a cause or explanation to an event using the dimensions of internality/externality, stability/instability, and globality/specificity (Abramson, Seligman, and Teasdale, 1979). 1. An internal attribution assigns causality to factors within the person, for example, intelligence, skill, or effort. 2. An external attribution assigns causality to factors outside the person, for example, luck or a bad weather. 3. In a stable attribution, the child believes that the cause of the event is consistent across time. Stable attributions are stated using words like always or never, for example, I always mess up and I never do anything right.

4. In an unstable attribution, the child thinks that the cause of the event is specific to one place or point in time; in other words, this is a sometimes attribution (e.g., Sometimes I mess up). 5. In a global attribution, the child believes that the cause of the event is consistent across different contexts, that is, many different situations and/or settings across time. 6. In a specific attribution, the child believes that the cause of the event is unique to a particular situation. Attributions also divide into two main types: First Type: External or situational, that is, assigning causality to factors outside the person. Second Type: Internal or dispositional, that is, assigning causality to factors within the individual. In other words, the child feels responsible for the outcome of the event. When dealing with stressful and negative events, troubled and/or angry students are more likely to make attributions that are: External (e.g., Samuel cursed me first) Stable (e.g., My teacher never listens to me) Global (e.g., All teachers are mean) On the other hand, troubled and/or angry students show the tendency of making fewer attributions that are: Internal (e.g., I provoked Samuel) Unstable (e.g., Sometimes my teacher does not listen to me) Specific (e.g., Mr. Garcia is a mean teacher)

Locus of Control Another related concept is locus of control. This refers to our belief of what causes good or bad results in our lives, that is, who or what is responsible for the outcome of the event. Developed by Julian Rotter in the 1960s, the concept of locus of control divides beliefs, or expectations about future events into two main types: First Type: Internal, or attributing the outcome of the event to our own control. Children with an internal locus of control believe that they are the ones responsible for the outcome of the event, in other words, how they behave determines what happens to them. Second Type: External, or attributing the outcome of the event to outside circumstances. Children with an external locus of control believe that the environment or other people control the outcome of the event, and they feel they have little or no control over what happens to them, good or bad. These children tend to attribute what happens to them to outside circumstances such as fate, chance, or luck. The theory of attributions and the concept of locus of control have great value in helping understand troubling feelings and acting-out behaviors in children. Although there is no such thing as a pure attribution style (always internal or always external), we need to pay close attention to the childs preferred attribution style, that is, which style the child uses most of the time. In particular, we need to pay attention to the attribution style the child is using at the moment to explain and cope with the current social problem. The childs preferred attribution style influences both the conclusion he reaches about the event and the behaviors that follow. For this reason, it is important that we help children understand how their particular attribution style, coupled with their cognitive errors (filtering and

distorting the event), may be reinforcing and triggering angry and troubling feelings. Childrens Explanatory Styles From the theory of attributions, we also get the related concept of explanatory style. As mentioned earlier, we all have our own way or style of thinking about causes. In their classic book, The Optimistic Child, Seligman, Reivich, Jaycox, and Gillham (1995) called this personal style or habit the childs explanatory style. Seligman et al. distinguished among three main explanatory styles. When compared with the concept of attribution style, we can see how each explanatory style matches with one attribution style or dimension: 1. Personal, which the authors subdivide into: Personal (matches with the dimension of internality) Impersonal (matches with externality) 2. Permanence, subdivided into: Permanent (stability) Temporary (instability) 3. Pervasiveness, subdivided into: Pervasive (globality) Specific (specificity) According to the authors, children with a personal explanatory style are thinking in terms of I am the cause. Children with an impersonal explanatory style believe that other people or circumstances are the cause. Children with a permanent explanatory style believe that the cause is something that persists. Children with a temporary explanatory style believe the cause of the event is changeable and lasts

only a short time. Children with a pervasive explanatory style believe the cause affects many situations. Finally, children with a specific explanatory style believe the cause affects only a few situations. The concept of explanatory style is still current in academic settings to explain important learning and motivation concepts such as optimism/pessimism, learned helplessness, self-efficacy, and even to teach children anger management and self-control techniques. For instance, the way children think and talk about the causes of events in their environment (how they interpret their successes and failures) is seen in the cognitive-emotive literature as the basis of an optimistic or pessimistic explanatory style in children. A pessimistic, and sometimes angrier child, adopts a more personal, permanent, and/or global explanatory style in explaining bad outcomes. An optimistic child finds local and specific causes to explain disappointing outcomes. For example, while the pessimistic child says, Im such a loser (personal), I never do anything right (permanent), or Everybody hates me (global) a more optimistic child will say, Fractions are hard (impersonal), I had a bad day today (temporary), and Shawn does not like me (specific). Children need to understand that what they say to themselves (self-statements) determine the way they feel about the event. Teachers and parents can help children develop awareness of the negative and self-defeating attributions they are using to explain outcomes, coaching children in using impersonal, temporary, and/or specific descriptions, attributions, and beliefs to cope with failure and social problems. An optimistic explanatory style leads children to perseverate and to develop a healthy sense of self-efficacy. On the other hand, a pessimistic explanatory style only takes the child straight into the route of giving up, learned helplessness, and recurrent feelings of anger and frustration. In addition, when we help children see

troublesome events as both temporal and specific, we also help them develop a way of thinking that is rational or supported by facts. Appraisal In analyzing the characteristics of anger-prone individuals, the cognitive theory distinguishes between two levels of event appraisal: primary and secondary. Primary appraisal is the process of initially evaluating the causes of troublesome events. At this initial stage of appraisal, the anger-prone child feels angry if he believes that the troublesome event is: Intentional (attribution of purpose) Preventable, that is, something that could be controlled but it was not avoided Unjustified (unfair and unjust) and/or Blameworthy and punishable, that is, the other child (the source of the event) is wrong and deserves punishment Secondary appraisal is the stage at which the child mentally evaluates his ability, or lack of ability, in coping with the event. At this stage, the child is asking, Do I have the resources that I need to solve this problem (or to cope with this situation)? The more resources the child believes he has to cope with a troublesome event, the less angry and/or frustrated he feels. In other words, how well the child can cope with stress and threat relates to his perceptions, that is, relates to the belief of how well the child thinks he can cope. Troubled, angerprone, and acting-out children do not believe they are able to cope with stress and environmental demands successfully, and this perceived inadequacy predisposes

End of this Excerpt

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