As a child psychologist and parent, I have a soft spot in my heart for kids who default to negative thinking when faced with daily stressors, big or small. You know the kind…life is too hot, too cold, too tight, smells weird, has a brown spot, is unfair, on purpose, not good enough, always this and never that. These chronic complainers view life in all-or-nothing terms, can turn a minor problem into an instant catastrophe, cherry-pick out the bad, and give up when something is hard. Negative thinkers view everyday obstacles as unchangeable and inescapable, and often their fault–quite a roadmap for feeling helpless and out of ideas for success. Their confidence, family relationships, friendships, and mood suffer under the weight of default rigidity and impossible happiness. Negative kids have taught me a lot about just how discouraging and painful it is to have such a grouchy brain and how much they want adults to understand they are not being difficult on purpose.

I also feel for the parents of negative thinkers who try so hard to cheerlead, reassure, and reason with that child, hoping against hope that somehow optimism will win. When it doesn’t work, even the most patient parent can resort to scolding, yelling, and belittling, resulting in two upset people who feel misunderstood. The more you argue with a negative kid, the more they up the ante of often dumbfounding evidence to support their cynical point of view. Hurtful and unhelpful exchanges only fuel a child’s negative ride. This is where parents need the most help. They need to understand what is at the core of negativity, how their behavior stokes the fire, and what to do instead.

“Like prickly weeds in a flower garden, a negative child can quickly kill the joy of a celebration, destroy the peace in a household, and ruin a special occasion with a few simple words.

Alyssa Elmore, 
Reviewer of Navigating Negativity: Practical Parenting Strategies to Reduce Conflict and Create Calm

I wrote the book Navigating Negativity: Practical Parenting Strategies to Reduce Conflict and Create Calm as a starting place for parents who are tired of negativity being in charge at their house. The best part about the book is that none of the strategies require the child’s cooperation! Caregivers discover just what might be behind their child’s negative mindset, how adult responses could be encouraging their child to hold on tight to that rigid response, and what to do instead. The best chapter is the one that gives parents ideas on how to nurture a positive household every other minute of the day when their child is NOT in meltdown mode. I really tried to craft every chapter to provide practical information that does not overwhelm, but inspires readers to do better for their negative child. These kids are tough. I am humbled by the chance to make a difference in even one little person’s life with this book. Imagine what a home would look like if negativity wasn’t in charge! Imagine what all families could look like if negativity wasn’t in charge! Want to make a difference for your family? Buy this book today for ideas you can change you can make instantly. Ebook and paperback back now available on   

It’s hard to go to therapy. Some kids don’t want to. Most families struggle to make time in their schedules. And insurance? Also a barrier for many families. Even if you have made the difficult decision to pour out your parenting frustrations to a total (trained) stranger, the wait can be long and the fit might not be right.  

It’s no wonder that parents desperately search online for advice and options to help their child cope with their mood and behavior problems.  Such searches can yield an overwhelming amount of advice, however, prompting parents to default to whatever they’ve been trying and hope for a different outcome that doesn’t come.

Today I want to guide that search a bit. Below are a few of my favorite workbooks to help families address three common problems: kid anger, kid grumbling, and teen negativity. These workbooks work best when they are read together with a caregiver who can reinforce the ideas in a positive way throughout the day. The best part? Even if your child doesn’t buy into the concepts, I am sure you will learn strategies you can use with or without your child’s cooperation.  

Check these out and see what you think:

Workbook for Kids Who Get Mad Easily (ages 8-12)

Here is one of my go-tos for kids who get mad easily. One of my favorite explanations in the workbook is that anger is like a fire and you have to recognize not only what fuels your fire but what puts it out too.  The fire analogy also helps parents understand what they do that sparks their angry kid as well, like yelling, comparing, shaming, and reminding them of past mistakes.  The link below will lead you to

Link: What To Do When Your Temper Flares


And What About Kids Who Seem to Complain About Everything?

This workbook has great ideas like “taking off your bad memories backpack” to help you not focus on what has gone wrong in the past. Helpful for parents who are complainers too!

Link: What To Do When You Grumble Too Much


What About Those Grumpy Teens?

I find that the workbook below is useful for helping teens who struggle with any issue that might spark negativity…perfectionism, anxiety, depression, peer problems, family conflict.  Many of the situations that we find challenging often start with how we think about the scenario. This book helps teens identify those thoughts and how to challenge them to spark a more positive perspective on situations like hard homework and friend troubles. 

This workbook is easy to read and would be a great source for how to resolve negative thinking habits or avoid them in the first place.

Link: Conquer Negative Thinking


Children’s mental health problems can take more than a workbook to solve. These resources offer a solid springboard for moving in the right direction. Consider them part of your parenting toolbox.  Be sure to seek additional support through a qualified health care provider sooner than later if your parent radar tells you problems are becoming too overwhelming to figure out alone.


Successful Start To Preschool

Going to preschool is a huge step for children!  It is a big moment for parents.  Here are some tips for getting off to a successful start!


Be Confident In Your Child

Be confident in your child to succeed in school.  If your concerns are that your child might not behave well at preschool, or make friends, or will be anxious, give him or her a chance.  Children often behave differently depending on the environment.  How many times have you heard a parent complain that their children behave better at home than school?  Children also tend to love preschool and want to do well.  Give your child a chance before alerting the teacher to your concerns.  The school will usually reach out if there is a concern.

Get Help If Your Child Isn’t Meeting Milestones

If your child isn’t reaching milestones such as speaking fluently, reach out to your local public preschool or pediatrician for help.  Your pediatrician can help you determine if your child needs to be referred for a developmental assessment.  If your child is identified as having a developmental delay, your local school system can help arrange for needed services such as speech, physical, or occupational therapy and special education preschool.

Read the Handbook

Your preschool handbook will often be available online or you can request a copy.  The handbook is a wealth of knowledge regarding procedures for discipline, illness, inclement weather, and more.  Instead of guessing what to do, be prepared by knowing in advance.

Give Your Child And Teacher Some Space

Your child and her teacher need time to get to know each other.  Your child needs to learn the structure of preschool and what are the expectations and consequences.  Even if you disagree, if your child comes home upset about something that his teacher says, try to show that you support the teacher.  If you are concerned about abuse, contact the school principal or police.

Talk About Starting Preschool, But Not Too Much

It is fine to let your child know that she will be starting preschool.  You can shop for a backpack and visit the school playground.  Avoid talking about preschool all the time as it may send a message to your child that there is a reason to be worried about preschool.

Predictable Home Routines

Predictable routines for sleeping and waking will make sure your child is well-rested and ready to learn each day.  Additionally, predictable routines will help your child relax and participate fully in preschool.

Be Ready for An Adjustment Period

Don’t be surprised if your child is more tired and irritable during the first week or so after starting preschool.  Remind yourself that this adjustment period will not last forever.  Think of it as your child is getting used to a new job.

Model Calm

The more that you can show your child that you are calm about preschool the more your child will try to imitate your calm behavior.  Your child is looking to you to guide him.  If you model that “everything is okay,” your child will be able to absorb this message and look forward to going to beginning her education adventure.

Sending your child to a new experience can be both exciting and a little scary.  It is normal to be worried about your child.  Growing up can be hard both for parents and their children.


Jennifer Luria is a highly skilled child and adolescent psychotherapist. Ms. Luria holds a Masters in Social Work from the University of Iowa. She is currently on staff at Hope Springs Behavioral Consultants in Coralville, IA.


Your child’s wish list this holiday season probably includes the latest gaming system, baby dolls, science kits, or marble runs with pieces that will be lost by January 1. Yet, written in invisible ink at the top of this list is something your child desires more than anything else.


What your child really wants is free and exclusively yours to give—your time.


Of course, you are already spending time with your child giving rides to practices, watching swim lessons, helping with homework, and running the countless errands required for presents, parties and surprise sign-up lists at school. From your child’s perspective, although this time together counts for something, it really isn’t the gift of your true, undivided time and attention.


This season, consider squeezing out a little of what matters less and make time for what matters the most for building family connections.


Here are some tips for constructing the perfect playtime gift:


  1. Set a goal of spending 15-20 minutes together as many days of the week as you can; put it on your calendar as an important appointment. Keep your playtime with your child no matter how the rest of the day has gone with respect to mood or behavior (yours or your child’s)! Your child will come to trust that this time with you comes with no strings, which ultimately leads to more respectful behavior overall. No, you won’t be rewarding your child for bad behavior any more than your partner “rewards” you for being grumpy by sticking to your dinner date plans!


  1. Allow your child to choose an activity to play. You can write up a menu of acceptable choices if your child tends to be indecisive or chooses activities that are hard to complete in 15 minutes, require excessive clean up or encourage aggression.


Some ideas to get you started: Coloring, drawing, card games, board games, puzzles, blocks, dolls, pretend play, short craft activities…

Activities to avoid: Electronics, complicated games, games that encourage violence, messy crafts…


As you practice playing together more, you will figure out which activities work and which ones take too long or lead to an inevitable meltdown or out-of-control behavior. It’s ok to modify the list as needed. And yes, you have to play with dolls or race cars even if you hate it!


Of course, you can set limits on aggressive or very inappropriate behavior. Play that is dangerous or disrespectful can lead to a warning or simply ending the play time and letting your child know (in a calm voice) that you will try again the next time. Minor infractions can be overlooked, however. For example, if your child wants to ‘cheat’ at Candyland by having the play piece go straight to the top to eat all of the candy in the castle, then just say, “Oh you are playing Stella’s way today.” When you play as a family outside of this one-on-one time, you can hold onto your expectation to play by the rules. Kids master the expectations of different situations all the time and won’t be harmed by playing a crazy, unruly way with you.  Besides, you will likely learn about your child’s most creative edge when the rules can be tweaked just a little!



  1. Set a timer if needed to help you stay on track with the time. Expect your child to protest when the timer goes off, or to beg for a few more minutes of your time. Let your child know that you had a lot of fun too and that you look forward to the next time but try to stick with your time limit. Why? This helps your child develop consistent expectations about your special time and makes it easier for you to keep it on your schedule knowing you can still meet your other obligations. Skip all lectures about being ungrateful or ‘ruining’ special time by melting down at the end. No threats to take the time away, just a message of trust that your child will get better at ending your time together.


  1. No distractions. This should go without saying but no electronic devices for you or your child, no TV on in the background, no throwing in a load of laundry or checking on little brother. Ideally, you would find time to spend with your child when other siblings can hang out with another caregiver, are not home, are sleeping, or are at least engaged in something independently. It can feel strange to play with only one of your kids at a time but each of your kids deserves your time without the predictable interference of a sibling.


  1. Most Important and Most Difficult: The purpose of your playtime gift is to enjoy each other’s company. Period. No teaching, lecturing, guiding, or even complimenting is allowed! Kids are under the behavioral microscope all day–having just a few minutes off the grid can do wonders for encouraging positive behavior and creating bonds.


What’s off limits?

“That is such a beautiful picture!”

“You are so good at building stuff!”

“Let me show you how to dress her so she matches.”

“If you find the edges we can do this puzzle faster.”



“You are using green on that tree.”

“That tower is 10 bricks high.”

“That dolly has red hair just like you do.”

“We have a rainbow of colors to choose from!”


Think of yourself as an impartial sports commentator. You are simply describing the movements of the moment without evaluation or judgment. It is a lot harder to do than you think! You will find yourself wanting to praise or correct your child but please don’t. When in doubt, echo back what your child says or simply stay quiet.  You have permission to say nothing. Kids tend to talk more to people who listen than those who are always telling them what to do and how to feel. Be one of the listening people for your child.


What other gifts come along with your time? For your child—the message of being the most important part of a minute (or 20), feelings of acceptance, the ability to just ‘be’ without judgement, reinforcement of traits that really matter like creativity, a desire to do right by you, and trust that you will be there with your full attention from time to time.


And the gifts for you? Less parenting guilt about how much time you really spend with your child, the chance to discover more about your child’s interests and creativity, how to listen without judging or offering solutions (which comes in handy during adolescence), and maybe even a new appreciation for marble runs!


Who knows, maybe the tradition you start this holiday season of truly spending time with your child is one that will stick around for the whole year!




If you counted all the words you said to your child today, how many of them were really necessary? Which words acknowledged a problem? Comforted a worry? Encouraged effort? Provided useful direction? How many restated a failure that could not be undone? Threatened a consequence you won’t deliver? Pointed out the unhelpful obvious? Or created shame and self-doubt?

If you are like most parents (myself included) every day probably results in a tally in both columns—helpful and useless (or even hurtful).  

Our intentions are good. That long lecture about how your brother is going to be your best friend someday surely sinks in at some point, and will change toy-destroying enemies into loving comrades, right? And a review of how your daughter really needs to focus more on her homework habits if she ever wants to get into college should motivate her to start writing in that planner, correct?

Your child would tell you, No. Not right. Not helpful. Not encouraging. Not the way to raise my confidence.

So how to do you stick with what needs to be said? How do you make sure most of your words lead, strengthen, effectively instruct, and build your child's confidence in problem solving?

Three Powerful Questions

In my research on attention disorders, I discovered three powerful questions (with minor differences in versions) designed to help adults manage their impulse to blurt out whatever comes to mind:

Does it need to be said?

Does it need to be said right now?

Does it need to be said by me?


What perfect questions to consider when you are talking to anyone, but especially your child!

Take this scenario

Your child bombs an assignment that you knew would take longer to finish than he expected and you are about to launch into your prized lecture on time management.

But what if you asked yourself these questions first?


Does it need to be said? Nope. The damage is done and the chance for time management on this project has passed.

Does it need to be said right now? Nope again. The next time he has a long assignment to work on would be a better time to help build those time management skills.

Does it need to be said by me? Perhaps. Later. Like when your child is preparing for his next long assignment. And in the spirit of problem solving and building the skill of prioritizing tasks.


Other common things parents say that clutter up our kids’ ability to tune in to us:

"Don't spill that"

"I told you so"

"You are being ridiculous"

"How many times have I told you…"


What works better?

Pause before you speak

Ask yourself those three questions

Say nothing, offer a hug, give some space, give yourself some space


Do Better

For the next two days, pay attention to what you say to your child. Examine how many times you tell your child things that really are not helpful. Watch your child avoid eye contact and slump in posture when you lecture about something they can no longer fix like a bad paper or missed free throw shot.


Feel the energy in your home change when you make this one, small (but difficult) tweak to your parenting style. See how much your child relaxes when you don’t criticize a mistake. Be amazed at how much more open your child is to listening to your problem-solving ideas when you save it for a time when those ideas actually help. Keep noticing and trying and tweaking until this new parenting behavior takes hold.


Does this need to be said to all parents?

“Yes!” says your kid!


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