As a parent, have you ever tried to help your child feel better when they’re feeling down — only to find you’re making them more upset or angry?
I have. I seem to do it quite frequently these days with my daughter. She’ll be upset over something, and I try to say something to make her feel better. Our conversations tend to get heated and I get berated for not understanding or for saying the wrong things.
I ran into an article today that is meant for younger kids, but I think I can use some of the advice. It’s from the Harvard Health Blog and called 4 parenting tips to break the negativity loop by Jacqueline Sperling, PhD. Negativity loop accurately describes how I feel when I try to reassure or comfort my daughter and we go down a dark hole. Sperling offers advice on how to use validation so your kids know you’re listening to them.
Here’s an excerpt:
Start by validating emotions
Parents have a lot of wisdom to share with their children, and their advice often is filled with a lot of logic. Unfortunately, that logic tends to backfire when shared with someone experiencing an unhappy emotion, and can make the emotion even stronger. Both children and adults need to feel heard before their ears can open up and hear what else you have to say, so try to validate first before you try to help children appreciate positive aspects of a situation.
Validation allows us all to feel heard. You are not agreeing or disagreeing with the emotion; you’re showing that you see it. For example, if your daughter comes home sulking after scoring two goals in soccer and missing the final one, you might have the urge to say, “Why are you so sad? You scored two goals and looked like you were having so much fun while playing!” Your intention is kind, yet does not match your daughter’s experience. Instead, try reflecting how she is feeling by saying, “You’re disappointed that you didn’t make that final shot.” This acknowledges that your daughter is disappointed without agreeing or disagreeing with her.
Another tip she offers is to practice gratitude. She has several ideas depending on how old your kids are. Click to read more here.
She suggests having your child write three things they are thankful for and she states it will help improve their mood. I read a book called “Flourish” by Martin Seligman who is the Director of the Positive Psychology Center at U Penn. In that book, he described an exercise called the “Three Blessings,” where you write three things in your day that were positive and then write an explanation of why they happened. He found through his studies that the Three Blessings exercise is as effective as meds. I get started with it in the evenings and stick with for a week or two and then I forget about it. I’m going to make an effort to get back to that practice.
How do you stop the negativity loop with your kids?