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?


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

    To ‘AB’: Having a child who seems to be negative all the time is certainly challenging, especially since most parents just want to see their child happy and feeling good about themselves. When your daughter complains or makes negative comments, try not to give her too much power. If it’s a real problem, you can talk through it. Otherwise, you can try to re-frame the situation in a positive light or ignore the comment altogether. Since her behavior is affecting her social life, it might be important to offer her some coaching and training around social skills. See if there is a certain child she would like to have over for a play date and teach her how to go about inviting this child. Before the child comes over, set a goal for your daughter to work on while the friend is there and talk about a plan for how she can achieve the goal. If she is struggling in the middle (you can hang out nearby to sort of monitor how it is going) you can pull her aside and talk quietly about the plan again. Try to focus on just the key issues and not emphasize all the things she is struggling with. You can also do your best to point out what she does well. Here is an article that provides more suggestions for helping kids who are struggling socially: When Your Child Says, “I Don’t Fit In.” We wish you and your family luck as you continue to work through this. Take care.

  2. claz Report

    My 16yr old Son’s therapist (1st appt)just suggested that his negativity may be depression! Most of us have a picture of what depression looks like but in some people it can show in other ways. My son is on the go all the time,never slows down, adhd ruled out now that he is older, and he never seems to be in a down mood but he is a very negative person! To him everything sucks!

    • Shelly Report

      I’m going through this right now with my child. Have been for a long time but it keeps getting worse (even though I think it can’t get much worse, it seems to daily!). I know this comment is from 2011, so that makes me wonder even more how things are going now with your son or if you found anything to help. Please let me know if you can. Thank you!

  3. AB Report

    I found this site while searching for ways to handle my pessimistic child.

    My daughter is nearly 9, the 4th of 5 kids. She is extremely smart (and thus bored with school and tends to go to extremes–being very helpful in class and a teacher’s joy, to talking back and disruptive.) She’s pretty, athletic, intelligent, and reading far, far above her grade level.

    She has been a pessimist since birth, the “glass-half-empty” type of personality. I’m an optimist. My other kids are all more optimistic than M, within a range. M is also literal–as a young child, she wanted realistic stories and didn’t “get” stories where animals talked or stories with magic rocks–because animals don’t talk and rocks are not magic.

    It has gotten worse, and part of that is 1) we have a large, busy family and she’s not getting the attention she needs even though I work from home and make a point to spend individual time with each kid, particularly the younger three; and 2) she’s having friend issues at school.

    She has no close friends. I know why — she’s bossy and demanding and likes things her way and sometimes doesn’t know when to stop with “jokes” which are to get attention. As my oldest daughter, 17, says, “M wants to make everything always about her.” She’s also a tattle tale to the extreme no matter what I do to stem it (even ignore anything that isn’t life-threatening, “L is climbing on the roof!” issues.)

    I’m hoping she grows out of it, but it’s gotten to the point where she tells me every night that she hates school, hates her teacher, has no friends, everyone is mean to her, yada yada. I’ve talked to her teacher and soccer coach, and we communicate a lot about trying to make her life a bit easier. She’s a joy much of the time, but lately has become meaner to her brothers (7 and 10) as she perceives especially that the youngest gets more attention. (He’s the opposite of M. He sees the positive in everything, is always happy, and “goes with the flow”)

    I’ve tried talking to her at night about how her attitude might be turning friends away, and to maybe bite her tongue when someone else wants to decide which game to play, or whatever the situation is. But then she moves to something else bad that happened. She has been this way her entire life–if she had a great weekend with her grandma, she’ll ONLY mention the one bad thing that happened to her. I feared this was her way of getting attention from me so I’d spend more time with her and I don’t want to reward negative behavior, but I don’t want to ignore real issues we need to address. I’ve even considered letting her skip a grade fearing her boredom is contributing to the problem–academically she could handle it, and she’s already taller than most kids in her grade–but socially I don’t think she could handle it.

    Any advice would be appreciated.

  4. Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor Report

    To ‘mom of six’: It sounds like your daughter’s negativity and complaining really push your buttons! Many parents are right there with you—it’s so aggravating and infuriating when you want your child to be happy and nothing seems to do the trick. As James Lehman says in the Total Transformation program, “My special advice to parents, don’t hold your breath. Don’t hold your breath till these kids say thank you or recognize your efforts. The part of self that appreciates others just isn’t developed in those kids yet. Don’t expect immediate compliance, appreciation, insight, acknowledgment or credit in response to your parenting efforts.” That said, it’s important to separate your happiness as a parent from your daughter’s happiness. You can’t control how she perceives things (in an optimistic way or pessimistic one) and you can’t control how she feels either. We recommend that you focus on what you can control in this situation which is how you respond. It would be best not to pay any attention to this behavior by going into lengthy discussions to defend yourself or try to convince your daughter to think or feel differently. Instead, we recommend ignoring her negativity and even walking away at times when you feel yourself getting upset by it. Remember to take care of yourself when you’re feeling upset or stressed about the situation. Here is an article with some more helpful suggestions for you: Calm Parenting: Stop Letting Your Child’s Behavior Make You Crazy. We wish you luck as you continue to work through this. Take care.

  5. mom of six Report

    Like a lot of these stories I can totally relate. I have 6 kids ages 19 down to 9. 3 boys then 3 girls. My problem at the moment is mostly with my 10 year old (almost 11)daughter. She can be very sweet and is extremely smart but over the last couple of years especially the last fews months she has become increasingly negative and it is exhausting. One moment she is fine and the next she is freaking out over you name it. She goes into these tyrates about how we will never do this or she is never going to get that. Or how nothing is going to work. And then if we react at all it usually leads to you hate me or I am the worst kid in the or I might as well go in my room and die. Of we are telling this isn’t true. But nothing we say when she gets like this seems to help if we ignore it she usually gets worse she is very stubborn and will try for a very long time to do things to get our attention. At first I just thought this was part of being the middle child and the idea of negative attention is better than no attention thing but at time goes on it seems to be more than this. She seems to worry about so many things that she really shouldn’t like for instance she wants to do ballroom dance in school next year and she will come in all happy and say to so mom do you think I can do ballroom next year and I say yes I don’t see want not if you want to. And then she will say I bet something will happen and I won’t get to. And I try to reassure her that she can plan on it and we will do what we need to make sure it will happen. And she won’t believe me and go on and on. Or if she needs something for school next week and lets us know and I say ok we will get that if I can’t go then and take care of it she start on how I am going to forget and she is going to fail and something is going to happen and I won’t get it etc. Ok you are probably thinking that we must let her down a lot and she has learned to not trust what we say but this isn’t true. If she needs something for school we always get it yes with six kids schedules sometimes it is the night before but we always have gotten it. If she wanted to do choir or dance or go somewhere and we said she could do it we always made sure we lived up to it. Sorry for going on and on but this is just a piece to give you and idea of what goes on with her. It is so tiring on my husband and I and the other kids. They all have there moments including my oldest son having aspergers and ADHD and my youngest daughter also being on the autistic spectrum but when she goes into these fits it is way more exhausting than what we deal with with them. It just really upsets everyone and her siblings sometimes get really mad and say really mean things to her and of course that just makes it worse but I understand why they get pushed to it. Anyways I am so tired and not sure how to fix this with her when she just can’t seem to be pleased. Oh I left out the part where she will seem to all of a sudden give up and either move on and just start doing something else or will actually come in the room and say I’m sorry mom and give a hug. Or sometimes I have to leave in the middle of it and go pick up my husband or another child and when I walk in the door 10-15 minutes later its as if it never happened and she is just playing. My husband gets really mad when she does this most of the time and has little to no patience and will start arguing with her. Until I finally convince him to leave the room. I try to talk to her calmly to her but am not always good at that either she just seems to keep it up till she can get us upset. I hate feeling like we are always upset at her and don’t want her to think we are but it’s really hard. Anyways any advice or insight on how we can help her would be great.

  6. Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor Report

    Hi ‘Smow’: It can be so frustrating to be around someone who is always negative, especially when it’s your child and it seems like you can do nothing to please her. One of the best things you can do is make the decision not to give this negative attitude and complaining any power. Keep your reaction to it very minimal and businesslike. This will help to show your younger child that there is nothing to gain from this kind of behavior. It’s also important to do your best to be a model of positivity and optimism if that is what you want to see from your children. As you mentioned in your post, telling your daughter to do her best and walking away when you’re feeling overwhelmed with her behavior is something we encourage. James Lehman’s article Moody Kids: How to Respond to Pouting, Whining and Sulking has some great suggestions that apply to general negativity and complaining, including the concept of establishing a “complaint time.” It’s definitely worth checking out. We wish you luck as you continue to work through this. Take care.

  7. Smow Report

    Hard not cry & laugh a little after some great story sharing. I too have a very difficult, negative almost 10 year old daughter. All I can say to people that I trust and can confide in is, “when she’s GREAT, she’s really GREAT and when she’s NOT she’s really NOT”. I hate to admit that it’s mainly the later and she spews negativity all over and it’s exhausting. It’s nice to see that others have the same struggles and know that the parents of other children who say “oh they’re all like that sometimes” really have no clue what it’s like to live with such negative energy on a daily basis. We want our kids to be happy and somehow nothing seems good in their world. What to do, will she grow out of it or will she be worse in her teens? I worry, I cry. She has a ragging fit and then bounces back like nothing has ever happened? I don’t get it, we’re left feeling confused and emotional over it and she’s like a different person. Tomorrow I’ll do it all again, she’ll just find something else to complain about and want to have a circle conversation that goes nowhere. I have learned now at her age that I can stop talking to her and say “this conversation is over” but I’m definately going to try the “you need to do your best with this”. If anyone else can comment about their own negative children I am curious to know;
    1. Is your child very bright or extremely intelligent?
    2. If anyone’s child was colicky as a baby?

    Just wondering and also how do we stop the negative behaviour from affecting the younger sibling? My kids are 2 totally different people and I see my younger son picking up some of her NEGATIVE habits and it’s really not him, just learned behaviour.
    Thanks for sharing, Smow

  8. ehm Report

    Wow. Thank you for this site. Such a resource and a support. I have battled with these issues with my 10 year old for 10 years and at times reach for help like this. I have always found people basically saying it is all quite normal and this is how I am feeling now as I read these after needing a little support tonight. I have great people in my life to help and I’ll share a story from a time when my son was five. We were walking hand in hand when he looked at this bird and said “sometimes I want to tie up a bird with a string and hit it until it’s insides come out”. I can’t even remember what I said exactly, but I remained calm with something to the effect of “wow, that is kind of an intense thing to say, hm… what do you think?” and we sort of let it pass. Then I went home and (immediately) called my sister in law (a great supporter of mine) and she said “wow, well, remember those great books with the plastic pages that showed the veins, bones, nervous system etc.. of the bird/person on each page? He might just be interested in seeing what the inside of a bird looks like….and perhaps he was thinking about a pinyata and it all got mixed in his little head” (great answer huh!) BUT she then said “if he EVER sticks, even a tiny pin in the neighbors dog, call me back” (meaning of course that actions are waaay different than drama talk). So, anyway, I have lots of doozy stories, but in my heart I feel (and have been told a number of times) that it is normal and healthy to complain about school, chores, friends who have more toys, TV time, allowance, name the thing, etc..(of which I still get on a daily basis) and it is ME who has to do the work of staying positive, ignoring the negative, highlighting his times being helpful and positive, setting clear and reenforced limits, privileges, expectations, etc..and accepting that some kids are just not as easy to raise than others. I am soooo with all of you and love the support of friends raising a challenging child. I just have to roll my eyes a bit when a hear people say “oh they ALL have their moments” Ha! Not from my experience talking to other parents and counselors, and it’s ok to admit it (in quiet circles of co parents such as this). We all come out differently and that’s just it. I’m sure the strong will my son exhibits will serve him well in the future, as he certainly knows how to ask for what he needs 😉 I just have to stay at peace parenting to it. Best to you all!

  9. Singit Report

    My 13 year old has always had bouts of spiraling negativity. It is exactly like his father’s…. one bad thought leads to another. This hideous quality is traceable to his mother. My other son (the brightest, most positive person I’ve ever known) and I suffer just like stated in the article. I have eliminated all other people in my life who choose to be so negative but that can’t be done with family! I honestly feel it is a total lack of self discipline and an active choice. A child must be taught to behave differently; an adult is just reinforcing old bad habits. Lately, I stumbled onto something: My son was spiraling out of control about how stupid a school assignment was, what a waste of time, and by the way, no one cares about him because he is worthless…bla bla bla…. (he is very bright and none of his schoolwork is beyond him but he makes a huge drama of resisting) and I really wanted to throttle him (for the millionth time.) Instead, and I have no idea where this came from, I looked him in the eye, held his hand and said something like, “This is just a really hard time for you, going through puberty and all. I am so sorry. It’s hard now and it’s going to get harder. I wish I could do it for you but all I can do is love you more every day.” And I hugged and kissed him. He grumbled a few more choice phrases but then more or less snapped out of it about 100 times quicker than usual. (It can often take half a day! And yes, lack of sleep and hunger exacerbate) I have no idea if I’ll be able to repeat this but I guess I learned that he needs A LOT of attention and validation (like everyone, only magnified) and that I have to bypass my own feelings first to acknowledge his so he can feel heard and understood. I pray I have found a track to pursue and welcome any advice on complementing this idea.

  10. Dr. Joan Report

    Traci: Taking the next step to seeing a specialist is scary and can be costly (trust me, I know). But I recommend asking your pediatrician for a list of therapists who specialize in kids and who may have a sliding fee scale. This will enable you to see someone who won’t charge you the full price of a therapy session. Your son sounds like he is really struggling in life — as his parents, you can help him change his behavior into something better and more manageable, but you likely will not be able to do this without outside intervention. He’s still young enough that his future can be changed IF he gets help now. The very last thing you want is to have an angry, surly, depressed teenager on your hands. Intervene now and your family has a really strong chance of helping your son adjust and change into the happy, healthy boy he is meant to be.

  11. traci Report

    OMG! I didn’t know how many other houses had this happening in them! I have 2 kids, a girl that’s 11 and a boy that’ll be 10 in a week. My daughter came out smiling and was a truly joyous baby and, although a preteen, she still usually has a sunny disposition. I thought how easy this was! I can do this again any time! ‘Why do so many new moms NEVER want any more children?’ I would think to myself. Then, 22 months later, I had my son. He was just as Dr. Joan mentioned. He was born, pi$$ed at the world (He literally came out spraying the room! lol)
    He was and is still sometimes an absolute joy! He’s wicked smart, but doesn’t know it. He’s tall, thin, blond haired, blue eyed, AND athletic! I know, you’d think he had it made!Oh yeah, he’s also hilarious! But there are so many “dark” moments in each and every day that it scares me. He wants to hurt certain people, hates his teacher, hates me, hates his dad, hates what’s for dinner, hates going to the store, hates staying home, NEVER has anything to eat, can’t do his school work, can’t do his homework, hates taking care of the pets … and the list goes on and on. The fact that he wants to hurt some people REALLY worries me. I have discussed some of this with our pediatrician, but she told me to take him to a specialist. I haven’t because I don’t feel like we can afford it. I guess that’s my next step. But, as I sit here typing and wiping my tears away, I feel like maybe there’s hope for our family. I’m glad I found this site!
    It’s funny, I didn’t log on here to tell you my story, it just happened. The reason I posted was to ask the others that have posted before me if your situation has improved since you posted? Can you update and let us know what you’ve done that worked? Thanks for listening to me ramble . . . ..

  12. Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor Report

    To ‘Mum Of Two’: Being a parent can certainly be very tough and very frustrating. I don’t think you sound strict at all. The limits you are setting (“Stop complaining about your sister or go your room” and “No play time until you practice your writing” for example) sound completely appropriate. In fact, the Limit-Setter is one of James Lehman’s 3 effective parenting roles—it is necessary for parents to set limits with their children to keep them safe and to hold them accountable for doing what is asked, among other reasons. Your son is still learning to accept these limits and to cope when things don’t always go his way. His complaints are not personal and they do not mean you are a bad parent. After all, it is not a parent’s job to make sure their child is happy all the time. Kids need to experience discontent and other difficult emotions in order to develop the skills to cope with them. When your son complains, don’t give it a lot of power. Just offer him some other options and let him choose. Above all else, take care of yourself when you are feeling frustrated. As far as your second comment about the nervousness: it makes sense if your son’s motor skills are a bit underdeveloped that he would be nervous about the activities that you describe. We recommend discussing these concerns with his doctor, especially since the teachers are concerned. Any time you think your child’s behavior is not developmentally appropriate, your doctor can assess the situation and help you gain a better understanding of the behavior. I am including a couple articles about James’ effective parenting roles for more information and ideas about how to help your child develop better skills to cope with his discontent. We wish you luck as you continue on this journey we call parenting. Take care.
    Why Consequences Aren’t Enough, Part 1: How to Coach Your Child to Better Behavior
    Why Consequences Aren’t Enough, Part 2 Making Child Behavior Changes That Last”

  13. May Report

    I’m lucky in that I didn’t have kids who were negative. However, I am an elementary school teacher which is why I bought the TTP. I was so intrigued by it. After reading what a lot of parents of complaining children said,
    this is what I would suggest. The first thing would be to have your child start identifying his/her statements as to negative or positive. This needs to be done in a very matter of fact way. Put up a chart and your child or you can write the statement below the negative or positive or neutral. You might want to write your own statements too. Normally I wouldn’t want to emphasize the negative statements by writing them down, but at first it’s important for your child to realize what exactly are the words that are negative. Do this for a week just to tally the number of statements and to give your child enough practice in classifying statements. Next, play a game to see how the statements could be turned into positive ones or at least neutral statements by identifying the words that make it negative. Let your child highlight those words and then try re-reading the sentence without those words or with another word. ie Instead of “I hate going to school,” it could be “I dislike going to school” Almost the same sentiment but it leaves the listener with a different feeling. Also, your child could add, “Today I dislike going to school because …..” This actually helps him/her defend the statement (and is good preparation for school essays). As a parent, you could model this behavior by improving your own statements also. If you model enough, eventually your child will say, “Mom (or dad) you should say that this way.” Then you know you’ve had an impact. Other ideas, make a graph of how many + and – statements are uttered each day. When the + statements win, everyone celebrates. Remember to be matter of fact and to even have fun if you can. That takes the stigma and the pressure off your child. You’re fact finding, seeing how to alter statements, and comparing. These are all important skills. If you have a very resistant child, then start the whole process with just yourself. You can also ID + or – statements from dialogue you hear on TV. RE: the mom who used the complaint cards. This reminded me of a fellow teacher who used the quarters in the baby jar strategy. Her daughter always had to have the last word which was very annoying to the mom. She filled a baby jar with quarters for the week and told her daughter that at the end of the week, she could have the jar but every time she insisted on having the last word, a quarter was removed. It didn’t take but 2 days for her daughter to change her sassy habit.

  14. Mum Of Two Report

    Sorry forgot to write something, my son’s two biggest behavior points are, he doesn’t trust anyone. I mean really not even us. When we would take him in the pool, he would not let go of our hand even though we held on to him and this continues in everything new he does. He will not accept new things easily without being too nervous. Yes that’s the other thing he gets scared of things very easily. He will say things like no he won’t climb there because he will fall, he will not go in the basement because it’s dark, he won’t jump with two feet because he will fall. He learned to jump with 2 feet together just this year, you can only imagine how much practice I had to do with him for this. His teachers at school think he needs to improve on his motor skills, his handwriting is like chickens running on a paper 🙂 but is getting readable after one month of writing one page each day, but only after me repeating my strict mum performance and telling him that he doesn’t get playing with friends time if he doesn’t write. This is one role I could do without. He thinks I am mean, how do I tell him, if I don’t do this he will not even do anything. I am truly at my wits end. I hope there truly is light at the end of my tunnel. We were thinking of having a 3rd baby but this boy makes me think twice. I certainly don’t want my daughter to start middle child syndrome thing on top of all this, if at all it’s true. I wouldn’t know as I am an only child.

    • Elisabeth Wilkins Report

      Dear Mum of Two,

      I can appreciate how frustrated you are, having a child who is negative and seems pre-disposed to making life miserable for everyone around him. I recommend trying to pull out of some of the power struggles you seem to be getting into. As a psychologist, and more importantly as the mother of 3 (two of whom are boys, one of whom can be very negative), I am going to clarify for you what I see as perfectly normal little boy behaviors: acting like an adult and being bossy to one’s little sibling, listening for 15 minutes, then complaining again, not liking one’s dinner, acting sweet around others but being a pill at home (that one kills me!), not wanting to do homework, not trusting new situations, being scared of things, having bad handwriting (my 12 and 14 year old boys’ handwriting is barely legible. So is my husband’s). All the behaviors I just listed are 100% age appropriate for your son. Also, your son has many positive attributes, namely that he has numerous friends at school, plays well with others and loves to play in general. Having pointed all that out however is not to say it’s easy being the mom of such a child!

      When I say you need to pull yourself out of these arguments, I mean you have to do it today. When your son says he wants to go swimming then changes his mind 15 minutes into it, you say, “Gee, I’m sorry about that. We’re here for one more hour. Feel free to swim or you may sit on the chair and read the books we brought with us”. End of discussion. When your son says, “I hate what’s for dinner!” you say, “Gee, I’m sorry. This is what we’re eating tonight. Do your best.” Then you change the subject. My point here is that you need to develop a “catch phrase” that you use each and every time he complains, then DROP IT. Our catch phrase for my complainer is “Well honey, just do your best”. Does he complain, whine, get angry at us? Of course! And we ignore it. If it gets to be too much we say: “I’m sorry, you can’t continue on this way. Feel free to whine in the other room”.

      You are allowing yourself to be drawn into a continual argument with a 6 year old. You are the adult here. It’s time for you to draw the line and acknowledge to yourself that you will not control his behavior. That’s his job. It sounds as if his temperament is just different from the rest of the family. This is an enormous challenge that I understand well. Your job is to give him the tools to figure out things on his own. James Lehman’s program, “The Complete Guide to Consequences” would be a great resource for you and your husband to help you help your son.

      Continue to be in touch with your pediatrician about his behavior, but remember that your child may simply be experiencing a difficult time in his development or he may always have a negative streak as part of his temperament. As a mother of a child with ADHD I often see parents with difficult kids attempting to place that label on their very difficult child. This is tempting because most of us just want an answer and a solution. However, your son sounds normal, albeit difficult.

      Now when your son is being sweet, you praise him mightily: “I’m so proud of how well you shared just now with your sister. Good job.” Or, “I like how you ate your entire dinner tonight without complaining”. Make a chart and whenever he behaves well, he gets a star. After so many stars (say 10 in a week) he gets something special. This could be alone time with you, a bike ride, a trip to the candy store, extra video time, etc. Children, especially negative ones, thrive on positive reinforcement. And one last thing: drop the handwriting lessons. They’ll irritate him. You’re doing a great job. Hang in there!

  15. Mum Of Two Report

    Wow, the last one is like my story all over. I am a mum of 6 year old boy and 2 year old girl. My son constantly complains about everything. Just to give you an example, I want to play outside, ok I say, then go and play outside. Two minutes later he is back, it’s too hot outside. Ok so let’s get in the pool and play. In 10 more minutes ( hardly a minute in the pool) it’s too cold in the pool. I mean, are you kidding me? What do you want me to do, change the weather? I have tried talking to him but he will listen then and in next 15 minutes will find something else to complain about. He acts like an adult to his sister when he is constantly telling her off or saying things like, she was nice when she was a baby and now she gets in to everything. That is not true, she sometimes will want what he has, but my son even complains when she is taking her own toys. He will say things like she is making too much noise, or that she should just sit quietly. I have to be strict with him all the time so if he doesn’t like his dinner, I say to him, ok don’t eat then and he will go to his room and bang the door. If he keeps on complaining about his sister, I will tell him either you stop or go to your room and the same response as before. He will go upstairs, cry loudly and bang the door. But on the other hand, once I said to him, what do you want me to do? Send your sister away? (I know I shouldn’t have said it but I was really frustrated) and he thought I was serious and made sure he was with her all the time and wouldn’t let her off his sight so I know he loves her. He can be really loving and caring but his negative attitude brings him down. He has a lazy eye problem (just like me) and we got him tested for ADHD but the Dr said it’s borderline which means even normal 6 year olds act this way. He is doing good in studies, has friends and loves playing with them too. But getting him to do anything (except for what he wants to do) is like banging your head against the wall. He does homework because I say, fine don’t do your homework and then there is no play date or TV time. I stick to this constantly so as not to confuse him in any way and my husband supports me but do I have to be this strict mum for next 10-12 years? Why doesn’t he understand that all his good qualities get overshadowed with his negative attitude. And outside with other people around he is a perfect child, like someone would doubt me if I told them he is the one with negative attitude. Growing up, I know I was egoistic child. I remember feeling really angry, frustrated when my mum once had a bath before me and I had told her I wanted to be the first to have a bath. I was 8-9 years old may be. I didn’t talk to my mum the whole day. So I had issues too but this one baffles me. He is not happy even if you are doing something he likes because it’s not perfect, I mean that’s life. Nothing is perfect. Sorry for the long one but wanted to let you know about my situation. Any suggestions please? I am truly frustrated…

  16. Dr. Joan Report

    Dear Mom of 3 boys:

    Every single thing you have written about is perfectly normal behavior for a 7-year-old boy. I know this not only from clinical work with boys in this age group as well as years of studying child development—but most importantly, from raising two boys myself! The main problem you are experiencing is that you have two other children who have completely different temperaments. Varying temperaments in a family is a tricky, tricky business. Most families with more than one child tend to have kids with different personalities, some with kids who are polar opposites. In my own family I have two boys who are so different, you’d swear they aren’t even from the same universe—let alone the same family. Your job is going to be to try to learn to get along with this negative, yet loving child.

    First, you and your husband are going to have to approach this as a team. I am sure he’s trying to be helpful, but saying that your son’s negativity is due to being coddled too much is completely false. There once was a theory that children would develop all sorts of negative behaviors if mothers (never fathers of course) showed them too much attention or love. This has been proven blatantly untrue over the years. Honestly, temperaments are based on many factors, but I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the negative behavior you are witnessing has more to do with your son inheriting his negative temperament. Bear in mind I am not blaming your husband, but I believe he now needs to be part of the solution for helping to change your son. I suggest the book, What to Do When You Grumble Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Negativity (What to Do Guides for Kids) by Dawn Huebner and Bonnie Matthews. You and your husband should read this together, then go over the ideas with your son. This book is a fantastic resource for helping kids (and their parents who are being driven crazy) to change their negative talk and thinking.

    Your husband is going to have to say, “Look, I can be negative sometimes, but this is a bad habit I am going to try to stop. Let’s work on this together.” Your husband will have to try to change his own behavior as much as he is capable and encourage your son to do the same. When the two of you catch your son doing something, anything, without complaining, say, “Thanks so much for clearing your plate without complaining. I really appreciate it.”

    Second, you need to stop thinking that your son’s behavior is somehow abnormal or that he is deliberately trying to anger you. The problem with kids who are inherently negative is that this way of communicating becomes a learned response and they have a hard time getting out of it. Complaining about homework, disliking dinner, bossing younger siblings, and laying one’s head down in frustration is all in a day’s work for just about every young boy I know. When your son complains, your new answer is going to be, “Do your best” and then stop talking about it with him. When he hates dinner, just say, “Do your best,” then redirect your attention to others at the table. When he complains about cleaning up, you say, “Do your best,” and then walk away from him. You are getting WAY too involved in his misery and he is draining all your energy. You need to begin to take less responsibility for his bad mood and put the onus of responsibility back on him. This isn’t easy. I have a negative child who really frustrates me sometimes, but I have learned through the years that when I ignore the drama his negative complaining ends pretty fast.

    Lastly, the book, Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking: Powerful, Practical Strategies to Build a Lifetime of Resilience, Flexibility, and Happiness by Tamar Ellsas Chansky may help you to better understand your son and to help him on his way to a more positive future. Good luck!

  17. my3boys Report

    Dr. Joan

    Where to begin??? My husband and I struggle every single day with our 7 year old son. He has a wonderful heart, and does well in school. He complains about EVERYTHING as well. He complains if he has more than 2 pages of homework even though he is done within 20 mins. He complains for a half hour and then does his work. SO all together maybe 40-45 now. (only because of the complaining) His teacher suggested to give him a list of things that we expected him to do everyday because he likes to be independent. He loves the idea at first and then says I hate that you gave me a list. He complains at dinner if it is something he doesn’t like. There are many times we had enough and sent him to his room without dinner only for him to come back AFTER I dumped his plate to say he would eat. He doesn’t really have friends. One that he has sleepovers with but I don’t know if that is me and his mom just setting up time for them or what. Don’t get me wrong he likes playing with the kids but alot of times he is doing his own thing and the others are actually playing.
    I forgot to mention that he has twin brothers that are 6. (10 1/2 months younger) YIKES!! i know!! (ha) He tries to be like a parent to them when the do something wrong but if he does that same thing he doesn’t see the problem. He thinks he is responsible enough to act like an adult.
    Cleaning up after himself is a nightmare. He lays down to do everything. His head is down to do homework, when he plays video games he is laying down, reading he is laying down, he would lay down to eat if we let him. I’m sure of it.
    His brothers are very easy going and I feel bad because I feel like when we get aggravated they get the backend of it.
    They are all good boys its just his complaining. My husband seems to think its because I coddled him too much as a baby. I think its just him. Mu hubby is a negative person as well. This may rub off on him. I just don’t know how to deal with it anymore. I cry and ignore and talk to him. He says he’s sorry and he’ll “do better”. It all goes back to normal with in 10 mins.
    He is involved in baseball and football and we do family things. Is it time to seek help or just try a different approach? Please help!!

    Mom of 3 boys

  18. nemvluv Report

    Dr Joan,
    I’ve been searching the web for 3 hrs and I just came across these amazing stories.

    My 10 year old daughter has always been very negative in her thinking, she is an incredible student,a great older sister, super imaginative and creative, oh and funny. BUT, with all that said…I always felt like I did something wrong in the way I parented her (why else would she be so negative?).So, it’s refreshing and empowering to read that I am not the only parent struggling with this. I’ve tried so hard for many years to change her way of thinking, to make her view things/events/the world around her more positively, but it’s only caused her to become anxious and nervous. I feel like I’ve failed her. It takes seven positives to undue one negative(my”helping” in her eyes came off as criticism), so at this point I’m struggling to keep my daughter and my relationship afloat.

    Thank you all for all of your amazing stories and positive outlooks on life.

  19. Dr. Joan Report

    Dear Fed Up,

    I am glad to know you are seeing your pediatrician to rule out any psychological problems such as depression or anxiety. I say this especially since that irritable, negative trait seems to run in your family (which can be a sign of depression or anxiety). Having said that, this may just be the temperament of your child (yes, these things can be passed along to our kids too. Lovely, isn’t it?). Your job is going to be to find ways to help your son be positive. A book I have just discovered and LOVE is “What to Do When You Grumble Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Negativity (What to Do Guides for Kids)” by
    Dawn Huebner. Read this book first on your own then review it with your child. It will help you help your son figure out how to overcome his negativity (at least to the best of his ability).

    A few other tips: Your son sounds passionate (like mine) so remember that when he is in his lowest of lows he also has the capacity for great love and compassion. When he is positive, tell him how nice he is acting and what a joy he is to you. When he is negative try your utmost (you may need to find a zipper for your mouth) to ignore him. Complaining in the car? Turn up the radio. Doesn’t like dinner? Talk to another child about a different subject. If he asks why you are ignoring him, feel free to say, “I love you too much to fight with you. When you are ready to be nice, we’ll chat”. Lastly, (this may be your biggest challenge!) try hard not to compare him to your mother-in-law. I am sure you don’t do this out loud, but our thoughts in our own minds can form how we feel about others. Your mother-in-law sounds like a pill, but if you keep comparing your son to her, he will always seem like a pill as well. Stop this line of thinking in your head and change it to something that works for you. Example: “He is a challenge, but capable of great love–I know it!”.

  20. fed up Report

    I have an 8 yr old son who I would swear is the child of my mother-in-law, not me. She is the most negative, bitter, mean person I know. He is negative and nothing is EVER good enough. The difference between them is that he has a HUGE heart when he chooses to use it, and I see a lot of good in him that tries to shine through and he is excellent with academics! He loves to read, role play, his imagination is amazing. I am just sick to death of the constant battle with him though. From getting him out of bed for school to going to bed at night. We fight/argue with this kid about every single task unless of course there is something he wants to do! I am so tired of the fight. I feel like all I do is yell at him because he just NEVER does what he is told. My kids are the typical “spoiled” kids but he also knows right from wrong and works for things he wants. He is a model student that doesnt discriminate against other kids at all….at least there is a glimpse of parenting success! How can one little boy be so darn negative and complain constantly. he will complain if the car ride for 20-30 minutes is toooo boring…I mean seriously…I have an appt with his pediatrician this Friday because it has just put me over the top. It is a bit refreshing to know that it just isn’t me, but I can’t help but wonder WHAT IS WRONG WITH MY CHILD, mentally, what is wrong? He acted this way when he was an only child and now the older brother of 2 siblings, nothing has changed. My 4 yr old daughter is starting to take on some of his worst traits!

  21. Lauren Report

    I won’t go into all my sons quirks and behaviors but I think the hardest part for me is to not over react to his negativity. Here is this adorable smart loving child who says he hates himself. I can’t stand hearing it. Though on the rare occasion I keep my cool we can usually work through it.
    It hurts, it’s frustrating and it makes me feel like a failure. He’s 8 and has a great life. I just don’t understand it.
    I could go on, but thanks for the experiences shared on this sights and it makes me wonder if ten years from now we will look back and see it as a minor phase.
    Let’s hope….

  22. Melissa Report

    This was a great article to come across. I often feel like I am the only parent who struggles with a negative child. He is 17 years old and does nothing but complain 24/7. His 2 favorite words are stupid and bored. It is getting to the point – where no one wants to be around.

  23. Dr. Joan Report

    A lot of you have asked if and when a child should require an evaluation by a mental health professional. This can be a very tricky issue for parents. At our house my negative, complaining child seemed to display his temperament at birth! When my husband and I watch videos of him as a baby, a toddler, a young child, and even now as an 11 year old he has many moments of crabbiness, screaming, crying, whining, irritability and anger. Many of you have read my blog about realizing this same child had ADD this past fall and our struggle with whether or not to try medication. For us, the medication has worked wonders not only for his attention, but his mood as well.

    I would like to point a few things out though: First, I am NOT suggesting that all crabby kids need to be medicated. For us, our child’s ADD and his high levels of irritability went hand in hand. Second, even though the medication has done wonders for his self-esteem and his ability to concentrate at school, it is not the panacea to his having a perfect mood. While his mood IS better, he is still crabby and strong-willed at times. He has the tendency to see the glass as half empty and does feel at times like no one at home understands him. He is exceedingly sensitive to any slight, real or perceived.

    If this is your child I would suggest asking yourself a few questions: Does your child’s mood greatly affect his self-esteem? Does he/she have friends? Do they isolate themselves at school or home? Do they have moments of bad moods or does it personify their entire life? If you are answering yes to these questions it may be time to talk to a mental health professional about ways to help our child. Sometimes chronic irritability and poor temperament are a sign of an underlying mood disorder such as depression or anxiety. There are many ways a therapist can help you help your child. Continue to watch your child as they grow and develop to determine if their mood has changed to the point of needing help. Good luck!

  24. pmw Report

    I have loved reading all these stories! It is so nice to know I am not crazy and my son (12) does not need to be medicated. Like many of you, my son is a wonderful, smart, and witty young man. He has a great sense of humor and everyone, teachers included, seems to love him. HOWEVER, at home, when no one is looking, his true colors come out. He often feels like someone is out to get him. He takes no responsibility for his actions and blames others, namely MOM, for things that happen to him. I often want to cry or look myself in my bedroom just to get away from him. He whines about everything- whether it’s dinner, homework, not getting his way- you name it. He also complains that no one likes him, his teachers are picking on him, he’s getting bullied by other kids at school- all of which are false. Summers are really hard, since I am a teacher, we are all home together. I catch myself sending him to Grandma’s or a friends house just to have a little peace. I worry that my 7 year old daughter will end up acting like him by virtue of osmosis!
    When do you know it is time to seek professional help? Will this get better as he gets older?

  25. ksf Report

    My child is only 5 and exhibits this type of behavior. All the other children mentioned seem to be older. Were they this way at such a young age? Is he too young to take to a doctor about this?

  26. Stormy Lynn Report

    Another great idea: Take or send your “complainers” to do something to help others. If possible, send them on a youth mission trip with your church. If you don’t have a church, get into one with a GOOD youth program. A mission trip is a real wakeup call for some kinds who don’t think anything is good enough. For one thing, they’ll see for themself what it looks like when you have next to nothing, and may realize that not looking for food in a trash dump is a good thing. They may also find it refreshing that the people they are helping on their mission trip are incredibly thankful for their presence and their help, and don’t care at all what they look like, how much acne they have, whether their haircut is cool or their clothes are stylish, etc. Being looked up to and being looked to for help are GREAT incentives to pull your mind out of that selfish mode and into a more generous and appreciative mode. If you can GO WITH THEM on a family mission trip, that’s the best… if not, send them on a youth mission trip… that may be even better if they complain the most when you are around to listen. If those things are not possible, contact your local “Habitat for Humanity” or homeless shelter about volunteering. Don’t preach to them, just take them with you and set an example for them. On the way home, make comments about how you are blessed to have your own home or for each child to have their own room or whatever. Don’t even relate it to them, just go DO GOOD THING WITH THEM IN TOW, and it really can help change their mindset!

  27. Stormy Lynn Report

    Dear JRP… do what I have done with my kids when they complain about something that they don’t think is “good enough”. Very calmly and quietly reach over and take his plate, and place it on the other side of the table, away from him. Tell him that he can either change his attitude to a pleasant one and move over to the other side of the table and eat, or he can be excused from the table and not eat.

  28. Dr. Joan Report

    Hi KJL,

    It sounds like your intentions regarding chores and responsibilities for your son are well-meaning, but I think a big misguided. It is always easier to allow your kids (especially the negative, complaining ones!) to not do anything because it is sooo much easier for us! I can totally identify with you, as I have a child who is similar. However, this situation will always backfire on us. All kids need boundaries and structure and this includes chores.

    The only advice I can give is to give your child consequences and choices, as in: “I understand that you don’t want to clean your room, but we all have jobs to do in this house. If you clean it in 20 minutes I will give you 15 minutes extra for (fill in the blank here: tv time, X-Box, staying up later, etc.). If you continue to complain and don’t get it done, no (fill in the blank here) for today.” You can also point out to him when he is being negative and, if you are willing, give him the chance to do the same for you. I often say to my 10 year old son, “You know, your attitude is really negative right now. What can we do to get you to be more positive?” This doesn’t always work, but at least you are pointing out to him when he is negative.

  29. ccf Report

    I am actually considering making my 3 kids 5 “complaint cards” each that they can spend during the week. Whenever they complain, they have to turn in a card. If they run out, then they have to keep their complaints to themselves. I hope it will make them think, “is this worth complaining about?” I had been listening to all of their complaints and trying to coach them on how to handle life’s stresses, but I think that the real problem is that they have bad habits, not that their lives are so bad.

  30. KJL Report

    I too have a 11 yr old boy that is negative. I tend to be is a trait I did not wish to pass on. He is only happy when things are going his way. Between us and grandparents he gets nearly everything he wants, but yet its not enough. He really doesn’t have chores to speak of. Growing up I was a little maid & a mom. So I tend to want him to be a kid as long as possible. Now I am wondering if maybe I was wrong? Maybe if he didn’t get most of what he wants and he had to do all the things I did growing up hw would appreciate things more? I love him and he can be so sweet and funny but at the same time I don’t know how I will survive his attitude.

  31. Racket Report

    I have an almost 16yr boy who has been a constant complainer with a very negative attitude since, forever! Everything everyone before me has said, is right on with my lad. I have had him assessed, medicated, unmedicated, assessed again, tested for blood sugar etc etc….some of it came back with results that didn’t surprise me (ADHD/ODD & other learning disabilities), the one result did surprise me Type 2 diabetes which he got medicated for but somehow he “outgrew” that so he is not currently medicated. His negativity is in almost every minute of everyday…”it’s not gonna happen, it’ll be no anyway, I’m bored (but won’t do anything he’s asked/recommended to do), the computer is crap, people talk too much when I’m on the computer, the xbox isn’t working right, there’s nothing to eat, I hate wakin so early to catch a stupid bus to go to a stupid school where all the teachers a sh** and the students are dumb” etc etc….I have moved this boy twice in the past 3yrs in hopes that a fresh start would help, it doesn’t! His current school is trying “way much” harder than previous schools to accommodate his “special needs”, but of course this bothers the boy as he feels he’s being centered out and he hates havin an EA following him around all the time…….well, I’m babbling here; my point is that there seems to be a lot of these people in the world…our children included…as I’ve tried pointing it out, reverse psychology, and so on and none of it seems to work; my way of dealing with it is: I try to look at the positive things in my life, such as my other two children who are still quite young and need their mamma to be ‘there’.

    I take one day at a time, one moment at a time, one breath at a time (and cross my fingers I won’t hear anything negative outta his mouth for at least a minute….crossing your fingers is really over-rated…oops, was that negative!?)!

  32. Tiaotto Report

    Dr. Joan,
    Thank you for your insight..we have a 12 year old who
    is awonderful loving child, has a good heart, but is
    also getting into that “I know it all” pre teen phase. He’s becoming increasingly negative and agumentative about nearly everything. No matter what we do, he corrects us or argues his point.He is starting to talk
    down to us and his 9 year old sister especially. It’s difficult and hurts to see our child turning into this
    type of teen.
    Your advice on talking about how his actions and words make him look will be invaluable. He is fairly social, likes girls already and is quite the athelete, so he seems to “care” what others think…that should be a plus in dealing with the negativity and arguing.
    I will try “man in the mirror” approach vs correcting him all the time.
    Thank you again!!

  33. KHawk Report

    Dr. Joan,

    Thank you so much for this article. I have struggled with the exact same attitude in my 8 year old. He is a wonderful child and does very well in school. He seems to always have a glass is half empty attitude and although I like to think of myself as a very positive person I too see myself in him. I have never wanted to scold him for this attitude fearing it will only make it worse. I have searched and searched for ideas on how to help him with this negativity and it is so good to hear that my child is not the only one like this. I am excited to sit down and talk with him to make sure he understands what the difference in between positive and negative attitudes.

    Thank you for your suggestions and thoughts,


  34. Dave Report

    TM your situation sounds nearly the exact same as mine. My ten year old son is so negative I feel guilty about enjoying those times when he’s at a friends. My four year old son is also the complete opposite and is such a joy he puts smiles on everyone’s faces at home and wherever he is. Because of my ten year old’s negativity we fear that our youngest will become negative as well.

    My wife and I are at our wits end though. We just had our son assessed by a psychologist due to problems he’s having in school and he was diagnosed as being gifted with a learning disability. He has such a hard time at school socially and academically. This year he got a particularly negative teacher that has rejected him. He refuses to work in groups and he gets picked on and bullied frequently; it’s to the point where he refuses to go. Everything just seems to be in a tailspin. My wife wants to home school him to help him but I’m terrified this will be even more destructive to our home environment.

    He has one friend (and doesn’t care to have any more) and I am constantly surprised that even he puts up with my son. We’ve decided to move to a nearby town (moving in a month) so that my son can be closer to his one friend and escape some of the problems he/we have been having with this particular school. I know this won’t be a magic bullet but we hope that if we can reduce the amount of negative things happening at school hopefully it’ll be easier for him to at least be a neutral person. I really hope he can overcome his negativity in order to be a successful person as an adult.

  35. tm Report

    I also have an extremely negative 15 year old. It is severely draining on our entire family. No meal is ever good, nothing we do is ever right, he has no friends, hates school, hates teachers, hates home, hates life…just hates everything and when he gets like this, says he just wants to die. My husband and I don’t handle this very well and it is very difficult for our 13 year old who is 100% opposite, loves life, does extremely well in school, has tons of friends and is just a joy to be around. I have taken him to a psychologist and asked for him to be admitted and they wouldn’t! My son even wanted to be admitted! I feel terrible because it is so peaceful when he is not home. The whole atmosphere is better and knowing this makes me feel very guilty. I have tried so hard to help him but he is unhelpable when he gets like this. It is so good to know that there are others out there who feel like this and I am not alone.

  36. Jan in AZ Report

    The old reverse psychology works at our house! Years ago, my husband and I read something about how some people are just hard-wired that way. My husband had a co-worker who was a perfect example–nothing anyone suggested was going to work. One day husband just said “You know, you’re right. It probably won’t work.” This guy immediately changed his tune, and started to explain why it could work after all. It was priceless!

    We do the same thing with our son. “You know, I think there might be something wrong with this recipe after all. Did I season it wrong? What do you think it needs? Is there too much garlic?” I actually get him to TASTE the food and THINK about it before making hasty decisions about how “gross” it is!! I have to be a little sneakier about things like homework or chores that are “too hard” or just the general “suckiness” of life! If I word it just right “Well, let’s see how far you are able to go with this” he often tries to prove me wrong in my thinking he can’t do it all!! “Well son, you sure showed me, didn’t you? Good for you!” And we BOTH walk away thinking “score!”

  37. brooke Report

    Thank you for your comments Dr. Joan. I always appreciate your honesty and ability to share your personal experiences so candidly.

    While you can’t take responsibilty for fixing others emotions, I always think a healthy dose of humor is a good counter for negativism. My husband can be very negative and “glass is half full.” The only thing that works is getting him to laugh at himself or not getting involved and letting him work it out, which it sounds like you are doing. For many years, I tried to sympathize and frankly that just made it worse because suddenly you put yourself in the situation of solving the problem, which you can’t do.

  38. Lilliane Report

    I am applying the Law of Attraction concept: What we focus on is what we bring into our lives. So, I remove myself from the negative…shift…redirect…or completely avoid. I tell people if you want my attention I need you to (whatever that may be in the moment). And of coarse, I tell them in a time when they can hear me. I also try to find something positive in every situation…even the negative. This has helped me tremendously. Hope it helps.

  39. drjoan Report

    Hi gnr:

    I can appreciate what you are going through with your 18 year old and am wondering if maybe you need to take the next step and have him assessed for depression. It’s one thing to go through adolescence and suffer the typical depressed mood, self-conscious behavior. But for him to continue with low self-esteem and moodiness through the age of 18 makes me wonder if it has changed into something a little more serious. Have you considered taking him to your primary care physician or a psychologist? I don’t think it can do any harm to have him assessed and if it is in fact depression that he is suffering from there are many helpful options out there for him.

    If he is not struggling with a depressive mood disorder, perhaps he needs a different outlet to express himself. I don’t know what his interests are, but sometimes kids this age need to find their right niche, whether it be music, art, a club at school, a volunteer job, or a regular job to help with his socialization and to keep him busy. It sounds like you are heading in the right direction and I wish you luck!

    Dr. Joan

  40. JRP Report

    During this recession it has been a struggle for my family. Dinnertime has been an enormous effort on my part; to actually have the food to prepare, and/or, to make the best of what we have. I have a 21 year old step son at home that always gives his approval or disapproval of what is put in front of him. He contributes very little at our house; his chores are very few. My husband is desperately trying to keep his business going and I am trying to hold it all together. So, when my step-son complains about the food, or whatever, all I can think of is how spoiled he is. I tell him he needs to appreciate what we DO HAVE rather than what he doesn’t. It’s one thing if someone has a problem with depression, and they just can’t get from under a dark cloud, but it’s another if a child just complains to complain, it’s just spoiled behavior. Kids today don’t seem to appreciate much and need to be reminded of all they have to be grateful for.

  41. gnr Report

    I have a son who is 18 now and is definitely negative. He used to be a sweet little boy but when he turned about
    12 he became like an alien to me. Everything is “dumb” or
    or “stupid”. He also gets depressed. He has acne which
    he’s seen a dermatologist for but we still haven’t found
    something to alleviate it. He doesn’t feel good about
    himself so I think that has a huge impact on his demeanor.
    He went to a counselor for awhile but stopped going
    because he didn’t think it was helping or doing anything
    and he thought, once again, it was “dumb”. I worry
    about him every single day and don’t know where to go from
    here. He’s never had a girlfriend and I think he’s afraid
    to ask anyone out because of his feelings about himself..
    I just want him to be happy and confident!

  42. MissD Report

    I also have a 12 year old who tends to be negative, and negativity is contagious, AND INHERITED! My husband is a “glass-half-empty” person and a “people are generally untrustworthy” person. A lot of this comes from my husbands Mother. Every time she comes over I could feel my insides shrinking with every word that came out of her mouth. I had to be the “bad person” and ban her from our house…for my and my children’s sake. Since banning her, I have seen a significant change in my children, and myself. Each day brings more progress. Since banning her from our house, she has gone into therapy, hopefully with time, she will come to peace with her anger and negativity, and at that time she can resume a relationship with her grandchildren.

  43. DeAnn Report

    This has been a great article and responses. Most people have no idea how wearing and contagious it can be to be around negativity 24/7. My son is now 17 and he has always suffered from what I call “little-old-man syndrome.” Flexibility, change, new things, adventures are simply not easy for him…imagine what it was like when he was diagnosed with celiac diseae 11 years ago and he could no longer eat wheat, rye, barley or oats? He still struggles with this, especially when he can’t eat pizza with his peers, or had adults asking if he needed food on a recent band trip…he hates standing out.

    Like Dr. Joan, I had to admit that much of what I was seeing in my child, were glimplses of my own personality foibles and none of us wants to see those negative attributes rubbed in our face. A healthy daily dose of humble pie to be sure.

    In addition to his negativity he also holds an uncanny ability to drop us to our knees with laughter. Tonight, he started complaining about having to take the dogs for a walk, my husband quietly said to me that perhaps there was no need to borrow a friend’s car tomorrow so that our son could use one of our cars. This same child that can’t hear me hollar his name upstairs suddenly was all curious about what was said. When my husband repeated himself, our son quietly said, “That was well-played,” as he went to ready the dogs to walk. His timing was impeccable and we were both treated to a great laugh!

    Thank you everyone for sharing and making me feel like I am not alone 🙂

  44. drjoan Report

    Hi djda,

    It’s funny because I definitely have low blood sugar and I always get crabby when I am tired or hungry. I assume that my son, who is so much like me, is the same. It’s a good point for all of us to recognize that food and sleep (or lack thereof) can dramatically alter our moods. Unfortunately, even though I am a healthy eater and am serious about cooking and feeding my family 3 square meals a day, I can’t blame all of my child’s negative behavior on food and sleep (although I wish I could!) Some of it is just temperament, some is just that it has become a bad habit and some of his negative behavior is still a mystery to me!

  45. djda Report

    I noticed you said you and your son get negative at mealtimes and when tired. Have you ever considered checking blood sugar? My son and I both tend to be negative and grumpy when our sugar is low. Eating balanced meals and snacks in between helps.

  46. Marsha Report

    Wow! Thanks “Next Best Step” for sharing your story. It is so inspirational and such beautiful advise. I have printed your comment and posted it in my home office so that I am reminded of how I can be positive in the midst of my negative child. It’s like the trickle down effect. Your words have inspired me and maybe I can inspire my child!

  47. best step, is next best step Report

    I am 62 and female the oldest of 6 children. I was raised by a Dad who drank until I was 17 and a Mom who raged in anger. While they had these challanges to face they provided us with good food, clothing and shelter and sent us to private Catholic school 2nd grade to 12th grade. My Mom was and remains the most negative person I know. She made judgements quickly such as, if you lied you would always be a liar. Now her chant is I wish I were dead, I am in pain. Some how the faith I learned, helped me to see hope and I always heard above the negative words, the words that healed and held me above the depressing words. I always had an inner knowing if there was a problem, there was a solution. I also heard words that replaced the negative ones. I later read a book called “What to say when you talk to Yourself” by Chad Helmstedder, I believe. He assesed we are exposed to more than 45,000 negative programs by the time we are 12 and reach 8th grade, but if words took you down, they can build you up. I had been doing this myself for years and realized it protected me from, drugs, drinking and depression. I remember going drinking in my 1st year of college with friends, I had drink #1 then I had drink #2, then I had drink #3 and felt a buzz, I immediately looked at that drink and said out loud to it–“You had my Father for 17 years and you are not having me”. I put the drink down and from that point on I was the designated driver for most events. I only had a few letdowns in my latter life, where a hangover, reminded me of this declaration and I have remained sober and vigalent into my sixtys. I have learned to overcome my Mother’s negative’s an her death wish, by wishing her dead to ego and self focus and I lead the conversation to those things or persons she cares for. She regains her balance by caring for the needs of others and that is good. I will know in Heaven why she is so sensative to negatives, but meantime, I speak a positive word to myself and get on with the rebuilding of body, mind and spirit I believe we are all called to. If you fall, the next best step is to rise and take the next best step.

  48. dstaat Report

    Well it’s nice to know we’re not alone but also a bit different. My 13 year says he likes to be negative, doesn’t care if he loses friends and tries to pretend this is true and it all doesn’t bother him. After a discussion (during which he’s always negative) he’ll go off and sometimes his attitude will change (for a while) about whatever it was we were discussing. He’s putting up walls because he has a hard time making/keeping friends, he just doesn’t know how to act or respond without kids thinking he’s a nerd. I think he’s becoming desperate for friends and being negative is his defense mechanism.

  49. Lora Report

    Ten years ago I adopted three children from Brazil and I have had this same struggle with my youngest. While there has been much that happened that was negative the constant “gloom” is very discouraging and draining and it is definitely contagious.

    Most often hers takes the form of “It probably won’t work.” or “They probably don’t have it.” or “I’ll never get it.” Added up over the course of a day and a week and a month and a year, I would find myself thinking “What’s the use?”

    At 15, she can now articulate that it’s not as disappointing if she just never expects something in the first place. I see how that helped her cope when she was young. Now, when she says “It probably won’t . . .” I say that is a possibility and ask her about other times she felt that way. But then I ask her “What other possibility is there?” and we talk about that. While she needs to be able to handle disappointment I am trying hard to help her see the positive possibilities. We have a better dialogue if I don’t react to her negativity in the first place, which is often still hard. God is at work in both of us!

    P.S. We are now back in Brazil volunteering for a year with Hope Unlimited and as you can imagine the whining and negativity is less!

  50. awstevens Report

    Im only a sophomore in college, therefore I have no children of my own but I do babysit for a family regularly during the week. I meet the children at home after school and stay with them until their parents come home. Very frequently the boy gets off the bus and the first words I hear from him are complaints about either homework or having to go to swim practice. His parents are also aware of this because his mother asks about his moods when he comes home. I try to ignore it or to bring up something to change his attitude. The ideas that you are using with your son sound like a great idea.



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