In my first blog, I introduced the concept of ‘Thinking creates feeling and feeling creates thinking’.

Of course I’m not a trained counselor or therapist but have had 20 years experience of  suffering anxiety and researching into how I could help myself. I’m only encouraging those that read this and are inspired to make changes, to think about the way we think. I say ‘we’ as I also think it’s about the way we respond to students who are demonstrating anxiety but may be viewed as students presenting with poor behaviour or avoidance for example. I simply ask that we make the suggestion and encourage students the reframe their thoughts. Actually to simply acknowledge it as a ‘thought’.

Has anyone ever said, “You don’t sound very well”. Before you know it, you’ve convinced yourself you too might be coming down with that virus everyone’s got. I know myself I set my alarm clock early to go to the gym and have a an internal debate whether to get up, sometimes I convince myself I’m not feeling good, so perhaps I shouldn’t go.

What’s all this got to do with students and learning…? Think about the other feelings we have, fear, worry, guilt…. Amazingly, I’m told we have 50-80,000 thoughts per day. Some of them I suppose are fleeting and pass without notice, others really stick with us and we analyse and assess them, personally, I think in ‘What if’ many times a day. Imagine, students who are in school 6-8 hrs a day, their thoughts are consumed with education and the learning experience (and many others things) but also about what’s happening socially in the playground and social media, at home, before they’ve even go to school. Some children have had more than a bad day, before they’ve even left the house. Some children may have overlapping SpLDs; language processing delays, sensory processing difficulties, ASD or demand avoidance. Simply processing what’s going on in the environment can be an overload for some children.  Others may have social and emotional difficulties, they may be looked after children, children in care, looking toward foster placements or adoption or experiencing neglect. We can’t begin to imagine the number of negative thoughts which go through these children’s minds in a few moments let alone the day. This is all on top of the anxiety related to learning.

As I mentioned in my first blog and introduction, I have experienced 20 years of crippling anxiety. I can’t change what has happened in my past, I can’t change the negative ways in which I have thought.  For many of the children we teach, we can’t always change their environment and their past experiences, we don’t always have the power to help children and their families gain a diagnosis for SpLDs.

The things we can change about the past are the way we choose to react in the future and the way we reframe and consider the past experiences.  As adults, we know we can learn from the past and actually it can become wisdom. It’s hard for children to perhaps see this.  However, we can help with future responses.  We can help in is reframing responses.  We can help, support and change the way students think and therefore how they respond. If we change how they respond we can change the way they feel. With this we can change the way they think.

I first started to think more about the way I responded to students when I learned more about PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance). I started to learn more about removing consequences and reward and intrinsic motivation etc. Personally, I have always hated motivation with consequences and reward, when linked to students who have difficulties learning. I know that’s easy to say working in a private practice and 1:1.  When there are 30+ students to manage in a class, I know this can be difficult. I read an article the other day that talked about ‘saturation models’ and in some ways, the power of positive thinking needs to be a whole school approach.  It can be costly to individualise intervention.

However, when we consider which red flags are raised to make a school place a child on an SEN Register or call in an Educational Psychologist, in primary school it’s usually not making progress. By secondary school, it can be related to social and emotional and behavioural issues.  Often these children are found to have literacy, language development difficulties or other SpLDs which have been missed.  This suggests that ‘poor behaviour’ is a secondary response. Many children can become so anxious or disengaged that a ‘behaviour’ response is the presenting characteristic.  I know for many, this isn’t news.

I’m aware that we do need to have acknowledgement of poor behaviour and for it to be addressed. But I feel this is the point where our actions as adults can influence the future responses or students and individuals.

If we think back to our thoughts in the morning, “Don’t want to get out of my warm bed, I wish it was still the weekend”. Imagine what additional negative thoughts children with SpLDs have, what do they process before they’ve even got into school.  Thinking creates feeling and feeling creates thoughts.  The loop becomes negative reinforcement.

Where students already enter school with the thought and feeling that ‘I don’t want to do it’, they present with poor behaviour and are put in exclusion zones etc, this reinforces that it WAS a negative experience, therefore I feel negative.  When we have negative thoughts, our bodies create chemicals which are negative. Those chemicals physically make us feel bad/ill/negative. Therefore, our mind responds by having negative thoughts.  You can see where this is going. Take a moment, think about a really bad day, how do you feel, how do you feel like responding, what actions do you feel like taking? For me, I think ‘Huh! Nah…not going to the gym…going to go home put my PJs on and maybe share my bad day when FaceBook asks how I am feeling”. But this doesn’t make me feel better, usually worse.

You know from siting on the outside that yes, I should have gone to the gym. I’ll tell you more about exercise another day and it’s not just the endorphins we all know.

Personally, I’ve been in my negative comfort zone for many years, it’s not comfortable at all, I really didn’t enjoy myself for the most part but it’s what I know, it’s how my body and mind have told me how to react for so many years and it’s all it’s known for so many years. It can only recreate its past experiences when my brain is responding automatically. If we think for a moment how this transcends to our students or your own child. Envisage yourself their negative experience and how they are on repeat, every day. It’s a bit like Pavlov’s Dog, an automatic response has been created. Think negative, feel negative, act negative.

To help me with myself overcome anxiety, I have spent years in therapy. I’ve beaten myself up mentally for not achieving my goals that’s without the disappointment of letting down my therapist and feeling like I’ve let family down. I’ve put in place self-imposed consequences and rarely been able to feel good about the small progresses I made. So, if we can do this to ourselves as adults and we have the ability to rationalise, what must children do who maybe struggle to articulate their thoughts and feelings? Do they need consequences for not achieving, not completing goals, presenting poor behaviour for social and emotional difficulties? Is there a different way which we as adults can help change this response and change the outcome?

The message I want to share is not just about changing ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can’.  It’s about looking at how those negative thoughts physically and emotionally change the way our bodies feel and how our mind thinks.

I know from experience it doesn’t work to just say ‘Tell yourself you can and you will’.

Pete Cohen has kindly allowed me to share his pod cast if you’d like to learn more about The Power of Negative Thinking


In my next blog I’ll talk about how I’ve changed my thought process and the huge impact it’s having on my life. We can help our students take those same simple steps for a more positive way of thinking, feeling and acting. Follow the tags ‘Mindful Dyslexia’ to read more.

I’m really excited about our 5th annual conference.  We will bring more learning about anxiety and self-esteem to SEN Jigsaw Conference 2020. We talk so much about improving scores and developing literacy skills. One of the significant changes I see when I tutor and schools who are using CodeBreakers, is the increase in student confidence. We all know when we feel confident we are willing to have a go. Confidence is a hard thing to measure. Education Psychologist Dr Ian Millward will be talking about student learning behaviours in his workshop at SEN Jigsaw Conference 2020. We’ll also be welcoming Jacqueline Gray who will talk about supporting children with anxiety. My friend and co-ordinator of SEN Jigsaw, John Hicks will also lead a workshop on Self Esteem and Dyslexia.

We will of course be introducing key speakers on all aspects of specific learning difficulties and additional workshop hosts. You can view our full line up HERE.  Join us for a relaxed and professional day on June 6th 2020.