how to help a child with negative thoughts

5 Ways to Help Your Child With Negative Thoughts

My kids are like everyone else’s—full of joy, laughter, and hope. Yet most parents will tell you kids develop and show their personality differences early in life. In my case, my 12-year-old son is a deep thinker, often leading to negative thoughts as he views the world around him.

“I hate school. It’s so boring,” he blurted out as he prepared for the first day of school this year. “Why learn all of this stuff we won’t even use when we’re adults?” He’s extremely smart but sometimes to a fault, and that leads him down a path toward negative thoughts. If your child has negative thoughts, there are proactive ways to help him deal with them. Here are 5 ideas for how to help a child with negative thoughts.

1. Show him how to think like an optimist.

When starting a project like homework, my son often expresses a negative thought. “This is dumb,” he’ll say. “Why do we have to do it?” It’s easy to see why he thinks that way—because sometimes, he hears me complain about tasks or something that happened at work. That’s why I’m more careful now to ensure I’m not reinforcing negative thinking in front of my son. Instead, I take a challenge, discuss it, and express how I deal with it positively. Showing and giving examples of how to think more optimistically helps create a path to more positive thinking.

Kids learn how to behave from their closest role models: their parents.

2. Stop being pessimistic as a parent.

I was facing a difficult situation with a coworker and talked about it with my wife over dinner. “There’s just no getting through to this guy. Why do I even bother?” I said. My kids heard this, and I realized after the fact that I was setting the wrong example. Kids learn how to behave from their closest role models: their parents. If we’re negatively expressing ourselves, our kids pick up on that and model the behavior. If we want to help a child with negative thoughts, we must also think and act more positively.

3. Give him strategies to combat negative thinking.

Helping our kids with negative thoughts requires some focused strategies. One popular method is the use of “reality checking” thoughts. This simple use of questions kids can ask themselves leads them to self-thought to help overcome negative thoughts. Get your kids to ask themselves questions like these: Does it help me to think this way? Is what I’m thinking true? Elizabeth O’Shea, a parenting specialist and child behavior expert, also recommends not contradicting your child in these moments as it will add to his or her stress. Instead, give your kids ways to change their thinking.

4. Coach him to show gratitude.

My son will express negative thoughts when he compares himself to others. When this happens, I quickly point out how lucky he is and ask him about what he does have. We talk about what talents he’s been blessed with. We also talk about how lucky we are to live in a lovely home with plentiful food and water. Moreover, I also stress that our gratitude should extend to the challenges we face. Talking about the great things we do have helps steer our kids’ thoughts and conversations in positive directions.

5. Reassure him that it’s normal to have negative thoughts sometimes.

My son was about to go to his first rugby practice and was not only nervous but was thinking negatively. “There’s no way I will be good at this sport,” he said. I used that opportunity to tell him about the first time I tried out for a baseball team. I shared that I, too, not only lacked confidence but also had negative thoughts that made it worse.

In my experience, it’s vital to reinforce that having negative thoughts sometimes is normal. Kids may beat themselves up when they fail to think positively, so destigmatizing your kids’ negative thoughts can help them see that they’re not alone. Reminding my son of my own experience with those thoughts normalized it enough that he didn’t feel bad about having them himself. The shared story resulted in a physical and mental relief that I could see—his face changed, his shoulders relaxed. I also could see the boost in his self-image when he realized there was nothing wrong with feeling how he felt.

Sound off: Do you know how to help a child with negative thoughts? What do you do?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “Why is it important to think positively?”