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What negative social behaviors does your child tend to fall into? Madrigal and Winner, 2008, in “Superflex… A Superhero Social Thinking Curriculum” develop the ingenious concept of giving them villainous cartoon character names, like “Rock Brain” for rigid, rule-bound thinking, “Space Invader” for getting too close, “Brain Eater” for getting easily distracted, “Body Snatcher” for turning the body away from the group or conversation partner, “One-Sided Sid” for not showing interest in the feelings and wishes of others, and “Mean Jean” for not keeping unkind thoughts to oneself. Their “Superhero Social Thinking” Curriculum casts the child as the superhero star as he seeks to unmask each villain from this “Team of Unthinkables” as it pops up in his brain and behavior. The child becomes “Superflex,” the social-thinking superhero, who learns to use “Superflex strategies” to defeat the villains, like noticing what one is doing is not working and to try to solve the problem another way to conquer “Rock Brain,” or to ask oneself “will this hurt my friend’s feelings?” to defeat “Mean Jean.”

This same concept can be applied to faulty thinking patterns. Consider coming up with character names like “Fault-Finder” for blaming, “Mind-Reader” for assuming what other people are thinking and feeling and why they act the way they do without actual evidence, “Negative-Magnifier” for exaggerating the negative and discounting the positive, and “Catastrophizer” for automatically imagining the worst possible scenario. Cast your child as the faulty thinking detective who replaces the unrealistic negative patterns of thinking with positive replacement thoughts.

Peter stood in front of the VCR frantically inserting and ejecting his favorite “Hercules” video over and over. It just wouldn’t play. I stood quietly next to him and watched. “Peter, I don’t think that solution is working. Let’s try putting in a different video to see if the problem is with that particular video or with the VCR machine.” I started to insert a different video. Peter grabbed my wrist with one hand and blocked the insertion slot with the other, “No! No!” he muttered agitatedly.

            “Peter, let’s do a ‘STOP.’ First let’s ‘stop’ this action, and pause a moment. Take a deep breath (the ‘T’, which we did.) Observe yourself. It appears to me, my dear, that you are feeling pretty anxious. Your heart is racing, your hand feels cold and clammy. Do you recognize what’s going on here?”

            “OCD,” Peter replied.

            “Or something related. Remember Mr. Rock Brain, the brain glitch that makes you think you have to do things the same rigid way, even if it’s not working? Do we obey or resist?”

            “Not obey,” said Peter.

            “Ok, so let’s get Rock Brain out of your lower brain! Superflex upper brain, do a ‘Pow!’. Tell Rock Brain that mom’s not asking you to watch this other video. I’m just inserting it to test to see if the problem is with the machine or with ‘Hercules.'”

            Peter proceeded (that’s the “P” in “STOP”) to grab the test video and inserted it. (That was the ‘Pow!’ which could also be what the ‘P’ stands for in ‘STOP’) The screen remained blank. “Ah ha! Good news, Peter, ‘Hercules’ is not the problem. You may put your favorite video back in.”

            Peter ejected the test video and started putting in his favorite, but then hesitated, unsure if he wanted to make this many changes. Wanting him to learn the logic of the procedure, I quickly nudged his favorite in, and switched the machine from DVD to video. “Hercules” sprang onto the screen!

            “There, you see! The problem was with the machine tuned to DVD instead of video, not your video. ” I held up my hand to deliver a high five. “Great job, Superflex, for defeating Rock Brain! You stopped doing the wrong solution, and put in a different video that led to fixing the problem right. Thanks to Superflex, we can now all enjoy watching ‘Hercules’.”

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