Dear Dr. Bill,
Our 7-year-old son complains about almost everything and he seldom seems happy. Even when he appears to be having fun — such as during a party, when it’s all over, he concludes it wasn’t fun and starts listing all the reasons why he had a miserable time.
Our son doesn't have any close friends at church or in school this year. And if we ask him about kids who might become potential friends, he usually replies with some sort of complaint about them. All of this complaining is wearing my husband and me out. What can we do to help him develop a more positive outlook on life?
A negative attitude doesn’t typically pop out of thin air. Kids who are negative have LEARNED to be negative.
Is it possible that you or your husband is somewhat negative in your approach to life or with the words you use? Even if you don’t see yourself as negative now, is it possible that you were depressed when your son was a baby or toddler?
If not, it may be that you’ve reinforced your son’s negative attitude by giving into his complaints or coddling him. Perhaps you did that when he was younger and now you’re seeing the result.
Rather than providing him with attention when he complains or displays a negative attitude, the goal should be to ignore him when he’s negative.
Simply tell him you’re sorry he didn’t enjoy the party or the activity, and then go about your business. Don’t discuss the issue, just move on. On the other hand, when he says anything remotely positive or displays the slightest bit of enthusiasm, smile, praise him, and let him know how much you appreciate his positive attitude.
You can also begin rewarding him for positive statements and behavior by using a sticker chart or token system.
Thanks for writing Janet. If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, click the “Questions” link on the Culture Connection page.