Q: Our 7-year-old son is very negative about everything. He’s a middle child, so that may have something to do with it, but everyone else in the family is happy, positive, optimistic. He never has anything positive to say about anything. Things the rest of us enjoy he says are “stupid” or “dumb.” We are starting to not want him around us, which is causing us guilt. He’s also often this way around his friends and other people. We’ve tried talking, but that’s gotten us nowhere. We hesitate to punish for fear he can’t help it. Any ideas?
You are beginning to have a negative reaction to your son’s negativity. That’s perfectly understandable. You are obligated to love him unconditionally. You are not obligated to like everything about him. The behavior in question is clearly anti-social. If this isn’t checked soon, it’s going to become a significant social handicap.
As for why he’s this way, some professional might tender a guess, but it would only be a guess. Maybe because he discovered, quite accidentally, that being negative in a family of positive people caused him to get lots of attention. That’s a guess, mind you, but it’s one informed by lots of parenting experience, personal and professional.
The problem is that like certain behaviors, emotions can become habits.
A person who repeatedly says, “Life stinks,” is in danger of coming to believe it, despite evidence to the contrary. The good news is that your son is young enough for you to head that off.
First, sit down with him privately and gently confront him with his gloom-and-doom attitude. Tell him it’s not appropriate and that bad moods affect other people in bad ways. So from now on he won’t be allowed to be around the rest of the family if he’s in a bad mood. You’re simply going to send him to his nice room to meditate on his bad attitude. When he can be happy, he can rejoin the family. In other words, take away his audience.
When you’re making plans to do anything as a family, ask him, “Do you think what we’re going to do is stupid? Because if you do, we can find you a babysitter.” The likelihood is that he’ll want to be included.
That approach will force your son to begin practicing a positive attitude. Within a few months you should have a much more likable child.