‘My five-year-old boy is consumed by negativity’

John Sharry: Avoid criticising and giving out to him as it can make matters worse

Question: My five-year-old boy is so negative about everything and I don't know how to deal with it. He starts every day with "I hate school", this continues to hating whatever breakfast is, and then hating walking to school (including the route).

He defaults to hating everything.

I have banned the word hate in the house, and tell him I hear what he said but that he has to stop saying it now. He is a very smart little boy with a cracking sense of humour and when he is not in his negative mood (which is rarely) he is a complete joy.

I just feel that I am constantly giving out to him, and I don’t want to break his spirit, but he really is dragging the rest of us down with his negativity.


Answer: As a parent, it is hard hearing a child be negative or to talk about "hating" all the things he is doing. However criticising and giving out to him in return can make him feel bad about his feelings and can make matter worse.

Below are a few of suggestions as to how you can respond

1) Encourage him to talk about his feelings specifically: "Tell me what is on your mind. What is bothering you today?" Listening and letting him have a little vent about his negative feelings and frustrations might help him get things off his chest so he can move on.

2) Address underlying causes: Notice any underlying patterns or causes to his moods. For example, Is he more likely to be moody when hungry (and needs a food input) or when when tired (and thus might needs more sleep and a better bedtime routine). Or is there something worrying him in school that he needs to talk about?

3) Manage your own emotional response: It is easy to get sucked into negativity but take a pause and try not to react emotionally in a negative way. Instead, choose to respond with a warm and upbeat tone of voice "I know you are you a bit grouchy . . . but lets talk about something nice now".

4) Try ignoring his complaints: Sometimes it works to simply ignore his complaining and to focus on the other positive things he is doing – "nice to be walking outside now".

5) Call his negativity as being a bad mood: Rather than arguing back, just say "sounds like you are in a bad mood . . .hopefully you will feel better in a minute". The bad mood is a good way to talk to your other children about what is happening so they don't take it personally – "J is just in a bad mood this morning"

6) Modify his language: I like your tactic of banning the word hate once you do this is in an upbeat fun way. Instead, help him understand his feelings in more proportionate ways– "sounds like you are a bit cross this morning . . . tell me what is happening".

7) Focus on distraction: Look for positive ways to lift his mood. This might include playing music, talking about his favourite TV, getting up and moving about or even offering a healthy snack or drink.

8) Try to see the positives to his moodiness: While there are challenges to having a child who might be at times negative or pessimistic, there are also lots of positives. Often they are very sensitive children who understand other people's feelings and who can respond in thoughtful and considerate manner in social situations.

– John Sharry is founder of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the UCD School of Psychology. He is delivering parenting workshops on Helping Children Bounce Back and on Managing Depression in Teenagers on June 14th and 21st. See solutiontalk.ie