Red & Green Thoughts

We all have thoughts running through our heads every day. Sometimes those thoughts can be helpful and encouraging and other times they can be unhelpful and harmful. Children may only be young, but just like us they have a constant stream of thoughts running through their heads.

To help young children understand the difference between helpful and unhelpful thoughts Dr Paula Barrett uses the terms ‘green’ (helpful) and ‘red’ (unhelpful) thoughts. A red thought is a negative thought that can increase children’s worries, anger, sadness and fear. Such as ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘Nobody likes me’. A green thought is a more helpful thought that can encourage a child and help them to feel more resilient. Such as ‘I can try my best’ or ‘I have friends and family who love me’.

There are a number of games to help children practice identifying and changing red thoughts:

Paula Barrett Red & Green Thoughts


Use red and green puppets. Read out examples of thoughts and get children to raise the green puppet if it is a green thought and the red puppet if it is a red thought.




Paula Barrett Red & Green Thoughts



Practice changing red thoughts to more helpful green thoughts. Tie a red balloon to a rubbish bin. Scrunch up pieces of paper. Get your child to say their red thought out loud and then throw a piece of paper into the bin. Once the ‘red thought’ is in the bin, think of a more helpful green thought to replace it. Continue until all red thoughts are gone. For older children they can actually write the red thought on the paper before throwing it away.




Paula Barrett Red & Green Thoughts


If a child is experiencing a lot of red thoughts that are making them worried, afraid, angry or scared you can use the bubble game. The child can say their red thought aloud and then blow a bubble. Tell the child that the bubble is their red thought floating away and then bursting. This is a great visual way to get rid of red thoughts.



Paula Barrett Red & Green Thoughts


Another way to help children with their red thoughts is to use dolls. Your child can whisper their red thoughts to the doll and then place the doll under their pillow when they sleep. Tell your child that as they are sleeping the doll will dream their red thoughts away.


Green thoughts can help children feel more confident and resilient throughout the day and can help them to make more thumbs up choices. We encourage families to practice changing red thoughts to green thoughts regularly. If your child needs more support they can learn more skills in Dr Paula Barrett’s FRIENDS Resilience Programs. For more information visit

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