“It’s a beautiful day outside,” you say, smiling. Your son replies, “It’s supposed to rain later.” You share, “That game was fun!” Your daughter adds, “I messed up one of my turns.”
If you find that your child tends to channel Eeyore from Winnie-the-Pooh and has difficulty seeing some of the bright moments in a day, below are some ways to help them interrupt a negativity loop. The first tip works well for all ages. Choose the other tools depending on whether your children are younger or older.
Parents have a lot of wisdom to share with their children, and their advice often is filled with a lot of logic. Unfortunately, that logic tends to backfire when shared with someone experiencing an unhappy emotion, and can make the emotion even stronger. Both children and adults need to feel heard before their ears can open up and hear what else you have to say, so try to validate first before you try to help children appreciate positive aspects of a situation.
Validation allows us all to feel heard. You are not agreeing or disagreeing with the emotion; you’re showing that you see it. For example, if your daughter comes home sulking after scoring two goals in soccer and missing the final one, you might have the urge to say, “Why are you so sad? You scored two goals and looked like you were having so much fun while playing!” Your intention is kind, yet does not match your daughter’s experience. Instead, try reflecting how she is feeling by saying, “You’re disappointed that you didn’t make that final shot.” This acknowledges that your daughter is disappointed without agreeing or disagreeing with her.
Sometimes, it’s enough to leave it at that. When you think it’s important to have your daughter see another side of a situation, remember to use the conjunction “and” instead of “but” so you don’t negate or erase your validation. In this example, you could say, “You’re disappointed that you didn’t make that final shot, and I am really proud of you for trying your best for the whole game.”
Alternatively, you could add a question to help your daughter discover positive aspects of the experience herself. In this case, you could say, “You’re disappointed that you didn’t make that final shot, and I wonder if there were any parts of the game that you enjoyed?”
A few more tips:
When you are concerned that your child reacts more like Eeyore than like Tigger, remember that your child needs to feel heard before he can see another perspective. Validate first, and then you can help your child consider all aspects, both positive and negative ones.
If you find that your child remains stuck in a negativity loop and starts to show signs of depression, ask your child’s pediatrician for a referral for therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, so that just like Eeyore, your child can learn tools to look for sunshine.
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