Have you ever been around someone who ALWAYS has some sort of bad news to share? It's like they suck the life out of the room. As adults, we can usually avoid these types, but what do you do if they live in your house?
I know a mom who struggles with this with her young son. It starts in the morning. When asked what kinds of things he will be doing in school, it is always about a test, project or interaction with peers that is going to go badly. When asked about his day after school, it's more of the same, e.g., "It was a horrible day" or "It was the worst day of my life."
This little boy was a "the glass if half empy" kinda kid. What a sad and depressing way to go through life! His mother, determined to raise an optimist, not a pessimist, got busy. She started strategizing ways to encourage her son to look at the positives rather than the negatives. Here's what she did:
- She would ask him every morning what he was most looking forward to at school. If he couldn't come up with anything, she would tell him that she was going to ask him again the next day. She continued to ask him this question every morning. Eventually, her son was able to tell her about things he liked at school.
- At the end of the day, she would ask him what the best thing that happened at school was that day. She used the same strategy if he was unable to answer. Again, we was eventually able to tell her at least one thing. The bonus for her was that she learned a lot more about what was going on at school and understand her son's strengths and where he struggled.
- She gave lots of positive reinforcement when he mentioned positive things, e.g., "That's great!" or
"You must have been so proud of yourself."
- She ignored Debbie Downer comments. She knew that when there is no payoff for a behavior, the behavior will diminish.
While continuing to try to ignore as much as the pessimistic attitude as possible, there were certainly situations that came up that were negative, but that needed to be discussed. For example, a disagreement with friends. Rather than feeding in on her son's view on the situation, she guided him through the use of pointed questions to try to help him learn from the situation.
For example, when he would tell her what he said, if she thought the comment was snarky or possibly out of line, rather than giving her opinion, she would ask him the friend's response, what kind of look did they have on their face, what he would do differently next time, etc. She tried to guide him to understand his friends body language. By using pointed questions in this way, she was encouraging learning so that her little guy would be more likely to remember these points the next time he had a disagreement.
The mother's efforts eventually started to pay off in that her son's pessimistic attitude eventually started to turn around. I'm happy to report that the little guy in question has grown into a happy, energetic and "the glass is half full" young adult!
Do you have a Debbie Downer living in your household? What things have you tried to turn your pessimist into an optimist? Share you thoughts...and for those of you who are unfamiliar with Debbie Downer, check out this video -- it's a hoot!