How to Reframe and Handle a Kid’s Negative Attitude

hategraffiti.jpgI am once again sharing an article by Hather Forbes, who is one of my favorite parenting experts. Her “love-based” parenting directly addresses the fear (“fight-or-flight”) responses that so many traumatized kids experience. This perfectly explains how to reframe and handle a kid’s negative attitude — a common problem. 

Q: My 8-year-old son “hates” everything: the particular car driving down the street, the shirt I’m wearing, the kid next door, the color of the living room, the cashier at the grocery store, etc., etc. I am having trouble understanding this and how to deal with it. Any insights?

A: I’m certain that this is a maddening place to be with your son and that it feels as if nothing will make him happy. There’s nothing more frustrating than to try to send positive energy to someone, only to be met with resistance and negativity.

In order to reverse your child’s perception of the world as negative, it will first take a new understanding of why he “hates” everything. When children’s needs are met early in their development, their blueprint for the world becomes positive and optimistic. When a baby is crying and sending out stress signals, he is in need of nurturing and comforting care. When this is given to him, his system is shifted back to a state of regulation and the world is a good place-he develops a sense of optimism.

If he is not cared for and if he is left on his own to navigate through his internal stress, the world becomes a scary place.  Negative repetitious conditioning breeds an outlook of pessimism. No matter how much he cries, no matter what he does, he can’t seem to convince his caretakers to help him. Helplessness and overwhelm prevail. For such a child, nothing is working, so his universal blueprint of “nothing is right” is being created.

A child who “hates” everything is a child in a perpetual state of fear and dysregulation. His neurophysiological system has been programmed to see the world as half empty instead of half full. He truly doesn’t know that everything is going to be all right. He really doesn’t know that good always overcomes evil. Essentially, he is programmed to live an operatic tragedy instead of a light-hearted drama.

Think about this…isn’t it great to simply go to Netflix and pick out what kind of movie you want? Maybe it is a romantic comedy; maybe it is an action movie; maybe even during this Halloween season it is a horror flick.

But in our own realities, we don’t have the luxury of returning one life and checking out another so quickly. What we do have are three key elements to make significant changes to our life stories: 1) understanding, 2) relationship, and 3) plasticity.

The first of these, understanding, was addressed in the beginning of this article. The second, relationships, is something that is always available to initiate. Healing happens in the context of relationships, and most fervently through the context of the parent-child relationship. And third, plasticity, is what an 8-year-old has plenty of. The brain continues to make major changes until we are 25 years old.

Your child needs to know that the world is safe and good. In order to do this, it will take creating a deeper relationship with him. It will take helping him to express himself at a deeper level. The next time he makes a negative statement, such as, “I hate the shirt you are wearing,” sit with him and listen to him. Ask him more about what he hates.

Validate his negativity instead of trying to convince him of something more positive. “You really do hate this shirt. Wow. Help me understand how much you hate it. Tell me more.” As he expresses himself, help him shift into the feelings behind these words. (It’s really not about the shirt.) “How does that make you feel?”

Essentially, his “I hate the world” statements are indicators of his own internal reality: “The world hates me and I don’t even deserve to be in this world.” When a child (or adult) feels this depth of darkness from within himself, it makes sense as to why all his comments are negative towards his external environment.

Think about a time when you were just in a bad mood. Nothing seemed to be right; nothing seemed to be the way you wanted it to be. Your perception of the world matched your negative framework. So, it is the same with your child, simply at a deeper level within the core of his being.

When you can help him to move into this core area within himself by listening, validating, maximizing, tolerating, accepting, and staying present with him, you’ll be there in relationship to guide him towards feeling safe and loved. Thus, you’ll be able to guide him to see that the world is good and hope does exist. It will take positive repetitious conditioning to do this for him (see Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control, Chapter 3).

The reason this works is because our neurological systems are “plastic.” We have the ability to change and be molded, especially children. Your son is growing and developing everyday. He still has years ahead of him to create new neuropathways. Every interaction with you is an opportunity to literally change his brain and lay down new neuropatterns of positive thought and positive outlook.

Work to stay in a place of understanding, keep yourself regulated, and know that through loving influence, you have the ability to create exactly the environment he needs for healing, hope, and optimism.

Press on,

HeatherHeather T. Forbes, LCSW
Parent and Author of Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control: Volume 1 & Volume 2,
Dare to Love, and Help for Billy.

College Debt Worries Start Much Too Young

Student-loan-debt1When I came of age in the mid-1970s, worry about college debt was nonexistent, because, of course, college costs were much, much lower. I was told when I was a kid that I would have to pay every penny of college costs by myself, but I didn’t really think much about how that would happen. I worked throughout high school and saved a fair amount. I continued to work part time during college and worked full time during breaks. I lived on ramen and tuna (it was also much cheaper then!) and figured it out. I did have to drop out for a year because I was broke, but otherwise made it through in five years with only a few hundred dollars in a loan at the end that I paid off in a short amount of time. (It was at 11.9% interest and from my parents, so I couldn’t shirk on that debt!) Through it all I don’t remember worrying more than a normal amount about tuition bills, and usually just right before the start of each semester.

Certainly, things are much different now in terms of college costs. But as a psychotherapist, I am also seeing a big difference in how this awareness of college expenses is affecting today’s children — and at very young ages.

I am now regularly seeing middle school-aged pre-teens with very high levels of stated anxiety about how they are going to pay for college. Yes, middle school.

They have chronic insomnia from worrying about studying enough and getting a good grade in algebra in 8th grade so they can get into the advanced algebra class in 9th grade so they can get into the AP trig classes in 11th and 12th grades so they can put all these good grades and advanced classes on their college applications and get into a good college and get a good scholarship. Whew! All because they worry about how expensive college will be. They are four or five years from even stepping foot onto a college campus as a student and they are actively, consciously worrying about this pyramid of plans.

This makes them put huge pressure on themselves to not even get one B on one minor quiz. I was an over-achiever in high school, but I certainly didn’t sweat a B and not for those reasons.

I see many high-achieving teens coming in with insomnia, worry, panic attacks on test days, headaches, stomachaches, over-focus on grades and fear of failure issues. Times sure have changed! When I was in high school it was “super un-cool” to get good grades or care about your college career.

Today peer pressure exists related to competition for grades, college application spots and scholarships starting even in junior high. Where we applied for college in the fall of our senior year, students now start junior year with the application process underway and college tours often completed. Students now know exactly what GPA and ACT score it will take to get into which university, and they know what all their classmates scores are and where they are applying. I had no such awareness when I was 16 and I’m not sure anyone even talked about these details.

Now, I certainly can’t fix the high cost of college tuition, but clearly this level of anxiety is not healthy for kids. The self-criticism they are experiencing internally with each B grade is setting them up for emotional difficulties that might be labeled as “anxiety” or “depression.” (False labels, but that’s another topic!)

Parents need to address this issue directly, it appears, to reassure their children that either money will be saved for them for college or that it will be addressed at the appropriate time. Teaching kids some mindfulness meditation and self-calming skills would also be in order. Parents need to make it very clear that they love and accept their children regardless of grades, college acceptance or career choice. Parents can certainly not over-focus on grades themselves by constantly checking the on-line grade reporting apps.

We need to get kids’ minds off worry and back into learning for learning’s sake. And back into being kids, not over-pressured junior adults.

Could Plastics Be Causing ADHD? Along with Asthma, Breast Cancer and More?


A scientific paper to be presented April 8 at a medical conference shows that high levels of a plastic-softening chemical called phthalate in the blood may be linked to inattention and hyperactivity behaviors in children.

The researchers tested blood levels in unexposed children and in children who spent time in a hospital PICU and had one to 12 medical tubes inserted. They found a “clear match between previously hospitalized children’s long-term neurocognitive test results and their individual exposure to the phthalate DEHP during intensive care.” DEHP levels were not detectable in healthy children, but were “sky-high” — up to 18 times higher — in hospitalized children.

What does this mean for your child who may never have been seriously ill?

Perhaps plastic products all around your family could be causing or worsening your child’s problems with focus, distractibility, irritability and high energy levels. (Now, I also would not discount the effect of certain styles of parenting, lack of exercise, over-exposure to technology, developmental trauma, and lack of secure emotional attachment as causes of ADHD. Addressing these in a clinical setting can significantly improve a child’s behaviors.)

Phthalates are added to plastics such as PVC to increase their flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity. Plasticizers contribute 10-60% of the total weight of plasticized products.

Most Americans tested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have metabolites of multiple phthalates in their urine.

Besides being found in medical catheters and blood transfusion devices, phthalates are found in a huge number of products including in the coatings of pharmaceutical pills and nutritional supplements! Fatty foods such as milk, butter, and meats are a major source. Other sources are:

  • shower curtains
  • mini blinds
  • wallpaper
  • vinyl upholstery
  • adhesives
  • food containers (especially coded “3” for recycling)
  • plastic food wrap
  • cleaning materials
  • plastic packaging
  • personal-care products such as perfume, eye shadow, shampoo, moisturizer, nail polish, liquid soap, and hair spray
  • insecticides
  • vinyl floor tiles
  • plastic plumbing pipes
  • adhesives and glues
  • waxes
  • printing inks and coatings
  • textiles
  • building caulk
  • paint pigments

Prior to 1999 phthalates were even used in baby pacifiers, rattles and teethers.

Even infant lotion, infant powder, and infant shampoo have been associated with increased infant urine concentrations of phthalate metabolites. Phthalates are not stable, so they can be in the air, water, or food. They can be inhaled from dust in homes that contains phthalates and this is linked to higher levels of asthma and allergies in children.

Phthalates have long been associated with changes in hormone levels, birth defects including lower cognitive performance, and cancer.

Women may be at higher risk for potential adverse health effects, including breast cancer, due to increased cosmetic use.

There may also be a link between the obesity epidemic and endocrine disruption and metabolic interference caused by plastic products.

It is becoming increasingly clear that reducing the number of plastics in your home is important for the physical and emotional health of children and adults.

Here are more tips and a helpful chart of plastics to avoid.

The NIH has a comprehensive website for many types of toxins.


Fear and Its Effect on Relationships

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Fear isn’t just about physical danger. Emotional fear can look a lot like anger. But relationships do not thrive in anger or fear.

People who behave with fear, generate fear in others. People who behave with love, generate love in others.

Think about your relationships. Is there someone (…you?) who is behaving with fear? What are the effects of that behavior?

Healthy relationships are built on emotional safety, honesty and trust. Does your shame and fear cause you to punish those in your life for expressing emotional honesty? Will they continue to be honest with you if they fear your response? Emotional intimacy will suffer as they pull away from you and your shame-based and fear-based tactics.

Parents:  If you are yelling and shaming your children, you are generating fear in them. If your children yell, are oppositional and harm others, if is clear proof they are learning in an environment of fear not love.

If you function in a fearful mode, ask yourself: What are you afraid of? Rejection and abandonment? Exposing vulnerability and weakness? Failure and self-doubt? Shame and guilt?

What would happen if you loved yourself instead of got angry at yourself? What if you completely accepted yourself and others, rather than reacted with shame, fear and anger?