Dealing with Chronic Negativity in Kids

Posted February 19, 2016 by

Dealing with Chronic Negativity in Kids

Let’s face it, we all have bad days. And sometimes kids seem to have never-ending bad days! Nothing ever seems good enough or makes them happy.

Kids can get stuck in negative patterns, especially during certain stages of development. Here’s how to deal with chronic negativity at home.

          1. Know that negativity is part of normal development. Especially for toddlers and teenagers. Normal doesn’t make it more pleasant, but it can give you some perspective.
          2. You don’t have to react right now. A negative attitude is very powerful and can draw other people into its orbit. When your child says something negative, choose to ignore them. Don’t give the negativity any more power.
          3. Don’t struggle against it. No matter how ridiculous or overblown your child’s attitude may seem to you, they have a different perspective. Empathy can go a long way toward helping both of you cope.
          4. Find an outlet. Constant negativity can be frustrating and draining to live with. It’s important to find a way to help yourself feel better.


Remember, it’s not your job to make your child feel a certain way.

Acceptance is key to effectively coping with negativity. You can’t force your child to change their attitude; you can only accept where they are right now. It doesn’t mean they will be this way forever. In the meantime, we realize that it’s not easy for you or them.

Hang in there, stay strong, and take a break when you need it. Know that we’re here for you.


Marissa, Empowering Parents Coach

Related: The Total Transformation: A Parent’s Program for Teaching Problem-Solving Skills


Marissa is a proud mom to two boys, age 10 and 5. She earned her degree in Sociology from Saint Joseph’s College of Maine and has been a 1-on-1 Coach since 2011. Prior to coming to Empowering Parents, Marissa gained experience working as the House Manager of a group home for teenage boys, as a Children’s Mental Health Case Manager, and also spent several years working on the Children’s Unit at a Psych. Hospital.

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    • SusanAnne1 Report

      There is no excuse for abuse. Period. I’m sorry you are dealing with this. The total transformation program would really help here. You can regain control of your home.

    • Empowering Parents Coach Marissa Stephens, 1-on-1 Coach Report

      Doris Avery 

      Poor attitudes can be a huge trigger for many parents, so
      you certainly are not alone with wanting to address it with your child.
      However, most back talk, or ’attitude’ is best addressed by ignoring it and not
      letting it gain power over you.If the ‘attitude’
      crosses the line into verbal abuse,I
      would recommend setting a clear limit, disengaging, and waiting until the
      situation calms down before reacting with a consequence. Giving a consequence
      in the heat of the moment comes with the risk of further escalation, and can
      lose effectiveness with the behavior you are trying to address.Janet Lehman, co-creator of the program, offers some more insight into this topic in her
      article, Thank you for
      writing in with you question.

  1. Adoptive Mom Report

    My son was a Shaken Baby (4 1/2 mo old), adopted (3 1/2 yr old) who has always been very negative, never had a glass half full ever. Blames everyone & everything for his problems & reactions to situations. Now almost 18, but developmentaly several yrs behind in maturity (sometimes I think my 7& 8 yr old nephews are more aware & mature than he is). Puberty has been in full swing though.  Any ideas on how to deal with him?

    • Empowering Parents Coach Marissa Stephens, 1-on-1 Coach Report

      @Adoptive Mom 

      It sounds like you are dealing with a challenging situation
      with your son, who has experienced quite a trauma in his past. Because of
      that,  and its varying effects on individuals, as well as the delay in
      maturity,  it can be difficult to tell what is normal, age appropriate
      behavior and what is a result from the trauma he experienced.  What can be
      most helpful is to work closely with your son’s counselor, doctor, or treatment
      team to determine the best course of action with your son. They will have the
      opportunity to get to know him personally and work with your family to develop
      an  individual plan. Best of luck to you as you continue to address this
      behavior with your son.

  2. stefmorgan Report

    Thank you Marissa… Great article! It seems the Universe delivers to my inbox the very moment I have a major crash with the teens which invariably leaves me feeling like I want to run away forever.
    As a spin off from Debbie Downer, I’m reaching out to this page for help: Briefly, through a lifetime of negativity from my son directed at his sister, I am almost ready to concede that my 16.5yo son and 15.5yo daughter are not destined to live together. Years of abuse between each other has left her largely fearful and him in a position of power – his physical size and demeanour helps too. She too plays her part in the anger tango, however she appears smart enough to know when to let things go. He on the other hand has not learnt that lesson.
    He’s had extensive counselling and further opportunities for help with anger over the years but is now demeaning the support and refuses to believe he needs to address anything. He’s unmotivated with everything except for his girlfriend and his devices. I’ve tried taking away devices and ended up with two holes punched in walls, and my daughter and I leaving the home to find peace. Every obstacle in his life is my fault or that of others.
    I could go on…
    My issue is that for the first time in the history of single parenting these children virtually from birth, I had my daughter ring a girlfriend to say she was feeling unsafe (after school while I work). She was collected by the girlfriend’s mother and taken back to their place where she spent the night. She’s said for years (intermittently) that she doesn’t feel safe being alone with her brother . Then other times I come home and they’re getting along well.
    The big question for me now, and the reason I’m reaching out, is how much of this heartbreaking (next step to worse) incident is manufactured by her through her exposure to similar via social media, and how much is real. The resultant action could be to have my son live a life unimagined with his father… Something I don’t take at all lightly.
    Any shared experiences or help would be appreciated.

    • Metabesther Report

      Oh Exasperstedsinglemom… Uncannily, I lived the exact same thing, only rather than leaving with my daughter, I locked the son out! This was futile though, it turned out he had no shame and would yell, kick and spit to be let in despite all our neighbours in the middle of the night even.
      He was resistant in counselling too, and it wasn’t until I figured out myself that my poor boy just didn’t know how else to handle pressure from this one schoolmate whom was supposed to be a friend, that this hell that made me too want to send my son to live with his dad, just went away.
      Turned out, this boy would belittle how my son didn’t get his way/time with devices, how restricted he is at home for this (that 15yr old toured my son through internet pornland, being left so unrestricted himself), how I, his mother was his roadblock to freedom.
      With ADHD, the badgering had eventually brainwashed my otherwise so gentle & thoughtful son into a disrespectful, holes-in-walls making, scary being whom I considered calling police in on.
      I learned 2 things though. That aside from food, shelter, healthcare, things which the UN declares necessary, unconditional love from at least 1 being; that everything else is a PRIVILEGE. .
      I had the negative influence boy over and it wasn’t long before his manner of speech had me ask his mother to come get him (previously I’d been the one to drive both ways); and not only did we not hear back again, but once the school year was out (only 1 awkwardish month), they actually moved back to the UK! Suddenly, I knew we weren’t the only ones to speak up to them.
      i had such negative expectations from my son, but figured all the more, he still needed me but couldn’t express how. So, throughout, I’d just be sure no matter how evenings ended, that even if I couldn’t get so much as an unreciprocated hug to him, say, “I love you, no matter what”. I’d remind him how his relationship with his sister will be the longest relationship they each have, that they need to have eachothers’ backs because one day I won’t be there and there’ll be somewhere still to turn, and not let anyone talk dirt about your family.
      About 3 weeks after having kicked that bad apple out though, I stopped to realize that things had near completely returned to open minded, thoughtful communication again.

    • HeidiPhinneyDorman Report

      ExasperatedSingleMum I feel so sorry for you and your daughter to have to go through this by yourselves. I’m glad you wrote about your predicament with your son. I had situations where I was afraid of my son, too. I had to admit him to a psych hospital (twice) where they were able to determine that his ADHD medication wasn’t as effective as it was when they first prescribed it to him. Currently, we are in the long process of weaning him off the old one and just having him on the new one.

      My son knows about his biological dad and he likes our life much better with his stepdad. He still has meltdowns from time to time, not as severe as they were to where I would be in fear of my life. I don’t know, but maybe letting his girlfriend know how explosive he is towards his sister and you might help, if she hasn’t seen it already. I think I’ve heard it said somewhere that how a person treats their parent(s) is how they will be treated.

  3. Niki LaLa Report

    How do you tell the difference between normal 12 year old ‘downer’ behaviour, and depression?
    My son can be up one minute and crashes down the next.
    I have spent the last 10 months having chemo and double mastectomy, which has obviously had an impact on my son.
    A few weeks ago he said he is depressed, and agreed to go talk to a counsellor.
    But when I took him to the GP to get him referred to appropriate counsellor he told the GP there was nothing wrong and he was only there because I’d made him (he does not like our GP)
    GP totally mishandled the appt. Used language like ‘How are things at school? All OK?’ so my son just nodded, not making eye contact. But things at school are not fine, he is struggling to fit in and he is getting picked on and right now is an emotional open wound.
    GP treated me like I was an overwrought helicopter mum. Said (in front of my 12 year old!) that I was the one that would probably benefit from counselling!
    (True, I do need to vent, but don’t say that in front of my son! )
    Then last night at our bedtime chat he says he is depressed again!
    So when should we worry? What does depression look like in a 12 year old boy versus social anxiety? (Which I think is more the problem, but his nan dying Sept 2014, me having cancer 4 mths later, and his dad (my ex) refusing to see him, is a lot to pile on a young lad!)
    If he needs it can I get him to a counsellor without being referred by GP?

    • Empowering Parents Coach Marissa Stephens, 1-on-1 Coach Report

      Niki LaLa 

      I am sorry to hear about the health
      challenges you have been dealing with for the past year. This certainly can
      affect children in different ways, and often, you have to go with your
      instincts when it comes to reaching out for support for your son. Depression
      and social anxiety are quite different than general negativity, and we would
      support having your son meet with a counselor to help him get through what
      sounds like several recent, difficult situations. If you are unable to obtain a
      referral from your GP, you might try contacting the 211 National Helpline at
      1-800-273-6222, and they can help you locate a local provider to best meet your
      family’s needs. Best wishes for health and good luck to you and your family as
      you continue to move forward.

    • faithchic Report

      Niki LaLa Hi Niki!  I would call your insurance company and find out if you actually do need a referral from your GP; some insurance plans don’t require a referral.  If you do, I would consider calling the nurses station at GP’s office and explain that you had your son in their office on such and such a date and tell them the reason for the visit and that you still feel that he is in need of counselling and would like a referral.  The nurse may be able to get the doc to sign off on one.  If they think you are an overprotective, helicopter parent, let them think what they want!  If at that point they still refuse, I would look into getting another GP.  There is no harm for him to be evaluated by a counsellor.  Maybe the counsellor will say this is all completely normal for a twelve year old, but he/she could also give you warning signs if it should progress into something different.  Or maybe, the counsellor will find that your son would benefit from counselling.  You are your son’s only advocate and it sounds to me that you know what he needs.  You and your family have been through a lot in the past few years and the teen years can be very difficult.  I think you are on the right track.  I’ll be praying for you and your son.

  4. DianaBeckham Report

    Thank you. I really needed this. My pre teen daughter is going through this and it is tough because I am such a positive person it makes it hard for me to understand her perspective.

  5. Christyc1215 Report

    With twin 15 year old girls it doesn’t matter what I say lol I usually just smile and listen. I miss them a lot though the way they used to be !!!

  6. buddwest Report

    I like to remind my kids, and even friends of an old adage “That rarely are things as good or as bad as they may seem to be” – just give them some time and keep plugging away. When the next day things seem to be better, I let them know – “see, it wasn’t as bad as you thought” or “see, things pass – today is already better”

  7. ALinPV Report

    I think God has ownership of this company.  Your newsletters always respond to something I am going through at that very moment with at least one of my kids.  It is so encouraging to find simple solutions and to hear that I am not alone.  That this behavior is shared with others.  What a wonderful service you provide to parents!  Thank you!

  8. spiker Report

    reading this aloud to my downer seven year old son.  His face is buried in the pillow on the couch while he slams his feet down onto the couch.  His age wasn’t mentioned in the bracket of normalcy, but could he possibly be copying his eleven year old sister, while taking it to a higher level?  He says I (mom) hate him, and claims no one cares about him.  Is this a case of ‘unconditional love’?  Meaning he understands no matter how he acts, or what he says he understands we love him, and under the attitude he knows he is loved and feels comfortable stomping around claiming we don’t love him?  I’m hoping its a phase, and think about recording his behavior with my phone so he can watch how ridiculous he is at times, and ask him if he was me, would he feel loved?

  9. Redwoods Report

    I don’t know what to do anymore. My 8 year old daughter is constantly negative and demanding. She needs attention all day long and demands it in the most negative and manipulative ways. She’s constantly talking back to me and her siblings. She yells, whines, rolls her eyes, and hates it when you don’t give her your full attention 24/7. Her father (divorced) is narcissitic and is grooming her. She is a terror….a true negative terror. As soon as she wakes up, everyone is on edge. I’ve tried ignoring her, punishing her, rewarding her, calmly talking to her, making her write in a journal…..everything. I’m now at the point that I can’t stand being around my own daughter. The guilt and frustration I feel because of that is causing severe depression. I’ve researched everything and practiced all of it. I can’t even begin to truly explain the nightmare that is now an everyday and all day occurrence. Her father spoils her and let’s her watch TV and do anything and everything she wants without chores (we are divorced). By the time she gets to my house, she insists on being lazy and demanding and rude. I calmly asked her if she thought it was okay to talk back to me, and she said yes. She literally thinks it’s okay to be mean to others and feels little guilt about it. She wants everything her way. I give her chores such as cleaning and school work and going to bed at 10pm, and she acts like I’ve asked her to walk 5 miles in the snow. Her siblings are exhausted and she’s pushing everyone away. She’s a cross between a 3 year old an a rebellious teenager. I’m at a loss. I love my child and no longer know what to do. I’ve been so patient, but there’s not much left of that.

    • free10 Report

      Could you possibly do family counseling for your daughter with you and the father? It may be helpful. I am divorced also and did some counseling when I felt that his dad and I were parenting differently. If he father is not willing to be involved or this is not a good idea, the counselor could assist  you with how to manage the child’s behaviors in a healthy way for you. Find someone who is licensed in professional counseling or social work that works with children. stay strong

    • SusanAnne1 Report

      Tell her “don’t speak to me that way, I don’t like it”. Turn and walk away. Do not engage except to repeat “don’t speak to me that way, I don’t like it”. Tell siblings to use the same words. Calm voice, neutral expression.

      • Grammy1952 Report

        Agree. Do not give her the attention she craves and demands. If everyone says the same mantra in the same monotone, it’s like programming. AND she’s not hogging all of the family’s attention.
        Negative attention. Positive attention. She wants it all. She wants you all to know she’s as special as Dad has raised her to think she is.
        It will be hard. But your consistency as a family will leave her wanting to be a part of your circle once she figures out she’s not the center of attention. Good OR Bad.
        You’ve got this!!

  10. Stepmom Report

    My 14 year old stepdaughter is very negative and pessimistic. She doesn’t just see the glass has half-empty, she sees it as completely empty. Her prospective is frequently distorted to the most negative extreme and she takes criticism very badly. She’s told her therapist that I have been bullying her and making her feel horrible and worthless. The truth is I’ve been telling her things like her fingernails are too long, that she needs to wear more deodorant and suggestions about how to clean her skin to prevent acne. These were all what I thought were helpful suggestions and things I felt I needed to say because her hygiene has been lacking.  

    I grew up with a very critical, nitpicking mom, so maybe I do tend to do that more than I realize, but nothing I have told her is something that was mean-spirited. For example, her fingernails were incredibly long, ragged and gross looking. Telling her to trim them is not bullying, it’s parenting. Me making sure she had a nail kit was not something so horrific that it should result in her needing to be on anti-depressants and be refusing to speak to me.  I’m not sure what exactly her therapist is telling her, but I feel like I’m being attacked for trying to be an actual parent. 

    How do you deal with a kid who takes any little criticism and spins it as in a negative way like you’re attacking them?

    • Empowering Parents Coach Marissa Stephens, 1-on-1 Coach Report


      I can understand how frustrating it must be to get this type
      of reaction when you feel like you are only offering helpful suggestions. We
      often recommend that the biological parent takes the lead in addressing
      behaviors with their children, with the stepparent in the support role. 
      Does your step daughter have the same responses if her father addresses these
      concerns with her?  Sara Bean offers some suggestions to address hygiene
      issues in her article  In the end, you may just
      step back from offering your stepdaughter feedback around her hygiene, and just
      continue to provide her the things she needs, like nail kits, to make better
      choices. Thanks for writing in, and best of luck to you and your family.

      • Stepmom Report

        Marissa EP  She does the same thing with her dad but treats him even worse. She’s at least a little civil towards me – but ignores me and refuses to speak to me currently other than grunts. With her dad, she gets very angry and yells and screams at him. For example, he has tried so many times to have civil conversations with her about homework and study times, but she always accuses him of treating her like she’s stupid. She’s severely behind in school but she absolutely over-reacts to her dad talking to her about it.  Her mother is currently in a drug treatment program and has been in and out of jail so she’s not available to help, nor ever really did much parenting when she did have custody.

        • DawnBaggett Report

          @Stepmom Marissa EP If her birthing had issues with drugs and alcohol during pregnancy it could manifest in these types of severe behaviors.  Look up fetal alcohol syndrome and check with the doctor.



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