Do you have a negative child?
When something nice is planned for your child, do they often focus on the negative?
Do they get upset and complain when anything gets in their way rather than see it as a challenge?
Do they give up as soon as things get tricky – and shout and moan and grumble?
Do they use the words ‘always’ and ‘never’ a fair amount and blame other people (particularly you!) for all their problems?
Then you have a negative thinker!
The good news is that you can help them learn to be more optimistic! Use these tips every day to help your child change the way they think about the problems or challenges in life!
1. Stop complaining yourself.
Often children who think negatively have parents who think negatively. So the challenge here is to stop yourself moaning or complaining. If you catch yourself grumbling or being critical. Just stop.
If you can, try to make sure that everything that you say is positive, helpful, kind and points out the good in the situation. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. However, if you want your child to change their negative thinking habit, this will show them that it’s possible. And you’ll be leading by example. Doing this will help your child realise there’s a different way of looking at problems. A more helpful, realistic, positive way. If you’re really up for a challenge, have a moaning box – like a swear box and put your child in charge – to help you realise every time you complain!
2. Help your child change the filter
Help your child question the sad, miserable or negative filter that they see things with. Like changing the filter in front of their eyes. You can help them see that at the moment their filter is only letting through the negatives. It’s not their fault – it’s just the way they’re seeing things. And they can change the filter to let through the more positive thoughts.
Help them see things from different angles. Look at different points of view. See if you can help your child get new insights. And you can explain that looking at things differently will boost their self-esteem and confidence, help them bounce back after setbacks, and cope better with disappointments. And they’ll be happier! Tell your child a story about a situation your child often feels negative about – such as coming second in a race – and describe how a child who thinks positively would feel very differently about the same situation. Then ask ‘which child is happier?’ Ask them how people would feel if they focus on all the obstacles or negatives in the situation, rather than focussing on the good things. Help your child realise they’ll be happier if they think more positive thoughts – Optimists are happier than pessimists
We cover self-esteem in the Calm Parenting Course in module 1 of 6.
A couple of games you can play are:
Gimme five – so when things are difficult they have to find five ‘good things’ about that situation. If it helps, they can make a fist, and put up their thumb and fingers with each positive they find. Then when they are moaning show them a closed fist, to remind them of the game. (But be careful not to do it in an aggressive way – that could look a bit threatening!)
Unfortunately / fortunately. Think of a tricky situation – so you say UNFORTUNATELY the shop ran out of ice cream. Then your child says FORTUNATELY they sold cookies. Then you say UNFORTUNATELY they didn’t have any chocolate ones, and you continue for as long as you can. Of course, the trick is to be the one starting the game with, UNFORTUNATELY- so your child has to think of all the positives.
3. Develop an attitude of gratitude
Another idea is to help your child develop an attitude of gratitude. Research has shown that encouraging a child to write five things they are grateful for every day increases their life satisfaction, their happiness, and their grades at school. Perhaps they could write in a diary at the end of each day, five things that they’re happy about or grateful for. Or anything that went well that day. Or write a long list of things, and keep adding to the list every time they think of new things. They could write the list on a large sheet of paper, or have a small notebook with a different thing they’re grateful for on each page. Or when you have a family meal, everyone could take it in turns to say three good things that happened to them that day. When your child is encouraged to feel grateful for what they have, it changes the way they think. It helps them acknowledge all the positive things in their life. And put things in perspective when something goes wrong.
4. ‘Reality checking’ thoughts.
Children who have unhelpful thoughts about themselves are often stressed, and they may be quite negative about school or about things that are going to happen. So when you hear your child say things like ‘I hate myself’, ’I can’t do it’, or ‘I’ll never be able to learn this.’ A very simple way to help your child to change stressful thoughts is to teach your child to do a reality check. And get them to ask themselves:
• What am I saying to myself about this?
• How true is it?
• Is it helpful to think this way?
• Where will it get me?
• What else can I think instead?
It is important not to contradict your child when they are stressed. Disagreeing with what they say just adds to their stress. However, when you ask your child these sorts of questions you get them to come up with other ways of thinking that may be helpful. Or perhaps ask them what their best friend would say about this situation? If they were to come round, what would they say?
5. Empathise and help them understand their emotions
When your child is being negative, you can help them by working out the emotion your child is feeling and guess why they feel that way.
‘It sounds like you’re really upset. It’s horrible when you lose something important like that.
‘You look really sad. It must have been upsetting that Jamie just ignored you – especially when you’re normally such good friends’
‘At the moment who you sit next to on the couch seems to be worrying you a lot. And it looks like it’s making it hard to look forward to the school trip.’
You empathise by saying things like: ‘You seem frustrated about that.’ ‘That sounds annoying.’ ‘That must have been hard to handle.’
Then don’t try to solve it for them. Just let them see that you recognise how they’re feeling. In the past, you may have got annoyed with your child for thinking negatively – but it’s hard for your child to change their thoughts. Empathising is the first step. When they’re negative, don‘t get angry or irritated, or try to talk them out of it. Don’t try to give them logical explanations about why they shouldn’t feel that way. Just let them feel heard and understood.
6. Help them solve their own problems
Then you could do some problem solving with them. Write the problem at the top of the page.
Get your child to think of lots of possible solutions, if you want to, you can add a few of your own ideas at the end. Have a look at the solutions then ask your child what might happen if they tried each one. And then get them to choose which they want to try first.
And you can do it with every little problem they come up with. That way, instead of the huge weight of worries they feel they have, they can start to look at each worry, one by one, and work out how to deal with it.
Do bear in mind though, if your child has always relied on you to help the sort out the problems, And you’ve always been happy to jump in and tell them what to do, they may find this difficult.
Do remember – change takes time. Your child has been used to thinking negatively. So be patient. And remember to keep going because these practical steps will help your child become more resilient and happy, and cope better with stress!