It’s not uncommon for children to sometimes focus on negative aspects of an experience, despite having enjoyed it overall. Renowned child psychologist Dr Laura Markham emphasises that teaching children to switch their mindset from negative to positive is one of the most important skills parents can impart. In this article, we’ll discuss practical strategies for managing children’s negative thinking inspired by Dr Markham’s work’s general principles and philosophy.


    1. Normalise Feelings

      Recognise that it’s normal for your child to experience negative feelings and thoughts. These feelings are not necessarily a problem to be fixed but an opportunity to practice resilience.

      It’s essential to acknowledge your child’s feelings, even if they’re negative. Dismissing or criticising these feelings can actually increase negative thinking. Instead, empathise with your child. If they express a worry such as, “What if my friend doesn’t want to play with me tomorrow?” you might respond, “It sounds like you’re feeling worried about that. It’s completely normal to worry about our friends sometimes.”


    1. Promote Positive Self-Talk

      Help your child develop the habit of positive self-talk. Instead of allowing negative statements like “I can’t do this, it’s too hard,” to persist, encourage them to say, “This is challenging, but I’m going to keep trying.” Reinforce the power of “yet” – a small word that holds a big promise of future success.


    1. Model Positive Re-Framing

      Once your child’s feelings have been validated, gently guide them to consider an alternative, more positive perspective. Promote a growth mindset.

      Following on from the previous example, you might suggest, “What if your friend is really looking forward to playing with you tomorrow?”  This should not dismiss the initial fear but instead offer an alternative possibility.


    1. Validate and Redirect

      In instances where your child tends to focus on negative aspects of an experience, acknowledge your child’s feelings and then guide them towards positive aspects. Validate their feelings first. Then, steer the conversation towards positivity.

      If, for example, they can only remember the things they didn’t enjoy about a birthday party, you might say, “I understand those things didn’t make you happy. Can you also tell me about one thing that you did enjoy at the party?” or “You’ve shared 3 things you didn’t like. Can you also share one thing that you did?”

      This strategy helps children realise that experiences often have both positive and negative aspects, and it’s okay to acknowledge both.


    1. Question Negative Thoughts

      Facilitate critical thinking about negative thoughts. Ask probing questions like, “Is this always the case, or could it be different next time?” This helps them to realise that negative outcomes aren’t always guaranteed, encouraging a more balanced perspective.


    1. Model Optimism

      Your own behaviour is a powerful teaching tool.

      Suppose you and your child are running late and risk missing the bus or train. Instead of saying something like, “We’re always late. We’re definitely going to miss it!” you could model a more positive and resilient attitude by saying, “We’re cutting it close, but let’s do our best to catch it. If we miss it, it’s not the end of the world—we’ll simply take the next one.”

      By demonstrating this calm and positive approach, you show your child that minor setbacks, such as missing a bus, are not catastrophes but part of everyday life, and they can be managed effectively and without undue stress.


    1. Challenge Permanence

      Teach your child to challenge thoughts that imply a permanent negative state. For instance, if they say, “I always fail at this,” you could respond by saying, “It feels tough right now, but remember the times you’ve succeeded. You won’t always feel like this.” This encourages them to see failure as temporary and not as a definitive reflection of their abilities.


    1. Emphasise Their Power

      Help your child understand that they have power over their outcomes. Use real-life examples, like a bad test score, to explain: “This one test doesn’t define you. Let’s work on your study habits so you’re better prepared next time.” By doing this, you teach them that they can influence their future through their present actions.


    1. Dispute Negative Self-Talk

      Teach your child to dispute negative self-talk. For instance, if your child thinks, “I’m not good at anything,” encourage them to challenge this belief. Ask them, “Is it really true that you’re not good at anything? What about the time you helped your little brother with his homework or when you scored a goal in soccer?”

      Show them how they can notice, externalise, and dispute such thoughts, leading them to understand that these thoughts aren’t necessarily true reflections of their abilities.


    1. Manage Pessimistic Tendencies

      Explain to your child that it’s natural to think pessimistically at times. Our minds are wired to predict and protect us from potential harm, which can lead to a tendency towards negative thinking. However, these tendencies can be managed, and a more positive outlook can be cultivated.

Remember, it’s natural for children to experience negative thoughts and feelings. The goal isn’t to eliminate these, but rather to equip your child with the tools to manage them effectively and cultivate a more balanced, positive perspective. This process takes time and patience, so it’s important not to rush it. With gentle guidance and consistent practice, your child can learn to navigate their feelings and thoughts in a healthier, more positive way.

We hope these strategies inspire you and aid in managing your child’s negative thinking, helping to foster a more balanced and positive outlook. We’d love to hear from you if you found these tips helpful or have any personal experiences you’d like to share! Please leave a comment, and share this article with other parents who might benefit from these strategies. For more expert-inspired advice on parenting, subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Instagram. Together, we can help our children navigate their world with a more positive mindset.