This is the worst day ever!

Recently, Debra (not her real name), a mother of two children, told me how her 10 year old son would often exaggerate his woes with comments such as ‘This is the worst day ever’ when he came in the door after school. She was seeking my advice on what approach she should take with her son.

Debra was attuned to her son’s needs. She realised that he had a need to talk about what was on his mind, which put her at odds with her husband who viewed her son as a pessimist. So what approach to take?

Place time limits on pessimism

Her son was more than likely down the pessimist end of the pessimism-optimism continuum. Nothing wrong with that although it would very limiting if he always saw the world through a negative lens. Pessimism and optimism are part genetic and part learned so regardless of how sunny and optimistic those adults around them may be, some kids are just more prone to seeing the downside in most situations. It’s important to listen to kids but at the same time don’t allow them to wallow in self-pity or go over old, negative ground. Listen to their tale but at some point it’s best to say, “Enough! Think about other things.”

Cue kids to talk

Children of all ages have a need to talk about their day and get things off their chests. Kids Helpline’s busiest part of the day is the time immediately after school when kids dial up to talk about problems with teachers and also with peers. It’s healthy for kids to talk to adults to get things off their chests. ‘The worst day ever’ is a type of cue for Debra’s son to vent. Perhaps Debra can let her son know that she’s always available to talk and that all he needs to do is say, “Mum, I need to talk.”

Allow kids to vent and be understood

There’s nothing more therapeutic than knowing someone understand you. That means as a listener you need to stop what you are doing, and really tune into the feelings behind your child’s venting. If your child is feeling sad, mad or rejected, think of a recent time when you felt the same way. It will allow you to get on the same wave-length as your child. This takes time and a willingness to be vulnerable, but it is probably what your child wants from you.

Call kids out on extreme black and white language

Many young people catastrophise or see situations in extreme terms. ‘The worst day ever’, ‘everyone hates me’, ‘the teacher never says anything nice to me’ are examples of extreme views. The world is rarely so black and white. As parents, we can challenge extreme language. Wind it back with more realistic language such as ‘Yes, it sounds like your having a bad day,’ ‘Some people can be unpleasant but you have some other terrific friends,’ and ‘that teacher can be grumpy sometimes but I think you’ll find he can be reasonable too.’

Encourage kids to show gratitude

If you have a child who constantly brings the negative parts of their day to you then it may be wise to bring some balance to his or her viewpoint. Do this by encouraging them to show some gratitude for the good or positive things that happened to them. Many resilience experts encourage children and young people to keep a gratitude journal. At the end of each day they should place three things that happened to them that they are grateful for in their journal. Not only does this add some much-needed perspective but looking for the good and positive side of life becomes habit-forming even for the most negative Nevilles and Nellies.

Debra’s initial approach to listen to her son when he wanted to talk about his day was the right one. However she admitted she was tired at being the sole recipient of her son’s constant negativity. If you can identify with Debra then I encourage you to be empathetic and understanding but also to have some different strategies at your finger tips to steer your child or young person to a more positive, more realistic appraisal and at the same time, not allowing one bad event or incident define their entire day.

 

Find out how to develop real independence and resilience in your child in my latest book Spoonfed Generation: How to raise independent kids.