By Dr. Raymond J. Huntington
Every parent has likely witnessed their child being negative from time to time – about school, about homework, perhaps about him or herself. What should you do when your child’s pessimism leads to poor grades and problems at school?
Here are a few tips to help you get to the source of the problem, turn around your child’s destructive mindset, and help him or her learn to approach school and life with a positive attitude:
Listen. Sometimes, a child with a negative attitude may feel that he or she isn’t being listened to, or that the child’s parents do not understand his or her concerns. Ask open-ended questions about your child’s life and pay careful attention to his or her answers. Give your child the floor any time he or she opens up. What’s going on inside your child’s head and heart that might be contributing to his or her attitude problem?
Get to the core. Look for insecurities, troubles, fears or bad habits that might contribute to your child’s negativity. Is your child afraid of making mistakes for fear of disappointing you? Does he or she always assume the worst (that he or she will never be able to pass math, or that a problem has no solution, for example)? In sports or other activities, does he or she accept defeat gracefully and display a willingness to try, try again? Go beyond observation: Try gently probing your child to discover if there was a specific incident that caused a change in his or her attitude.
Catch your child in the act of being positive. While a child with a poor attitude certainly needs guidance and discipline, it’s just as important to point out your child’s good efforts, hard work, good character, honesty, perseverance and optimistic demeanor. Praise good behavior and encouraging changes in your child’s attitude, and practice positive reinforcement with your child whenever possible.
Look at your own attitude. What kind of example are you setting for your child? How do you handle stress and frustrating situations? Do you get down on yourself or others too easily? Do you set unreachable expectations for your child? Praise the end result (such as good grades), but not effort? Children tend to emulate their parents, so it is important to remember that your actions speak much louder than your words.
Look at how you respond to your child’s attitude. Be mindful of your reaction to your child’s pessimistic or poor attitude. Do you ignore his or her concerns or fears? Brush them off with comments such as, “Oh, that’s silly – you’ll figure it out”? Also, take notice of the effect that your words and actions have on your child. Do conversations tend to help or exacerbate his or her anxiety?
Rectifying a child’s negative attitude will not happen overnight, but good communication with your child and his or her teachers, proper action and reinforcement, and lots of practice will help your child curb that negativity.
An improved attitude will help your child’s confidence and self-esteem. If you suspect that the root of your child’s pessimism is related to an academic issue, don’t wait to correct the problem.
Dr. Raymond J. Huntington and Eileen Huntington are co-founders of Huntington Learning Center, which has been helping children succeed in school for more than 30 years.
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