Don’t try to turn your child into something she’s not. As a parent, you might feel you’re responsible for how your child feels and behaves. If so, the choices she makes will feel very personal to you. You’ll find yourself trying to turn her into a positive person, a “Negative Nancy” into the proverbial “Sally Sunshine.” The result? She’ll work all the harder to resist you. This will cause you to push harder, creating more and more reactivity and negativity between the two of you. Remember, you’re not responsible for the choices your child makes about her attitudes or behaviors. Instead, you’re responsible for how you respond to these attitudes and behaviors.
Try to be nonjudgmental. As hard as it is, try not to be judgmental, critical, or defensive. So if your child says, “This food is gross,” don’t react by saying, “Why are you always so negative about everything? The least you could do is say thank you!” Instead, say something like, “Hmmm, I’m sorry you don’t like it,” or “Too bad you find it so unappealing,” or simply, “Oh.” Nothing more needs to be said.
Be direct. If your child launches into a venting session when you’re stressed out or in the middle of something, be clear and direct. You can say, “Sorry, but I’m not up for listening to this right now. Why don’t you save it for later, when I can focus on what you’re telling me?” That way, if your child really needs a sounding board and isn’t simply complaining for the sake of complaining, you’ll be able to give him your full attention and listen to what’s on his mind. (And maybe by that time, he’ll have worked through it on his own. In this way, your child will learn to rely on himself to calm his anxieties.)