Daughter assumes the worst, turning into negative person
by Mary Follin and Erika Guerrero
THE PROBLEM: I am worried about my daughter (15 yo), who always expects the worst. She has a long list of things she’s sure isn’t going to happen, like getting invited to a party, doing well on a test, making the team. The thing is, these things do usually happen for her, she just doesn’t seem to remember it the next time around. She says she likes to “keep her expectations low so she doesn’t end up disappointed.” I heard her tell one of her friends that “the new teachers are probably all going to be bad this year because there’s a shortage of teachers.” I’m pretty sure she made that up! I’m not sure how to help her see this because she’s doing well in school, has lots of friends, and seems to have a pretty good self-esteem. Nothing is really wrong, it just makes me sad, watching her turn into a pessimist.
MARY SAYS: Perhaps your daughter thinks being negative is ‘just how she is,’ and she’s okay with it. Discontent can simmer for many years, a low-grade unease, and people get so used to it they don’t even realize the state they’re in. But they do often observe that other people seem to be happier than they are, which could be your ‘in’ for a discussion.
After all, who doesn’t want to be happy?
Start there. Tell your daughter you’ve observed her habit of assuming the worst, and that psychology tells us you often get back what you put out. At your daughter’s young age, she may not be aware that her thoughts impact her experience, and that she may be creating disappointment for herself, simply by expecting it.
She also may have no idea she can change.
Almost every thought has a story attached to it. Seldom do we humans think in neutral terms. Even a table has a story. Is it a table, or assembled blocks of wood? Who made it? What do we use it for? And most importantly, do I like it? Hate it? Not care about it at all?
Our judgements never stop. We assign opinions, facts, and emotions to everything, and somewhere along the way, we lose the ability to see that our thoughts are not always true.
Teenagers are the worst offenders here, Mom, so it’s up to you to step in and suggest to your daughter that her thoughts are hers alone, and not everybody agrees with them. And if that’s the case, she can choose whether or not to agree with them herself.
Ask her to challenge her own thinking. Amidst the swirl of her pessimistic thoughts, help your daughter isolate a few of them to practice with. Encourage her to make this a habit throughout the day, but even more importantly, when she’s falling asleep at night. During this hypnotic state, we’re more apt to subject ourselves to the power of suggestion. What you think about right before sleep has a profound impact on your beliefs about the world—and yourself. If your daughter can train her mind to focus on uplifting, happy-making thoughts every night, her efforts will pay off a lot faster.
Monitoring one’s own thoughts takes discipline—it’s not particularly fun—but over time, relief from pessimistic thinking has its own rewards, enough to inspire people to keep at it until they develop a rosier lens.
ERIKA SAYS: The first step to coming up with a solution to anything is to determine where the problem comes from. I really struggled with ‘expecting the worst’ as a child, into my teen years, and sadly for me, I carried these tendencies into adulthood. In my situation, that source was a combination of a stressful home environment, anxiety, and depression, which manifested by turning me into a pessimistic teenager. Your daughter’s negativity may not stem from depression or anxiety, but her attitude may be a type of defense mechanism.
In other words, preparing for the worst may be her way of responding to stress.
Honestly, teenage years are tough, one of the hardest stages for our youth. I remember being fifteen—overwhelmed by college decisions, what career I thought I wanted to get into, standardized testing, PSATs, SATs, making sure I had good grades, and so much more. Throw in a surge of hormones, making friends, fitting in, and now you have the perfect recipe for a highly disgruntled teenager.
Here are some things I’ve learned over the years as an adult that have helped me retire my Negative Nancy badge:
- Reality check: When your daughter expresses negative thoughts (e.g., she’s sure she’s going to fail a test), reality check her. Question the truth of her statement by asking things like:
- How true is this?
- What makes you think you aren’t going to do well?
- Have you failed any tests recently?
- What do you think will happen if you don’t do well?
The aim is to encourage her to challenge her negative thoughts and shift her perspective to a positive one.
- Attitude of Gratitude: This is one of my favorite activities to do with my son. You can use it any time—not just when your daughter is caught up in a gloomy mood.
- Find three things you are each grateful for, then share them with each other.
- Start a texting thread where you share the things you’re grateful for and include the family. Do it often throughout the week.
- Buy her a journal where she can start jotting down her own “grateful for” list.
I found that the more we practiced this, the more my son got into it. Our gratitude practice has taught him that the good outweighs the bad far more than we think.
- Positive talk/affirmations At home, I like to practice positive talk and affirmations. Whenever I hear my son using less-than-pleasant talk—either about himself or a situation—I quickly shift the focus from the negative to the positive.
- Acknowledge your daughter’s feelings more than her words.
- Take turns repeating words of affirmations while getting ready for your day.
- Stick post-it notes with affirmations on the mirror for her.
- Praise her when you notice her efforts to change her attitude.
Shortly after putting these tools into practice, you should begin to see a shift. That said, if things don’t improve, please consider seeking medical attention so your daughter can learn coping tools that might be more effective.
ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising a small child (Erika). If you’re looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn’t around to ask, drop in!
If you have a question for Mary and Erika, we’d love to hear from you! email@example.com
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Mary Follin is author of the award-winning children’s book ETHYR and Teach Your Child to Read™, an online phonics program for children ages 3-6. She is mom to two grown kids. Follow Mary on Instagram at @advice_mom.
Erika Guerrero is a freelance hair and makeup artist, Erika K. Beauty, single-mama to one amazing boy, and author of She’s Not Shaken, a blog offering hope and encouragement to women in all walks of life.