Dear SisterMom,

My daughter tends to only point out the negative in everything she sees. How can I get her to be more positive and have a better view on the details of life?
Frustrated in Phoenix

Dear Frustrated in Phoenix,

The good news: your daughter is perfectly normal and her ability to see the positive side of life will develop with time. The bad news: it’s an ongoing process that even most adults find difficult to master.

When it comes to negativity, there are a two things to understand about human development:

1.) Your daughter will not fully develop the part of her brain that controls thoughts and regulates emotions (prefrontal cortex) until her mid-20s. That means when she has a negative thought and/or emotion, her brain runs with it and often creates more negative thoughts and emotions.

2.) As humans we give priority to avoiding negative experiences, and thinking about these can elicit negative thoughts and emotions. Sure, we love to think about and recreate the positive experiences too, but positive experiences do not threaten our survival. We need to survive first; then we can appreciate the beauty of life later.

So basically, your daughter (and everyone reading this) is a product of her biology. What can you do about it? The answer: Exercise. You may have heard the brain can be exercised like a muscle, and it’s true. When you work on developing certain areas of your brain, they get stronger. If you want to increase your positive thinking skills, you need to do positive thinking exercises.

Here’s one to get you both started. I say both, because partnering with your daughter during this crucial developmental time is key. And let’s face it, who couldn’t use a little more positive thinking in her life?

Let’s begin…

  • Think of a scenario that made you angry or sad.
  • Become an outside observer and explain the scenario to your daughter. Just give the facts and try to leave your opinion out of it.
  • Now, identify two ways the scenario could be interpreted, one negative (this is the interpretation that made you angry or sad) and one positive (this one gives you a new perspective)

When you’re done, have your daughter give it a try with her own scenario. Keep in mind, this exercise may be easier for you than for her (due to your fully developed prefrontal cortex). If she is stumped, just provide a couple possible interpretations for her scenario, and let her choose the one that works best.

The idea is that she realizes there is more than one way to interpret events and the first (negative) interpretation we have, does not have to be the one we live our life through.

This exercise will help you both become aware of how your interpretations create your perspective. Most situations have elements of good and bad. Teaching your daughter that she can choose to focus on the good interpretations is the first step to positive thinking.

Good luck, mama! I’m sending positive thoughts your way!
-Shannon Lanzerotta, MSC, LAC

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