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Weird Versus Uncomfortable Thoughts: Let Common Sense be Your Guide

Michelle Garcia Winner

Michelle Garcia Winner

When Social Thinking first started, I used the terms good thoughts and weird thoughts to describe the thoughts people might have about my behaviors/actions, as well as the thoughts I might have about their behaviors/actions. For years, this terminology seemed to resonate with students, parents and teachers alike. However, the more widespread social thinking concepts became, we started to worry about possible misuse of the term weird thoughts by adult teachers with their students. So, we revised our definition and wording of this concept to uncomfortable thoughts. Many clinics, schools, and homes still use the term weird thoughts to describe the thoughts related to a behavior- and are very careful not to link it to the person (e.g., I'm having a weird thought about what you just said or did - NOT - You are weird!) - see important note below!


What do you mean by Uncomfortable (weird) thoughts?

All people have thoughts, including your kids, about what the people around them are doing and saying. In fact, we all have good/neutral/comfortable AND uncomfortable/weird thoughts about others' behaviors and they have them about us. Our thoughts are usually related to what another person is doing that is expected or unexpected based on the social situation. When a person has an uncomfortable or weird thought, it means we did some behavior that made others take notice of us in a more negative or uncomfortable way.

Teaching this concept should start by helping the child to become aware of the fact that he has thoughts - in general (use thought bubbles to show how they think about robots, trains, numbers, etc.). If the child doesn't understand this concept, then don't move forward in teaching until he or she does!

 

Next, we need to start teaching about thoughts from the child's perspective first. In other words, talk about how the child forms good thoughts and uncomfortable thoughts about another’s actions/words. We can teach that he has thoughts that are okay/good/comfortable (e.g., When Kylee shares her game with me, I have good thoughts) OR uncomfortable/weird (e.g., If Kylee grabs my pencil, I have an uncomfortable thought).  Once a student understands that he has thoughts about another's actions, we can then begin to teach that others have thoughts too - and that those thoughts can be because of his actions! Don't rush into this - it can take some kids a very long time to understand the concept of thoughts/thinking in general. It may take them an even longer time to understand that they can trigger thoughts in others.

 

Once they understand this idea, you can begin to teach that how they think and feel about another's behavior has an impact on how they treat that person! It's critical that children understand the concept of "thoughts" and thinking in themselves and others before teaching this concept! Work with students to also recognize that people, including teachers and parents, have uncomfortable/weird thoughts about other's behaviors- not just the students! NEVER tell a child he is weird! Explain that there is a difference between having an uncomfortable thought or weird thought about another's actions and calling someone a name.

 

Important NOTE when working with students on this concept:  It's highly unprofessional and a just a poor teaching strategy to simply tell the student that others have uncomfortable or weird thoughts as a sole method of treatment!! Every once in awhile we hear of a team that skips the slower, more thorough teaching of this concept and responds to a child's unexpected behavior by saying, "you're giving me a weird thought!"  That comment is likely meaningless to the child and in fact, he or she may just interpret it as a behavioral reward/punishment. When used in this way it becomes more like flipping a red or yellow card. We are more interested in teaching the child that his or her behaviors have an impact on other's thinking and feeling! Please be careful to not make this sequence of teaching become a behavior plan or program!

 

I once received a question from a parent on this important topic:

 

My 3rd grade son has been attending social thinking groups in the local school district and the staff began using the term "weird thought" when he would melt down, etc. I've tried to have the staff use a different term and wondered how to best approach the staff without having them feel that I'm a bad parent being picky about a minor term.

 


My reply to her concerns went like this:


Social thinking vocabulary, just like about everything else, should never be taught in the middle of a crisis!  The vocabulary, just like about everything else, will be learned best during calm times.  So, expecting a child to adjust his or her behavior based on the thoughts of others in the moment of a meltdown will never work.  At the point of meltdown, tools like The Incredible 5 Point Scale, which connects nicely to Social Behavior Mapping, should be used, as well as any method for trying to anticipate what to do to help a child re-establish calm.

 

In this specific situation, this child may have interpreted that people thought he was weird based on how adults in his environment were using the term. If this situation arises, it is really important that adults also notice the behaviors of the child that result in good thoughts.  And finally, if your child is really reacting to the specific word "weird," then change the word to uncomfortable. Note: We advise avoiding the word "bad" although children will often change the terms weird or uncomfortable to "bad." Have a discussion about the fact that uncomfortable is describing the thought and it's not bad...just uncomfortable (or a weird thought).  More than anything, we all need to remember to focus on the positive while teaching our kids to observe others more deeply. Best of luck working with your teams and in your homes on this!

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