THE PROBLEM: My 14 yo daughter has an overactive imagination (which I really do love), but it often gets her in trouble. I wish I had a nickel for every time she says: “I’m sure Bridget isn’t going to invite me to her party,” or “I bet Harriet is mad at me for not staying after school to work on the float.” She even thinks her teachers are “probably” not going to like her essay or downgrade her for not speaking up enough in class. And yet, the stuff she predicts almost never happens! And when it does, she can hardly wait to say “I told you so.” It’s almost like she’s created an imaginary world where everything and everybody is against her. As many times as I’ve pointed this out, she says: “I’d rather be realistic than set myself up for disappointment.” Twisted logic to me, but I don’t know how to help her out of it.
MARY SAYS: If only we humans knew how much power we have to create a life! By projecting (good or bad) outcomes, I believe we have a tremendous impact on what actually happens. If your daughter could see this, she would surely channel her lively imagination to manifest happier experiences for herself—and for others.
But she doesn’t know this yet, so you need to tell her.
Your conversation doesn’t need to sound like a judgement—or worse, a correction. Simply educate your daughter on ‘how things work.’ Give her some examples from your own storehouse of wishes you dreamed up, especially the ones that came true.
Some people need to learn how to dream, and your daughter may be one of them. Let her know that visionaries create a habit of looking at brighter futures, often times with nothing more than their imagination to guide them. The next time she’s certain of a negative outcome, help her turn it around. Rather than pointing out how she is (once again) predicting a gloomy future, ask her to stop for a moment and create something other than what she’s so “sure” of.
For example, if she says: “I just know I’m not going to make the dance team,” you can say: “Well then, let’s take a moment and create a different ending. How will you radiate your best self during try-outs? What would it feel like to be on the dance team? How can you help your friends feel better about their performance, too?” Encourage her to describe in detail what a winning outcome would look like, and more importantly, how it would feel.
While your daughter won’t get everything she wants by doing this, she’ll experience more successes, large and small. She’ll also discover that optimism fuels a happier life, while pessimism only brings you down.
ERIKA SAYS: Your daughter has been seeing things through a dark lens lately, and I can only imagine how uncomfortable it must be for you to watch, especially when you’re in the habit of seeing the beauty around you. So, how do we get your daughter to break her habit of negative thinking and become more optimistic?
Let’s start by figuring out the root cause.
Could it be that your daughter is struggling with anxiety? Children who constantly complain or spew negative thinking are often expressing emotions rooted in fear. Is her negative thinking a learned behavior? And if so, what changes can your family make, so everyone isn’t stuck in a cycle of complaining? Who is she hanging around with these days? Maybe her circle of friends are ‘Negative Nancys,’ and she wants to be part of the crowd. What is she feeding her soul with? Is she spending tons of time on social media, constantly influenced by negativity? Maybe it’s time to have a conversation about the things that could be causing her to imagine worst case scenarios.
Even if you can’t determine the cause, there are some things you can work on. When your daughter starts predicting gloom and doom, reality-check her thoughts. For example, you said she felt like her teacher wouldn’t like her essay, so ask questions like:
- What if she doesn’t like your essay?
- If she doesn’t, what can you do to improve it?
- Is this a helpful way of thinking?
- Why do you feel this way?
- How true is it?
- How can you put a positive spin on this?
You aren’t negating or dismissing her thoughts and feelings by asking these questions. Instead, you’re challenging her to think of ways to solve problems rather than standing idly by while the ‘worst’ happens. I like to make it a habit to ask my son how he can address his complaints. When he anticipates a bad outcome, I ask what he would do if his “worst” fear came true. How is he going to fix it?
Get your daughter’s wheels turning from victim to victor.
What’s great about a learned behavior is that, in most cases, it can be unlearned. Lead by example and practice gratitude. Small or big, create a space for the good stuff to show up. Try sending her a text sharing three things you’re grateful for first thing in the morning. The more you do this, the more likely you are to influence how she views her world—for the better.
If your daughter is still struggling after making these changes, you might want to find her a professional to talk to. Her feelings may run deeper than you think, and a professional can offer both of you tools to cope that will help her through whatever she may be going through.
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
Read more ASK MOM advice.
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.
Suzanne Johnson, mom of five children and grandma of eight, is an illustrator, book cover designer, and author of Realms of Edenocht.