Q: I have a 10-year-old daughter who reacts to many typical daily situations with negativity (“cup half empty”). I’ve been trying to help her change her attitude by telling her to look at the positives, just flipping her view around, and asking her why she’s so negative. It’s not working so I need help. Can you give me suggestions?

A: The first consideration is temperament. If she has always been a “cup half empty” child, that’s simply one of the inherent characteristics (mood) with which she entered your family. Understanding your child’s temperamental profile is essential for building her healthy self-esteem and helps you to provide unconditional love and acceptance, regardless of the behavior. It’s easy for parents to identify with one child’s temperament, while rejecting another child’s. Helping your daughter understand how temperament drives her behavior, using descriptive words that are positive, is at the heart of this. Perhaps her negative reaction to situations, while unique to her, is opposite to your positive outlook. Be mindful of your reaction, to avoid shaming her, especially if this is part of her temperament. The “cup half empty” may be her temperamental first reaction (serious and analytical); allow her time to make a shift. When you’re thinking, “Why is my daughter behaving this way?” Try reframing that to: “This is who she is; how can I help her?” It’s so important to have information about how she will react to different situations as well as to your expectations. To set expectations for success, be sure to set them for who your child is, not how you think (or wish) she should be. When you provide positive descriptions of her temperament, she can feel good about herself, learning ways to manage characteristics as needed. As an example when she is “negative,” you might say something like: “It’s disappointing that we ran out of time to go swimming. I get that you think deeply about things and it’s hard to let go sometimes,” or “Tell me what is going well, then tell me what isn’t going well,” or “You have such a keen sense of what needs to be fixed or isn’t working well. It’s so helpful having your analytical view of what I may have missed.” That way, your daughter doesn’t feel “something is wrong with me.” Temperament is an important part of how we respond, what we like/dislike, and how we perceive our environment. Knowing each temperamental profile gives you, and your child, a great advantage in understanding what shapes her reactions.

The next consideration is that her behavior is your clue to her emotional state. What could be affecting her mood? Is she under significant stress? Think about all the prevailing changes in her life that are out of her control. Getting to the root helps you discover what’s causing the behavior. Are you focusing on what’s not working well, rather than on your child’s strengths? Your job is to adapt the environment to support your child’s success, helping her navigate through challenges more easily. Every child wants to be successful and will do well if she can. Collaboration redirects the focus from her being the problem to her being part of the solution. Diffusing power struggles by valuing her opinion will increase her self-esteem. Children are more invested in the outcome when we include them in the process. No one wants to start the day with battles or with feeling overwhelmed or disappointed. Using connective communication is about truly hearing and accepting her feelings, without judgment or criticism, while also ensuring your own needs aren’t being compromised. Children learn valuable lessons when their opinions are respected and their participation is encouraged. Connecting to the root of her negativity, hearing her pain, helps to respect her ability to work through difficult emotions. This doesn’t mean it will always be resolved, as that may sometimes require more time and energy; however, it communicates to her that she has a right to her feelings, that you will always listen to them, whether positive or negative. Stay away from “why” questions. It’s unlikely she has any idea why she views the “cup half empty,” and this will only encourage her to give you the answer she thinks you’re looking for.

Children who feel understood, heard without judgment or shaming, can successfully navigate through their emotions to reach their own acceptable resolution. When any of us has a problem, we want to actively participate in shaping the outcome. Instead of trying to change her attitude, by encouraging her to look at the positives, try offering in fantasy what she can’t have in reality. The important lesson is connecting to the emotional root of her behavior, letting her know you understand her perspective. As long as you empathize with her, hearing her resistance, things will become easier, calmer. When you accept responsibility for your assumption that her behavior is making your life more difficult, you will be more successful in trying a different approach. Negative assumptions lead to angry, resentful feelings and reactions. Reframing those assumptions brings compassion to you and your child, holding a space where change can begin.