“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.
Start by validating emotions
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:
- Say, “You’re [insert emotion here] because…” Some examples of emotion words include sad, angry, worried, disappointed, embarrassed, disgusted, jealous, guilty, and surprised. Try to be as specific as possible. For example, “Upset,” could be a mixture of emotions, so identify which ones, such as sadness and/or anger, might be at play.
- Try to avoid, “I understand that you’re feeling…” or “I know that you’re feeling…” As children get older, it will be developmentally on target for them to think that you could not possibly know what their experiences are like,