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Seven Steps in Coping with a Negative Child

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Background: They were born in a bad mood!

In classic temperament studies, researchers looked at basic observable traits of personality that can be observed from birth. One of those initial traits of reactivity was described as "mood." Babies come into this world with an identifiable mood as part of their personality. This normal continuum can be described as positive at one end to negative at the other end. We come into the world with a positive or negative way of responding to life. This initial response does not seem to change over time.

Children with a positive mood are delightful babies. When their needs are met, they are happy and satisfied most of the time. These babies smile and laugh and make parents feel very secure. They seem to expect good things to happen. My daughter was a very positive baby. She always woke up smiling. Erin is still a positive person.

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Babies with a negative mood are not so delightful. I would never have believed a child could come into the world frowning if I didn't have one myself. From day one, it is almost as though this world was not what he had in mind. All babies cry when they are hungry, uncomfortable, or need attention. Negative babies whine and cry and fuss about everything. Needless to say, they are not easy babies for parents to nurture. Nothing a parent can do keeps them happy for any length of time.

Been there; done it.

When our son was three years old, he told us that he never had a good day. We asked what a good day was. His reply, "There are only four good days a year: my birthday, Halloween, Christmas, and Easter." His philosophy has not changed. Chuck is capable of having a good time, he enjoys doing things he wants to do, but basically, he sees the world through a haze of doubt. He doubts that things will be that good. His sister on the other hand, is always looking for the bright side. She is happy to be alive and enjoys the world. If something goes wrong today, she knows it will be better tomorrow.

I would never choose a negative temperament for a child. Chuck's negativism was driving me crazy by the time he was two. I went back to the research on personality that I had studied years before and found the description of Chuck. I didn't like it but I knew we had to accept the fact that we had a negative child. Not only is a negative child difficult for parents, it is a hard life for the child.

Seven Steps that will help.

According to the studies, we can enhance desirable traits and subdue less than desirable traits but we can not change a child into something that he or she is not. These steps were derived from personal experience.

Step One: Accept the negative child "as is."

If this child is constantly told to cheer up, his/her negative moods will actually increase. They are not being negative on purpose, it is just their personality. When parents try to change a child's personality, the child feels unloved. Without understanding why, the child knows he or she is not loved as they are and they become even more unhappy. By accepting a child's personality, we can look for ways to subdue the negativity. With patience and tolerance, a negative child can seem almost neutral.

Step Two: Don't try to talk a negative child into feeling good.

Give up trying to make them happy. It is a waste of time and gives the child attention for being negative. The negativism will actually increase!

Step Three: Avoid giving undue attention when the child is being negative.

The negativism will increase! The negative behavior can become a tool for manipulation accidently. The child learns how to use this natural response to manipulate others.

Step Four: Listen to the complaints... up to a point.

When the negative child needs to complain (express very real feelings), listen, ...but put a time limit listening in order to protect one's sanity.

Step Five: Change the topic.

When the lists of complaints gets too long, ask the complainer to think of one thing that was good. Sometimes, they may actually be able to think of 1 thing. Or change to a different topic the child likes to talk about with a well-placed question.

Step Six: Focus on the enjoyable traits.

A child's negative moods are not the total of his personality. Remember the other things that are likable. Look for the positive traits in negative children and keep those in mind when dealing with their responses to life.

Step Seven: Spend time away from the negative child.

Negative people do not make good companions for people with a happier outlook on life. Spend time with positive people in order to tolerate the negativity. Limit the amount of time spent together in order to maintain patience and perspective.

On a special note: Please consider the possibility of long-term, biologically-induced depression, especially if mood disorders run in the family. This is genetic and responds to medication. Have a competent child psychiatrist evaluate this child.

For information see Childhood Depression

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