How Do You Handle Your Negative, Complaining Child?

Posted March 29, 2009 by

I have a twelve-year-old child who tends to be negative.  Of course, all kids have moments of whining, complaining, and displaying “the glass-is-half-empty” attitude now and again, but this particular child seems to have a knack for dwelling on the worst outcome of any given situation.  Maybe some of you can relate.

 

“We’re having WHAT for dinner?  Ick!”
“I have to practice the piano now?  I hate the piano!”
“I don’t want to do homework!  I can’t stand homework!”

If you have a child who tends to be negative, you know how emotionally exhausting it can be.  There are days when I feel like my ears are going to bleed and fall off from all the negative energy this one child can produce! The interesting thing is that this negativity seems to be just one of a whole host of emotions that swirl around in the body of this passionate child of mine.  While he is also amusing, interesting, stubborn, and unique, his negativity, at times, stands out the most because of the toll it can take on me and the rest of the family.

Sometimes I ask myself why his negative behavior bothers me so much and why I can’t just ignore it. (You’re probably asking the same thing.)  Well, there are a few reasons.  First, I have a tendency to be negative myself sometimes when things don’t go just my way, so I am viewing myself first hand in my little complainer.  Let’s face it, that’s never a pretty picture!  Second, having a negative child tends to conjure up in my mind images of negative people I find it hard to be around.  When my child drones on and on about the unfairness of the world, my energy is instantly zapped. Lastly, a negative child begets negativity in those of us around him.  My other kids answer him back in nasty tones, my husband gets terse with everyone, and I spiral into a mood of gloom and doom where I imagine my child at age 80 sitting in a local pub droning on about the miseries of the world to anyone who will listen.  Negative thinking, I have learned, can indeed be contagious.

So what to do about this loving, yet negative child?  Well first, I’ve had to have a frank talk about what kind of behavior I expect from my son when he gets this way.  One helpful idea that worked for us was explaining the difference between being positive and being negative.  After defining what those two terms meant, the two of us came up with how we act (and yes, I included my bad-mommy negative moments too) when we choose to be positive and when we choose to be negative.  Some examples my son came up with were, “When I’m positive I’m light, fun to be around, and cute.  When I’m negative, I am all dark, I’m mean, I complain, and I whine a lot”.  And not so cute.  So, when the negativity starts, I am able to say, “You know, you’re sounding like that negative boy we talked about.  I can’t talk with you until you can change your tone”.  Now bear in mind, I’m not sending the message to my kids that they have to be filled with sunshine all the time, but there are constructive ways to voice ones complaints without bringing the rest of us down to rock bottom.

I am also working very hard to create a mantra in my head that allows me to ignore the negative remarks.  One thing that signals to my son that I am done listening to him spiral out of control with complaints is when I say, “You need to do your best with this.” That’s it.  No discussion, no trying to cajole him out of his bad mood.  From that moment on, he is on his own to resolve his inner angst.  If he chooses to calm down, then we are able to have a great conversation about his unhappiness.  If not, he is welcome to sit in the another room until his dark mood changes.

Lastly, my husband once told me that he notices that my son’s mood changes drastically when he is either hungry or tired.  I guess I never noticed this because, as my husband pointed out, I get crabby and snippy when I’m hungry and tired.  Ah, the beauty of seeing yourself in your kids! This becomes a sign to both my son and me that bed time needs to get moved up or a snack is in order (not just for my son, but me as well).

I’ll be honest, I wonder about this dark, negative side I see in my child every day.  I try not to get too concerned about what it will mean (the down side of being a psychologist!) and understand that my child’s temperament and personality are filled with a range of emotions that include this negative behavior that I don’t like. In the end, I guess it’s about teaching him how to balance negativity with being positive, and learning the skills he needs to navigate in the world.

I’m curious about how other parents handle this type of behavior in your house and what works for you. Do you have a child who complains a lot and who has a negative attitude about things? How have you been handling it?

About

Dr. Joan Simeo Munson earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Denver. She has worked with incarcerated individuals, families, adolescents, and college students in a variety of settings, including county and city jails, community mental health centers, university counseling centers, and hospitals. She also has a background in individual, group, and couples counseling. Dr. Munson lives in Colorado with her husband and three energetic children. She currently has a private practice in Boulder where she sees adults, couples and adolescents.

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  1. Dime Report

    My son is 13. I’m trying really hard to deal with his negative attitude. I find that he complains about everything. ALL food is nasty, especially if i go out my way to get it to him, he barely sleeps, anything i buy him is ugly, anything i play on the radio he hates, he argues with anyone who tries to play or spend time with him, and he has to say the opposite of everything me or anyone else says just for the sake of argument. I give in alot to him but it’s got to stop i just don’t know how to approach it. When i bring up his attitude he just gets angry and wants to argue about that. It’s to the point that he’ll say whatever’s on his mind no matter who’s feelings it hurts… Even mines and he cherishes me. It has gotten even worse the past 2 years obviously because im on the internet asking for advice.

    Reply
    • Empowering Parents Coach Rebecca Wolfenden, 1-on-1 Coach Report

      I hear you. It can be very difficult to tolerate a constant negative attitude from anyone, and this typically doesn’t change simply because it’s coming from your child. Something to keep in mind is that when we find ourselves becoming resentful, frustrated, angry, disappointed, or something along those lines, these feelings tend to be good indicators that we need to reassess our boundaries. For example, if you notice that you are “giving in” a lot to your son in order to end his complaints, and then you resent it, you might choose to say, “I’ve already made my decision” and walk away from his arguing and complaining. You might find more techniques in Negative Children: How to Deal with a Complaining Child or Teen. Please be sure to write back and let us know how things are going for you and your family. Take care.

      Reply
  2. Kristie Report

    OMG, I thought you were talking about my child! I have an 8 year old girl that is like living with Eeyore. We haven’t figured out any good way of handling it. I’ve tried explaining that she has a choice to react to things in a positive way or negative way. She also has a choice to let things eat at her, or ignore them. The only thing that works is a reward system for a good week, but that can get expensive, and now if there is no reward than she has no goal. Totally lost here!

    Reply
  3. Wanjillagirl Report

    I’m in the same boat. My 7 year old daughter is so negative and always whinges and complains. She leads a very good life at home and always gets loads of attention from me and my husband. We can never make her happy. Some days I feel like walking out. I’m seriously considering taking her to a child psychologist. We have to parent and respond differently to what we’ve been doing I.e no more over spoiling her. And not get into arguments with her.

    Reply
  4. JustinaThymes Report

    My 6 yo daughter just had a friend of hers from school sleep over, and man – after dropping her off, both my daughter and I needed to sleep off the stress!  It was so nice to be able to drop her off, say goodbye and drive away.  I do feel sorry for the little girl – my daughter considers her her best friend and yet couldn’t be near her much of the time.  I hope parents who are struggling with overly whiny children do help guide them away, since their lives are only going to be more difficult as they get older.  

    For the record, I’m not comfortable talking about a child like this – If she were here for more than a night, or if I knew the mom better I might offer advice or do something to help. My hands are tied – all I could do is continue to enforce the rules that we have at our house. On the plus side, I’m feeling even more appreciative of my daughter than I did yesterday <3

    Reply
    • Abbeydove Report

      JustinaThymes I’ve got to say that this is an incredibly unhelpful response.  You simply talk about how your daughter is much better than the other child.  If you had a child with a negative disposition, what exactly would you do?

      Reply
  5. Agh Report

    I came across this post while googling negativity in children because my almost 6 year old sounds a lot like your son. It’s getting to the point where I’m growing concermed! I just don’t get it how she can complain about so much when her life is reactively blissful! Thank you for making me feel like I’m not alone.

    Reply
    • upside down Report

      This story too made me feel better, but I am still trying to get a game plan together for dealing with my 11 yr. old son. He has Adhd and is the most negative person I know. When he gets started on a negative rampage, I actually feel sick. Mind you, he is a very bright kid so his negativity goes as far as the government, politics, racial, religion and etc. It’s not like he wants to take these people out its just about the subject. When I say sick I mean, grab a basket sick. Then sometimes he can be my cozy little love bug… I really need some great advise because I really do feel myself slipping away. My fun, loving and humorous side.

      Reply
      • gmvm Report

        @upside down your last line really struck a nerve with me! My 8 year old son is such a negative kid that I find myself becoming very negative myself and losing any sense of happiness I have. My son leads a very privileged life but the complaints just keep coming…..I need to try to turn his frown upside down……

        Reply
        • Adhdmom Report

          We’re right there with you guys! My son is 12 and has ADHD. When he gets in one of his negative moods, I tell him that I can’t be around Mr. Doom and Gloom right now. He always feels so bad after the fact, for having dragged everyone’s mood down with his, but it happens over and over again. And it’s petty, little stuff that he complains about incessantly! We could be on our way to Disney World, and he will start harping on all the bad things that COULD go wrong, instead of just being excited! We ask him nicely to stop….point out all the fun things we are about to do….ignore it……nothing helps. We all have a very hard time with his nearly constant negativity. It really does affect the whole family
          Drives me nuts. I worry about him like crazy, but really have no clue how to help him. We talk about it. He recognizes when he’s doing it. He’s very remorseful and apologetic. But in the moment that the negativity starts creeping in, nothing stops it. Feel very helpless to help him 🙁

          Reply
      • Kristie Report

        Sounds like your son is very empathetic! In this case I might encourage him to research how to help or impact a specific situation, like donate clothes, write a letter in response to a situation, etc. He sounds like he might change the world one day!

        Reply
  6. GeorgeSmith6 Report

    One tip thats hard for women, quit trying to have these long emotional connections with them. You think your trying to connect and reason with them but it just makes it worse.
    Say what you have to say then walk away, do something else. Above all remember they are 8-10 year olds and their opinion doesnt mean $&$) all. Do your job and they will mature out of this nonesense, if you internalize everyday of this ot becomes 10x worse

    Reply
    • Kristie Report

      You are right! I do focus on it too much, and sometimes make it worse. I’ll work on walking away, and using a tag line like in the article to help. Thanks!

      Reply
  7. Nicky Report

    Thank you for the tips… It’s a very interesting and helpful article. Gosh! I’m so glad I’m not alone. Ironically, I am a positive person and always try to see the good side in every situation, but I can’t say the same for my 9 year old son who whines about almost everything. He not only fusses, but blames everyone else and I am in the forefront of his blame game. It’s like ‘I can’t swim…. I’m useless… The swimming classes are useless…. Your tips are a bluff…. I can’t do anything right…. I hate to do my homework…. You pressurise me too much…. You’re a bad mum….why can’t you be like other mums…. and the list is endless. I am so tired and feel like I am losing my mind. I have tried everything… I encourage him, tell him that he can achieve anything if he puts his mind into it, I flatter him whenever possible… Ignore his remarks sometimes, but everyday it’s an endless fight to get through the day. I’m so hoping he’ll grow out of this stage. He’s a good boy otherwise and is loving and well mannered, but his mood swings gets to me in the worst possible way. It depresses me :'(

    Reply
    • Arcelia Report

      Wow! Nicky I’m so sorry for what you and You’re family are going trough. I understand your sentiment and share it my son 10 is so much like this except my son gets very Physical with his younger sister and she’s so adorable they are only 17 months Apart she’s obedient and he’s not he’s even challenges me (like what are you going to do about it) and I’m just so scared for him because if he don’t respect me he probably don’t respect anyone else the thing is that the teachers at school tell me he’s excellent a great cold honor roll but with me he’s horrible a menace i think he hates me and I’m scared i might be feeling a lack of love for him too. What to do?

      Reply
  8. Pippa Report

    Oh yes, I’m so recognising this in my own 11 year old son!  My husband has a tendency to be ‘glass is half empty’ and my son seems to be following in his footsteps!  I can remember when he was as young as 5, after starting primary school, telling him that he really must try to be happy.  As he’s got older we’re still having the same conversations about being positive.  My son suffers from anxiety, especially over new situations, like recently starting secondary school, so we have had to manage that too, it’s difficult for everyone.  I talk to him about making an effort to be cheerful and try to talk through any problems he has, a problem shared and all that.  He doesn’t like trying new things, this includes activities or dinners!  We are getting there and he is more confident now but I feel he will have to work hard at seeing the good things in life as he gets older.  My younger son, on the other hand, is full of joy… life is a mystery!

    Reply
    • Alex Report

      @Pippa OMG, I understand your feelings. I am convinced that the only way to get happiness in a negative child’s life is to really listen to him and let him tell you the real reasons he is miserable. Telling him to be happy will never work!

      Reply
  9. jillbean111 Report

    This is the exact exp explanation of a kid that I babysat over the summer. 9 year old boy. Whenever he loses at contests he always accuses the director of playing favorites. I ask him nicely to watch his tone, he accuses me of being mean and hating him. And he flips out on his 11 year old sister whenever she beats him at a video game or pours a little bit of ice water on him while playing water games even though he knew he was gonna get wet. So emotionally draining. Kid is just never satisfied.

    Reply
  10. Feelingnutty Report

    Hi, this was like reading my life! I have a 6,7 &8 year old and I honestly feel like I’m going mad! I can’t give them anymore of me And I find myself in moments starting of trying to reason with them and then it all turns into a screaming match.I sometimes can’t even see my love for them because it’s blinded by the exhaustion of dealing with their negativity.they seem to tag each other in amd out! I feel like the child…

    Reply
    • Kristie Report

      Hang in there! I understand your feelings. I go to bed at night worried about the oldest, she is the negative nelly, asking myself “did I wrong her today? Did I say something that will ruin the rest of her life?” I find myself not wanting to hug her as much as the others because her behavior doesn’t warrant it. But in those moments, I stop and think about all the things that I do love about her. I think about the moments that she put a smile on my face. In the screaming match times, I sometimes shut myself in the bathroom or room and scream into a pillow or cry it out.

      Reply
  11. Bhavya Report

    You really described my 10 year old boy… He is the most adorable child but he can really be negative… about things, about himself…. It is so stressful & annoying. Will definitely try out the “Negative” & positive conversation. And hope that it will work… Thanks so much!

    Reply
  12. workingtogether Report

    It’s comforting to read that other parents experience this, it can feel overwhelming when my child becomes Mr negativity. I have noticed the tired /hungry pattern but often small frustrations seem to trigger my child’s negativity. Being better organised helps but pointing out that he has a choice about how he reacts to situations and then leaving him be works better for us then me trying to turn around the situation and getting frustrated myself.

    Reply
  13. karla Report

    Very helpful article! Thank you for the tips on managing negativity. I can relate to all of what you wrote – including the unpleasant realization that I am seeing my own less-than-lovely characteristics played out through my daughter’s personality. I am going to try your approach of “you need to do your best with this” as it seems straight to the point. At times I find myself explaining ad nauseum WHY we shouldn’t dwell on all the negatives of eating chicken and rice for dinner. LOL Thank you!

    Reply
  14. Kelley Report

    My 8yo has a tendency to be this way. It’s mentally exhausting to hear, I agree with you. I’ll usually let him list about 3-4 things that went wrong in his day, as opposed to listing anything that went right, and say, you’re really doing a lot of complaining, what’s something good that happened today? Sometimes, he’ll just say nothing, but sometimes he will shift gears a bit and list something that he saw as positive. Negative thinking is like a train that’s hard to jump off, for me as well. BUT, as you mentioned, it’s often made infinitely worse when he’s tired or getting hungry. I also have learned it’s a waste of time to ask if he’s hungry, I just have to give him a snack. He always says no, when asked. I think bringing it to their attention that they are being very negative helps and helping them jump off of the train and get started heading the other way helps as well!

    Reply
  15. Vala95 Report

    Goodness, I don’t feel quite so alone in this now! I have the most amazing boy, also 12; he is exceptionally intelligent, kind, loving and compassionate – full of inner and outer beauty. However, he also had a tendency to fall into a negative mindset, and I too, find it exhausting on every level.
    Recently though, I employed a new tactic which is working well for the most part: for every negative comment he makes about himself, he has to counter it with a sincere positive statement, otherwise I get to cuddle him in public (which he finds supremely embarrassing!). However, this works on a point system so that he can accrue points for positive statements, which he is now doing spontaneously; the points can later be exchanged for a treat, like a trip out somewhere of his choice. The best knock on effect from this, is that whilst the negativity is still a problem, he is starting to shift to a more positive mindset. Incidentally, Andrew is also more prone to negative behaviour when over-tired – aren’t we all?!

    Reply
  16. marlala Report

    I swear you just described my 11 year old son! I’m at my wits end with it sometimes. He is such a big hearted kid…..funny, extremely smart, respectful…..but the negative complaining, oh my gosh!!! I try not to be too hard on him cause he’s always been a sensitive kid, but I’m seriously worried about how he’s going to do in middle school this year. I try my hardest to do things with him one on one (I have 5 other kids), so I don’t feel like he’s starving for attention. He’s even started complaining about his friends so he hardly ever wants to play outside. Its draining me and the only relief I get is when he goes with his father on the weekends. But today he went on about a 15 minute rant about going there too. I just don’t know what to do

    Reply
  17. Kimmybee Report

    I don’t know to deal with my family. My brother doesn’t know how to be happy. Even when you talk him into his attitude and sit down for it, he still is grumpy at the thought of it and wouldn’t take any suggestions or comments or anything at all. T_T I think it’s because my mom partly doesn’t do parenting very well and she constantly complains about how my brothers are so stubborn. She always shouts at the house when calling my brothers. I told her they couldn’t hear her because they’re mostly in their headphones, but she still insists on this behavior. It is so exhausting in our house that I just shut myself in my room because it is draining me and giving me the hardest emotions.

    Reply
  18. TweeLy Report

    @Megan Sounds so much like my son. I love my sweet little son; he was sweet, fun, and fun. Now he turn 10, everything seems to be dark in his thinking. He hates school, hates home work, hates teacher…hates everything….just so hard for me to take.

    Reply
  19. darlenejhill Report

    OMG this article, are you sure you aren’t running surveillance in our house? My 10 year-old son, who really is the sweetest and most fun kid to be around, is constantly negative about EVERYTHING! Something as simple as telling him he can take his winter hat off in the car is a negative thing. My husband said we should tell him to keep his hat on so we can at least hear something other than “no”. Every morning after he does his chores (with grumpy grunts and stomping), he has a little time before the bus comes. I let him know that he has 10 minutes left to play and then get ready for school. I usually get an “ok” but when it comes down to the time he actually has to get going, he stomps around, huffs, turns his semi-ok morning into a negative, arguing match. He and I usually end the morning together with him angry. I hate having him leave in the morning mad and spend the whole day mad from our morning. Then once he arrives home I always ask ‘how was your day?’ “Horrible” is the daily response. Calmly I ask him what went wrong and I get “nothing”. Ooook. He hates homework, he hates school, he is so negative that I know the kids in school are “up to here” with him. The other day he did his homework and I asked him if he completed an assignment the teacher sent via online. “NO! I don’t have anymore homework!!!!” When I calmly said “please don’t speak to me like that” and “yes you do” he threw a fit that could rival a 2 year-old’s tantrums. He was so mad about it and distraught that he scratched his face. Literally clenched his fist and drug his fingernails down his cheek. OK, now I’m extremely concerned. I don’t know what else to do. I’m going to have a conversation with him about negative vs. positive attitudes and consequences to see if I can get into his head some. What else can I do? I don’t want to ignore him when he acts this way because honestly I’d never speak to him, but I’m tired. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    Reply
    • TamaraB_ParentalSupport Report

      darlenejhill 

      Having a child who tends toward a poor attitude certainly can be
      draining. As parents, it is a challenge to manage feelings and responses
      when faced with unrelenting negativity. It is helpful to begin thinking about
      ways to not take this kind of behavior personally. Ultimately, it is up to your
      son to be responsible to manage himself appropriately. A good way to help him
      is to try to focus primarily on his behavior. His tendency toward the negative
      may lead to things like tantrums, yelling, or noncompliance. These are the
      areas of change to target versus giving attention to what is, essentially, his
      opinion. Debbie Pincus offers parents some very good strategies to manage this
      kind of behavior in her article http://www.empoweringparents.com/how-to-handle-you…. Additionally, given
      the fact that his tantrums have led to him hurting himself, you may also
      consider further evaluation by his pediatrician in order to determine the most
      helpful course of action moving forward. Thanks so much for reaching out.
      Please keep in touch and let us know how it is going.

      Reply
  20. mstatee49 Report

    Hi lillybattten, This is a very critical stage in your child’s life! Forget friends, peers of his age group. It’s an hormonal change going on inside. He’s transisting from a kid into a young adult. It’s an emotional roller coaster that lasts for about three years! Be patient. I know I raised five and ALL of them went through this stage. Like you, I wasn’t able to recognize what was really going on until about my third child. Same symptoms, totally withdrawn, claiming they’re okay when they’re really not. They don’t know what’s happening to themselves but like I said it took my third child to see what was happening. The best thing you can do for him is BE his best friend. Do things together by allowing him to suggest ideas. Talk to him, not at him but to him. Find out what his opinion is on things you are or may consider doing and places to go. This really helps him know he can now make choices and you are letting him know his opinion matters. Talk endlessly about consequences. Kids needs to know about consequences of life. In doing this I found my kids opening up to me about stuff they had bottled up inside them. Listen. Just listen. If you become shocked by some of the things he says, don’t show it in front of him, talk about the consequences and ALWAYS give out hugs. I found my kids at times crying and could not tell me why at first, but once I gained their trust by being the friend they needed without compromising being a parent, I found that we were able to developed the best respectful relationship ever! My kids are all grown now and they bring their friends to come talk to me! Strange enough I have a three year old granddaughter who’s taking me through some loops! She’s so intelligent and very outspoken. Scary at times but we are working through it. I wish you the best with your son. I don’t know how religious you are but asking God for the right words to say to your child offers the best remedy. After all, it is He who made us and not we ourselves. Who better knows what you and your child needs. I hope this helps. Keep in touch, please.

    Reply
  21. Dr. Joan Report

    Dear Blakey: It really is frustrating to have a child who constantly tries your patience and pushes you to the brink on a daily basis. I agree with you that it could be very helpful to see a child psychologist to help your daughter with her anxiety. My suggestion to you and your husband though would be for the two of you to see the psychologist first so you can plan out a strategy regarding how you want to deal with your daughter. I’m suggesting this because it sounds like you and your husband are not on the same page when it comes to consistent discipline for your daughter. Children who are highly sensitive, anxious and strong-willed gain security and confidence when they see that their parents are working together with the goal of helping their child. It also makes it less likely that they can manipulate one parent when the tantrums start, which is another characteristic of such children. This is hard and I empathize with both you and your husband, but it really is imperative that the two of you approach this as a team, gaining some tools from a psychologist and presenting your plan to your daughter as a unified front.

    Reply
  22. blakey Report

    My 8 year old daughter has been a challenge since birth.. She is queen of the moaners and shows no sign of relenting. She struggles to do anything independantly even choosing what to wear seems to be an absolute nightmare for her). Yes hunger and tiredness definately affect her mood, but she can have just woken up and had breakfast and still she struggles to find a good word to say. It’s always, “I can’t do that, can you do it for me, play with me, stay with me, i don’t know how to do it”. She is actually a great kid when she has your 100% attention but left to her own devices she changes to a 2 year old with toothache.
    And yes the negativity is definately contagious, my husband gets short tempered really easy, I start looking for escape routes and my 5 year old either retreats into himself or goes crazy for attention.
    i go through spurts when actually I can deal with it and find that praising the good and IGNORING the bad stuff does work. i definately find that challenging the whining doesn’t work. Leaving her to figure out her mood tends to create a tantrum, but eventually she calms and is apologetic and figures out what she actually is supposed to be doing.
    Luckily she is quite competitive so as long as she is winning she is easy to get along with, so if I find getting out of the house is the problem then on goes a stop watch to get her moving (this does have its setbacks as if she thinks she won’t do it fast enough then the defeatist in her comes out)
    I definately have been negative in the past and wonder if having post natal depression has something to do with her being so needy?
    Am still considering counselling for her as anxiety plays a big part of her life and I definately don’t want her ending up like I did 🙁

    Reply
  23. Dr. Joan Report

    Dear Julie W.: I understand your frustration and you are wise to seek some guidance about your daughter. I believe that due to the number of issues that your daughter is currently experiencing, it would be beneficial to consult with a child psychologist about her behavior as well as to get a full evaluation. Your pediatrician will be able to recommend
    someone for you. In doing so it will provide you some much needed answers about which direction you should go in. Also, because you
    have struggled with depression yourself it is wise that you are considering how or if this could be impacting your daughter. Given that your daughter is on the cusp of adolescence I strongly recommend that you begin the process now of trying to determine how you can best help her as she develops. You sound like a loving mother and I wish you the best of luck in figuring out what to do next.

    Reply
  24. Mel Jo Report

    I just wanted to say thank you to all the parents who have given advice and examples. I am the mother of 4 girls, ages 10,7, 3, and 18 months. My 10 year old has been showing these negative behaviors for about 1 1/2 years now. I am concerned because I thought it was a stage, but it is getting worse not better. I have expressed my concerns with her Dr. but they don’t share my concerns. It was very nice to hear from other parents. I too feel like I have failed my little girl and I am worried about how this is going to effect my younger children too. I look forward to reading more suggestions!!!

    Reply
  25. Empowering Parents Coach Rebecca Wolfenden, 1-on-1 Coach Report

    To frustrated: It can be so hard to have a teenager who constantly wants to get the last word, and continues to argue with you even after you have tried to end the discussion. As I am sure you noticed with the other pages on this website, you are not alone in addressing this issue. We recommend doing some problem solving with your daughter in a calm time about what she can do differently when she is upset instead of continuing to argue with you and following you around. You can also let her know how you will respond in the future. For example, you might say “Let’s look at what you do when you don’t agree with me. What can you do differently?” After she has come up with a solution, such as going to her room and listening to music for 10 minutes, you can say “I want to let you know that if you choose to continue to argue with me after I have ended the conversation, I am going to go to my room and shut the door. I am not going to talk with you if you are arguing with me.” If you use this approach consistently, she will see that following you and continuing to argue is not getting her any benefit. For more information, check out these articles: “I’m Right and You’re Wrong!” Is Your Child a Know-it-all?
    How to Walk Away from a Fight with Your Child: Why It’s Harder Than You Think
    Take care and we wish you the best.

    Reply
  26. juliew Report

    Hello,
    I am the mom of two daughters, 10 and seven. My 10 yr. old can be very challenging. She has always been rather negative and over emotional. She doesn’t smile or seem happy very often. Disrespect and lack of empathy are very commonplace at home (she actually growls and hisses while making a face when she doesn’t like something we tell her). Lack of focus and organization is starting to become an issue in school as well. She doesn’t want to help out or be responsible in anyway at home.

    I have had problems with depression throughout my life and sometimes do tend to see the glass as half-empty. So I worry that I passed that tendency on to her. But I have always tried to be a help to others and be responsible and respectful in spite of this. I do not know how to handle the self-centered attitude of my daughter. She also can be quite unkind to her sister. I love her so much and try to show that each and every day (and how special she is) but sometimes I feel like I’m at the end of my rope with her. She doesn’t seem to care about those around her or “spreading sunshine” or “making the world a better place”. I feel like a failure as a mom and get really dragged down by the constant negativity and her desire to battle about everything she’s asked to do. Also, she exhibits some stimming behaviors (hands or finger flapping or twisting) and an intense interest in anything Titanic which sounds somewhat like Asperger’s syndrome but she does NOT have motor or coordination issues and is somewhat social. Friends aren’t extremely important to her, it seems, but they do exist. She speaks with expression and can make eye contact. I’m not seeking a label to place on her, just some more effective tools to maybe help her get through life more peacefully/happily and myself not get into the power struggles and the frustration so much.

    Reply
  27. frustrated Report

    This website is really helpful. I really thought this happened only in my world. I understand that we are all born with our own temperament. My daughter is now 14 which can be a difficult time for teens. When she was an infant, she would scream for the longest time during a car ride. Later, at age 3, we lost her father. She cried and screamed for months.

    She is spirited and very strong willed. Unfortunately, my mother, brother and even grandmother is very negative. So she comes by it naturally. She is a 4.0 student but never really like school. At times, she is witty and full of life. She has a lot great days but when she is upset, I pay for it.

    She sees things as black or white, no in-between (as if it is not logical). If something doesn’t make sense, she wants to argue and wants the last word. She says things like that won’t work, that will never happen, etc. She makes assumptions. She won’t look at the positive and often says “you ALWAYS get mad” and we will never do better. She won’t try talking with me and doesn’t believe what I tell her. I have told her end of discussion and she will literally follow me because she wants the last word and wants to point out that it doesn’t make sense. I tried to tell her that it is okay for us to have different opinions and sometimes we won’t agree but I don’t love her any less. She keeps trying to push buttons but yet wants resolution.

    Since I can’t do anything to help her understand why, what can I do once I tell her that this discussion is over and prevent her from continuing to try? I even tried counseling but she refuses to try any suggestions. I would love to see her glass half full, eventually. Any suggestions?

    Reply
  28. tc Report

    i bet my mom would have loved all your great help when she was raising me. i’m 25 now.
    i didn’t have many friends, i could see the other kids playing with each other and having fun, but not with me. it was dumb, stupid, lame, boring…the list went on and on. my dad and i were always at odds (still are a lot). i’d spend most of my time alone in my room, i loved art. my family always said when i’m good i’m great to be around, but when i’m in a bad mood i’m the worst to be around. my main line was “i don’t care” i still say it doesn’t matter (but i say it a bit more carefree and less depressed now). i had huge walls around myself, i’d let no one in. i was scared i’d be hurt, kids can say mean things, so can family (not even realizing it). teen years are hard all around and being depressed about everything doesn’t help. i went to councilors and such and was told that i was bi-polar and that if i didn’t take these pills i’d be depressed for the rest of my life. i pointed out that i didn’t care. (i was a kid, there’s no such thing as the rest of my life, i was depressed i didn’t much care about life.)
    my mom helped by letting my chill in my room or out side, left alone long enough i got bored of doing nothing and i’d just start playing, making art, i’d do something and my mood would change. as long as i wasn’t reminded of whatever small thing upset me i was fine. well, untill some other small thing upset me.
    when we got the internet i started reading about bi-polar, depression, anger and religions and philosophies. in HS i worked out a list of things that tended to upset me and started working out why. i hated cut flowers cause they made me depressed, when i thought about why i realized that they die and wont ever grow again.
    if it was too hot i’d get really moody and upset, so as soon as i realized i was getting upset i’d go find a cooler place to rest and try to calm down.
    knowing why i got upset and moody about things really helped me work through my depressed moods faster.
    the fact that i could see my moods coming on helped me to control them better.
    doing this myself, because i felt like it not because i was told to like a punishment made me feel better about myself.

    i still get mood swings, i still tend to see the darker side of things.
    now i have control over what i do about my moods and have much more control over my moods.

    moods feel like they happen to you, like we are powerless to them. when we realize that our thoughts control how we feel and how we act we not only have power over our emotions and actions, we become more empowered in our whole life!

    it’s very hard to remind kids or adults that they have the power to change their moods when they are already upset. sometimes just saying that it’s ok to feel upset or that it’s ok to think everything sucks can help, when reminding them of things that make them happy doesn’t work.

    Reply
    • Elisabeth Wilkins Report

      TC: Thank you for sharing your personal story and experiences. Great advice, too, about letting kids know that it’s okay to feel upset. It sounds like you’ve figured out some things that trigger your moods and have really grown from it as a person. Good work — not easy to do that.

      Reply
  29. smithac3 Report

    I am amazed at all the comments that have been left. I know my house is in the norm now. I have 4 boys. Ages 12, 10, 7 and 4. My boys all have attitudes occasionally. They love to pick on each other, yell and get upset on a daily bases. My 7 year old is more lazy then the rest. He takes after me. Every morning is a chore with him. He doesn’t want to get dressed and go to school. Some times I have had to dress him. He doesn’t think anyone likes him at school, but I think some times he is overly sensitive and wants to much attention. He is over weight and taller then the other kids his age which doesn’t help things. On top of it all he has a hip disease called leg perthis and he cannot do any running, sports or even go walking too far. We are looking at several years of this until it heals properly, if it heals properly. He begs me every morning to stay home. When I do let him, it’s a constant battle keeping him out of the kitchen. He and my 4 year old could eat all day long. My energy is usually zapped by the time I get them all to school in the morning. I come home and seriouly could take a nap…at 8:30a.m. Night time is exhausting as well. Trying to get them to bed is just as difficult as the morning routine. I’m afraid this behavior is already rubbing off on my 4 year old. 3 more weeks of school..and then he has to go to summer school for 6 weeks. This is going to be fun. Sorry for the sarcasm. I do see negativity in my husband and I at times and I know we need to do a better job of keeping it to ourselves. My husband of course feels it’s his right to be a grump and doesn’t really care how we feel. I wish I could figure out how to help my 7 year old be more cheerful and happy. He is such a fun loving kid. We are a religious family and I know that when we have more scripture reading time or have spiritual lessons of Christ it helps a great deal. There is more of a calm spirit in our home and a willingness to do what is asked.

    Reply
  30. Cushla Report

    I read these articles often, just to remind myself that I am not the only one going through this emotional roller coaster with our son. I am exhausted, confused sometimes and wonder where I am getting the strength from to go on sometimes. If I said the sky was blue, he would say it was pink, everyday brings the same drawn out process of getting ready for school, having a wash, packing his bag. Simple things yet it is a constant battle, he deflects, he ignores, he constantly trys to provoke a situation. We are in counselling and I take one day at a time, sometimes one hour at a time and the love I have for him and the good funny moments we have a worth this journey.

    Reply
  31. Hopeful Report

    I hope negative children can change….they are not destined to always see the glass as half empty,are they? I choose to believe that with God…all things are possible….I am a positive person, and it is so difficult dealing with such negativity…it is very draining….

    Reply
  32. bagcebcam Report

    This site has been very reassuring. I have 3 children, 21, 17 and 12. My first two were very similar in how they responded to things. My youngest, while she can be the sweetest child in the world, also has the most negative energy. I think I may have been like this as a child, but taught myself a long time ago to see the positive light in most situations. So to be around her sometimes is literally draining and changes the whole mood of the house. I feel like I’ve tried everything and feel that she does just want to be heard, but like others wrote, sometimes I feel like I’m giving her attention for her bad attitude.. and more importantly, more often than not now, I don’t even want to… she’s just making me so tired. I want to help her but feel like I’m just saying the same things over and over and she’ll say she understands, say she’s sorry. and then it all happens again the next day or next week. Good at least to know I’m not alone.

    Reply
  33. momto3 Report

    Wow. I am so glad to find this site. I have a 20 year old daughter who has always been negative. I will confess to taking some responsibility for this since my husband and I don’t always choose to to see the world through rose-colored glasses. I am sure that much of this is inherited from me and I have worked really hard to become a more positive person.
    My daughter has always been negative but her behavior seems to have spiraled out of control when she went to college. The pressures of fitting in and academic stress have really made the condition worsen. It seems she calls daily just to complain. Sometimes I just don’t want to answer the phone. She starts most conversations with “I am so stressed out” or “I am annoyed”. I learned early on not to offer solutions – just sit back and listen to her vent. However, this is becoming overwhelming. I have even tried to re focus her by saying things like “what good happened today?” Just today, she received an academic achievement she had been working towards and texted me in excitement – when she called I was expecting to hear the excitement but she just chose to find something else trivial to complain about.
    I don’t know how to help her anymore and have essentially tried the reverse psychology too – “if you aren’t happy then just come home and go to school” to no avail. I encourage her to focus on the positive but she just tunes me out until she can get back to the next complaint.
    As a mom, I feel for her but refuse to be pulled down into her miserable environment. She has been medicated for anxiety but doesn’t like the side effects of the meds and refuses to take anything. Any suggestions are appreciated…I am glad to find there are other parents out there in the same situation.

    Reply
  34. Dr. Joan Report

    To MP:
    First, let me say I understand how difficult it is to live with a child who has a negative attitude. It can take a lot of energy to not let that attitude bring you down. Your role as his stepmother is tricky, but you have a tremendous opportunity help him through this. The best way to do this is to try to put yourself in your stepson’s shoes and shower him with an enormous amount of empathy. Think about it: he has essentially “lost” his mother for the time being; he has to move during a very difficult stage of his development(on the cusp of adolescence); his hormones and body are going through tremendous changes; and everything that was familiar and comforting to him is now gone. Personally, I don’t doubt that he’s a bit crabby.

    I would encourage you first and foremost to stop attempting to convince him of how wonderful his life is or could be if only he tried a little harder. I realize it seems like common sense to you that he should be happy to live with his dad and that he should try new sports and that he should make do with his new surroundings — but he’s not you. He’s a young boy who is most likely angry/sad/lonely as well as scared of his new environment. Your logic and common sense approach is not really applicable here. Instead, try an empathic approach.

    Him: “I hate it here.”
    You: “I know this is hard. What makes it so hard?”
    Him: “I don’t know…everything”
    You: “I get it that everything is different. It’s really hard to move from a place you loved. I’m sorry this is so difficult for you.”

    And then stop talking. Really, just empathizing with someone can make them feel heard and understood. I’m not saying this will solve all your problems, but this boy isn’t looking for you to solve his problems, he wants you and your husband to know how he feels. Other lines you can use when he starts up are “I get that this isn’t what you want right now, but this is the best we can do kiddo. What do you think you can do to make this work?” This line places the onus of responsibility on your stepson to brainstorm ideas about how to help himself adjust. You can also say, “I know this is hard sweetie. I’m on your side through all of this and want to help.” This simple line lets him know you’re not there to fight and that you care.

    Just remember though that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. This is going to take time, patience (and then more patience…) and a whole lot of empathy. Just keep reminding yourself that he is 11 years old and your job isn’t to fix him — just to empathize with his current sadness.
    Good luck, and please let us know how it goes.

    Reply
  35. MP Report

    I’m having difficulty with my 11 year old stepson who is constantly negative. I am trying to find ways to help him accept that life unfortunately is unfair and he cannot always have what he wants.

    He has moved recently to live with my husband and me (his mom is moving overseas). Everything with him is a negative or a complaint – what he can’t do here, what he misses, what restaurants we don’t have, etc.

    We have been trying to refocus him how great it is that he now is able to spend time with his dad and what he can do here (he used to play hockey, but there isn’t an ice rink here. But he pouts over this instead of trying a new sport) He refuses to see the positives in living now with his dad, only everything he misses not living with his mom. It’s so difficult to deal with him due to the negativity.

    Reply
  36. Meswent Report

    I have worked hard at giving a time limit to complaining and it has worked- however I do need a break from it now and then-so today I tried telling her that I could not listen right then, but would be willing to listennanotherntime! It helped!

    Reply
  37. Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor Report

    To ‘Mybeautifulmess’: It can be so hard when your children aren’t getting along with each other. It would be very helpful to talk with your daughter about some different ways she can respond to her siblings instead of saying mean things or yelling. You can start off by asking her what she is thinking when that happens or what she is trying to accomplish. Then reiterate your expectations and talk about what your daughter can do differently next time instead of yelling. When you see her starting to get upset with her siblings, remind her of the plan you came up with. If she chooses to yell anyway, have the above problem-solving conversation again and then restrict a privilege until she makes an amends to her sister or goes 30 minutes without yelling. Here’s an article about problem-solving for more information and ideas: The Surprising Reason for Bad Child Behavior: “I Can’t Solve Problems.” We wish you luck as you work through this. Take care.

    Reply
  38. Wendy Report

    Thank you. I read your article as part of a quest to find help. The negativity my son exudes wears me out. I did not resist the temptation to give it back this morning. This polar mix of love I feel for him and dread I feel about being with him reminds me of dating the wrong guy. Sometimes I just want to get away from him, and then I need to see him again in hopes of having it be better. I need to develop more adult responses. “I won’t let you ruin my life,” just isn’t what I aspire to. I’m relieved to know he isn’t the only negative child; and I am not the only parent grappling with this challenge. My last words this morning were, “Good is a perception – good doesn’t happen to you unless you perceive it.” I need to perceive some good myself.

    Reply
  39. Mybeautifulmess Report

    This site has given me tons of ideas to try. We too have a beautiful, creative, intelligent & kind hearted 8 year old that is very pessimistic. At times I want to pull my hair out. I try my best to not get twisted in the arguments and over dramatized situations she creates. I have found if I tell her ” you need to cool down” she usually forgets what she is so upset about or is rational enough to speak to. However, Nothing is ever good enough and we (parents) are ALWAYS wrong. No matter the situation she finds fault. She has started getting very nasty with her 2 younger sisters( 2yrs & 6 months). No physical nastiness just acts mean or screams at them when she gets frustrated. I read The Five Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman Ph.D & Ross Campbell M.D. Using her love language, “words of affirmation”, in the past has helped to lighten he spirit and change her demeanor. Now I find working less and less. I would really like to know more about the complaint cards and how that works for other parents. Any suggestions for a mom of 3 with such an age gap between siblings. I want them to connect more and be less of a nuisance to her?

    Reply
  40. Eden Report

    Both my children tend to see the glass as half empty…I must admit that its frustrating for me as I try to see every situation as a positive learning experience. I also recognize that the biggest issue I have with their negativity..is MY issue. Although I would never say this to them directly it remonds me of my exhusband..their father. After our separation and divorce I made a point of giving each xhild a half hour each of one on one time. I saw the value in giving them a sage place where they cpuld vent their anger and hurt. However at the end of that time I also ask them to name three things that they are thankful for in each day. After two years of this…I still have glass half empty children..but sometimes..just sometimes..they are glass half full now.

    Reply
  41. Athena Report

    My daughter is 5 and has just entered kindergarten and I have noticed a huge shift in her motivation to try new tasks and to practice to become better at a task. It slowly became worse once the idea of her becoming a big sister set in, and now interferes with almost every normal day to day task. Simply if her zipper on her backpack doesn’t do up on her first try, that’s it, she gives up while whining that she can’t do it, that it doesn’t work, or that she no longer wants to do it. The other thing she will do is refuse any help you do try to provide her and gets her self so upset that it’s not working her way, that she will even start to scream at and hit the object. All it takes is something small to set her off to ruin an entire night, because once she starts going on these negative tangents she won’t stop. It goes from her backpack to her jacket to her boots, then she refuses to work at school, and will even complain about not wanting to play, or watch tv, or color, and on and on. I know its normal for her to regress a bit and be afraid of growing up along with the arrival of her new brother, and I try to stay calm and positive during her mood swings, though there are days were she can drag my mood to the pits. I just need to keep reminding myself that she needs our support to help her learn how to manage these frustrations and how to develop better problem solving skills. Even if it means letting her lay on the floor in the boot room until she can calm down enough to listen, and focus on the simple task of putting her own boots on.

    Reply
  42. Momoftwo Report

    I have a 15 yr old girl who almost always sees the negative side. If i say the sky is blue she will say it is green. Most of the time, i struggle with trying not to get sucked into these spiraling tangential arguments. What I am really struggling with is at times when I am busting my butt to do something for her that she “expects”–like driving her 25 minutes each way to swim practice everyday. Then, I get really mad because it is taking up my valuable time after a long day of work, keeping me from being able to prepare dinner for my family and then getting repaid with an argument or complaint that I am making her late. It is double jeopardy! She is an almost all A student in college prep and swims 2-3 hours a day–I should be grateful but I am resentful. I also pay a sitter to drive her to and from school because the bus leaves in the dark in the a.m. The drive home part I have no justification for whatsoever–just don’t want to hear her complain. If she were pleasant during these trips–I could at least justify them as time to stay connected. She gets her license to drive soon and expects a carr– this is not going to happen on principle because she is spoiled but part of me wants to give in so I can be free of this whole situation!

    Reply

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