My Teen is So Negative! What Can I Do?
If your teen tends to be negative, don’t worry; you’re not the only one.
Cheryl was taking my Power Your Parenting Program. On one of our calls, she said, “Most of the drama happens because my daughter Abby is so negative.” I asked her to give me an example. Cheryl continued, “Last week I saw Abby on her bed crying and not getting any of her homework done. I went into her room and sat next to her on the bed. I tried to encourage her but she ends up yelling at me. And I’m embarrassed to admit, I yelled back and instead of helping her, Abby got more upset.”
Why is it so hard to hear your daughter be negative?
I think there are lots of reasons it’s hard.
1. You see her blowing things out of perspective and suffering for no reason.
She says something like, “no one likes me,” and you can name twenty girls who are actually her friends.
She says, “I hate my life,” and you know how much she has to be thankful for. She has ten times as much as you had when you were her age.
She says, “I’m so stupid,” when actually she is super smart and just didn’t study for her exam.
2. If your teen is unhappy, you feel like you’ve done something wrong.
Mothers and daughters can be so hyper-tuned-in to one another that you affect each other’s moods. If your daughter is happy, you are happy. If your daughter is unhappy, then you are unhappy. Most of this time this happens unconsciously, it is the byproduct of being hyper tuned-in to your daughter.
If your daughter is unhappy, it can feel like you haven’t given her enough or that you haven’t done something right. And this can make you feel like a failure.
3. You don’t want that negative energy in your house.
I get this. One negative child can affect an entire household. The negativity can feel like fingernails on a chalkboard.
Okay, then what can I do when my daughter is negative?
1. It’s normal if your teenager is not happy all the time.
Your teen is not going to be happy all the time. It’s biologically impossible with her fluctuating hormones and a teenage brain under construction.
It’s normal if your daughter is ecstatic one moment and slamming the door the next. She is not manic. She does not have a psychiatric disorder. She is a teenager.
It’s not your job to make her happy. This can be a huge trap for moms. What can happen is that you start working harder than your daughter. You start fixing her problems. You clean up her messes. You give her money and take her shopping. You bring home her favorite makeup to try to cheer her up. You can start compromising your values, like letting her go to a party where there is no adult supervision, just because you don’t want to see her be unhappy.
2. Your teen needs to feel their feelings.
It’s emotionally healthy for your daughter to feel her feelings even when you think she is being overdramatic. Emotions are energy in motion and need to be released not held in. It’s impossible to hold in your feelings. That’s like trying to hold a beach ball underwater. This will only amplify the feelings. The feelings will come up with even more velocity and force.
It’s important that your daughter feel her feelings instead of numb her feelings. This is what teens do when they binge drink, overeat, or abuse drugs.
If you give your daughter space to feel her feelings usually the storm will pass. Many of my daughter’s emotional outbursts reminded me of the summer thunderstorms in Colorado. They would pop out of nowhere, rain hard with a few lightning bolts, but in ten minutes the blue sky would come back.
***Contact a licensed therapist or doctor if the emotional storm doesn’t pass and the negative emotions intensify, affecting your daughter’s functioning at school and home. If you are worried that your daughter is depressed or suffering from anxiety then contact a professional and have your daughter evaluated.
3. Use the “Calm Down” conversation.
Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 6 in my book Dial Down the Drama.
Instead of trying to cheer your daughter up (which never works when she is upset) try the “calm down” conversation.
When your daughter is upset, use the “calm-down” conversation. I have broken down the different components of this for teaching purposes. In reality, these components are organic; they flow and don’t always happen sequentially:
- Let her talk and you listen. No matter how ridiculous or distorted the story is, just listen. If you are afraid she will talk all night long, set a timer for twenty minutes.
- Don’t interrupt her or give her any unsolicited advice. She doesn’t want advice right now; she wants you to understand and empathize.
- Give her nonverbal cues that you are tuned in. Make eye contact or nod. Don’t text or answer the phone. (Your daughter needs the message that she is important much more than you need to see who is texting you.)
- Be curious–but don’t pry. Being curious is an inside job. It’s about your attitude. You put yourself in a mindset where you are curious about your daughter’s heart, mind, and soul. This is a chance to get to know her world and how she perceives certain situations. Being curious is not invasive. You are following her story and clarifying it a little more. Ask, “What did the other girls think?” or “What did the teacher do then?” When you are curious, you are not up to anything except understanding her experience. Prying, on the other hand, is invasive. It starts from a judgmental place. You are going into monitor mode–“Were they drinking?” “When did your teacher assign the project?” “What kids were at the party?”–and she knows it. When your daughter thinks you’re prying, she lashes out at you or retreats in her girl cave.
- Reflect back her feelings. Use comments like, “That sounds hard,” “Wow, she sure did lose it,” or “That was rude.” This is difficult. You want to say, “Get a grip. Chill out. It’s not a big deal.” But this would invalidate her feelings. The paradox is, when you show empathy by reflecting on her feelings, she can move past them.
- Take her side. I can hear you saying, “But she’s dead wrong. There’s no way I can take her side.” I know this feels counterintuitive, but the purpose of this conversation is to help her calm down. She calms down when she knows someone cares and is on her team. Try to see things from her perspective. She has just gotten home from a big soccer tournament and has to write a ten-page history paper and another big project that is due the following day in English and to top it off, her best friend Jane said she was getting fat. Take her side by saying something like, “You do have a lot going on. It’s overwhelming. I can’t believe Jane said that.” In the next conversation with her, when she’s less upset, you can talk about procrastinating.