When we see our children struggle and we listen to their negative rants progressing into more negativity and end up with “Why this always happens to me?” or something similar or self-degrading like “I’m so stupid”, we want to help.
When they are struggling, there is a problem or adversity they are facing, we can listen. Listen first to the child. Relate to the emotion our child is projecting. Use active listening. “You seem very angry” or “this makes you feel sad”. Do not judge or give advice at this point. It is important our child believes we really hear the essence of what happened. Now, listen to what s/he “says”, the way our child thinks about this issue and his/her beliefs about it and finally the expectations on the consequences that result from the adversity or problem.
We want to help in an effective way. We usually focus in learning what the problem is, the source or origin of the problem, and then what to do about it and how to help our child solve it or deal with the problem. We are skipping the underlying part of the situation: our child’s beliefs and expectations. It is their beliefs that we should focus on as those determine how they react and how others react to them. This behavior and consequences will confirm their beliefs.
We can help them by making them listen to what they are saying, their own self-talk, their negative rant about the problem. Things like I’m so stupid because I can’t ever make it right, nothing ever works for me, no one likes me. Why it always happens to me?
Instead of contradicting these or similar statements we ought to help our child listen to themselves, to see the negative trend in their thoughts and guide them to take control over them. To do this, Dr. Ginsburg in Building Resilience in Children and Teens – Giving Kids Roots and Wings, suggests the following steps:Help your child
- Recognise their thoughts
- Evaluate the accuracy of the thoughts
- Find a more accurate explanation of what happened
- Let go of the idea that it’s a catastrophe
Please do not say that s/he is wrong when something is not right or say everything your child does is perfect and good. Your child is not dumb, s/he will just consider you stupid, blind or not caring. Bad idea! Evaluate the accuracy of their thoughts. For example: “I’m so stupid”. Do you really believe that? I don’t think so, your teachers don’t think so. You do _______ and ________ amazing and that takes smarts”. Help your child understand the sequence of events and more accurate explanations of what happened.When we just react with our own rant in which we lecture how dramatic they are and why they should get over it because it is not such a big deal, it is wrong, it is not what they need. They need our empathy, understanding and guidance to help them objectify what occurred and how to come up with solutions that can change similar future encounters.Remember the keys to diffusing our child’s negative rants include: first actively listening to the emotion being projected. How is our child feeling? Let them know you feel their concern and feeling. Then listen to what happened. Listen for patterns, belief systems and expectations. Help them see a more accurate explanation of what happened and to come up with a few ideas of how to break this cycle or pattern. We all want happy, children with strong positive outlook. Start by hearing them and helping them explore and mold their beliefs into positive, effective behaviors that work for them