Do you have a child who tends to focus on the negative? One whose glass is always half empty?
I do and I’m here to say that it can really be exhausting and discouraging at times.
I tend to be an optimist and I dislike negativity, probably to a fault. So facing a child who brings negativity to the table on a daily basis, despite all the good things he has in his life can be hard.
So as usual, I spent some time recently reading up on how to help kids who ruminate on negative things and how to help them.
Tips for decreasing chronic negativity in kids
Here are a few ways mental health professionals suggest you can take steps to help break the cycle of negativity.
Distraction, including a change in environment. Find ways to interrupt negative thinking. This could be taking a break from what we’re doing and getting outside. I’m looking at changing up where we do school some. Other options are taking some school work to a local coffee shop for an hour or two, working at the library for a bit, moving from the main school area to a desk in his bedroom.
Deliberately focus on the positive. This is the kid who I used to require to tell me 3 things he was thankful for whenever he got negative. That was a lot easier when he was 8; not as easy as a teenager!
Now I ask him to try to recall times when things worked out even with challenges. I’ve even enlisted the help of family, mainly his siblings, in remembering past positive experiences, times when things turned out well.
Physical activity. Finding some way to move his body has been a strategy we have used pretty much since day one with this kid who also struggles with attention and focus.
Things we have tried are: riding his bike around the block before math or any subject that requires focus, walking the dog in the morning before school, even eating lunch outside. All of these things help in part because we’re changing the environment which is a distraction and also there is just something about getting out in the sunshine for a bit that seems to help.
Don’t engage. I don’t know if this is recommended in the research on combating rumination, but there are times when I just don’t even engage with the negativity.
Each week, my son passionately resists going to his neurofeedback appointments. He thinks it’s dumb and that it isn’t working. I’ve tried focusing on the research that says neurofeedback works, pointing out the lack of other options to help him, and pointing out the improvements I see in his focus.
Since this reasoning rarely works, I will let him vent without saying much at all. I put up a boundary, “We’re not stopping neurofeedback unless we replace it with something. You’re welcome to do your own research and present a different plan.”
What almost always ends up happening is that he goes to his appointment and comes out calm, agreeing to go because he knows I think it’s valuable. The hard part is not being able to address his negativity directly. In this case, I have to really separate from my desire to communicate and have us both be in agreement.
Other ways to help with negativity
Learning to practice mindfulness.
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines mindfulness as the awareness of your internal states and surroundings.
Mindfulness meditation is the practice of focusing attention on your breathing, thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they arise. According to the APA, this meditation is used to become highly in tune with sensory information and to focus on each moment as it happens.
“Meditation is a cognitive technique that improves a person’s mind, body, and soul. Psychological aspects, like insight, attention, reflection, and self-regulation are deepened,” says Dr. Deborah Serani, professor at Adelphi University in New York.
Increase Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is the ability to perceive, interpret, demonstrate, control, evaluate, and use emotions to communicate with and relate to others effectively and constructively. This ability to express and control emotions is essential, but so is the ability to understand, interpret, and respond to the emotions of others. Some experts suggest that emotional intelligence is more important than IQ for success in life.
Skills needed to have strong EQ:
- Social Skills
Sadly, these many of these skills are naturally lacking in kids with executive function weakness (often found in kids with ADHD). Learn more about executive function weakness here.
Tips for increasing Emotional Intelligence
Self-awareness. Ask your child to take some time to journal about situations or how they behaved in interactions. This can also be done with assistive tech like speech-to-text for kids who struggle with writing.
Self-regulation. Help kids to become more aware of things that trigger them, like our Tuesday morning trip to neurofeedback. Teaching my son to think about it by prepping him the night before, before he gets in his head, can help.
Other methods for increasing self-regulation are deep breathing exercises, reframing challenges as opportunities in disguise and frustrations as learning experiences, and practicing acceptance of any emotions that come up and encouraging them to verbalize what they’re feeling.
Motivation. Motivation is built when goals are intentionally set. For many of my kids as they got into their teens, it was important for them to have some long term goals they were working towards. So for example, if they wanted to buy a car, getting a job or saving money becomes a means to that end. How can you help your child to set some goals?
Empathy. Some people are more naturally empathetic than others. Teaching your child to be more empathetic can often be done by actively modeling empathy to them. For example, dealing with a frustrating driver can be an opportunity to realize that they may be having a rough day and aren’t driving the best because of that, etc.
Social skills. This can be a big area of struggle for some of our kids. One of the best ways to improve social skills is to troubleshoot negative experiences after the fact. So if your child has had a negative social experience; maybe they blurted out, missed context clues, didn’t pick up on the mood in the room. When you get home and they are calm, talk about what happened and what they could have done differently.
Oftentimes as parents and teachers working with kids with learning differences, we forget that there are social-emotional aspects to these learning differences as well.
Hopefully, you have found some useful tips and strategies for helping your child who struggles to manage their negative thoughts.
How have you helped your child overcome chronic negative thinking?
If you have a child with ADHD who struggles with emotional regulation, you will love the ADHD Intensive. Learn everything you need to know about how to help your child gain focus and self-regulation.