Parenting Strategies for a Negative Child

Father looking at displeased son (8-9)

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Some children may have personality traits that cause them to appear as though they are always in a bad mood. The constant complaints, apparent unhappiness, and other unpleasant behavior can easily wear on a parent. It's easy for parents and children to fall into a pattern of consistently negative interactions, but a behavioral transformation is possible.

As a parent, you have to develop coping strategies that work for you and your child. To address a negative temperament, take a four-pronged approach. These strategies will help you manage your child's negative outlook so you can teach them how to appreciate the small joys in everyday life.

Ignore Some Bad Moods

Don't ignore your child when they are in a bad mood. Ignore the mood. When you don't react to your child's negativity, you take one step forward in extinguishing negative behaviors. An attitude that conveys acceptance of your child, negative temperament and all, will keep your relationship intact and allow you to keep influencing positive development.

Identify Underlying Needs

You'll soon be able to identify your child's patterns of negative moods. Perhaps it's worse in the morning, or right after school. As humans, we are more vulnerable to irritability and cranky behavior in general when we are tired or hungry.

New situations are also bound to elicit a negative reaction. Social interactions at school and playgroups can be strained or conflicted, and they only seem to become more complicated as your child grows. Your child may also want your attention, and whining is their strategy to get it.

When you address your child's underlying needs for physical well-being, structure, and regularity in daily life, planning for new situations, social development, and positive attention, your children will develop stronger control over their emotions and the ability to moderate negative moods.

Confront Your Child's Negativity

Don't allow your child to escalate their mood or control the entire family atmosphere with their constant complaining and negative behavior. Confront irrational statements or point out the positive aspects of a situation. If they don't come around, a simple "That's enough. I understand that you feel that way, but..." is enough. Move along with your activities and let your child know that the subject is closed.

Teach Positive Behavior

Asking a child with a negative temperament to suddenly develop a cheerful, positive attitude is a tall order, but you can help them learn to act positively even when they aren't thrilled about it. Encourage your child to make a positive effort when their first reaction is negative. Guide your child to make amends if they have damaged a social relationship with their negative attitude.

Help them develop hobbies and interests that they enjoy, and that can relieve or calm a negative mood. Give your child choices between two options, even when they aren't happy about either. Show them lots of affection and love so that they will learn to share the same. Sharing your joy and thankfulness provides a model for living that will allow your child to overcome their challenging temperament.

A Word From Verywell

If your child seems to be struggling with their mood on a regular basis, speak to your pediatrician. Depression and other mental health issues often present as irritability in children. Your pediatrician can rule out any medical or mental health issues.

Of course, some kids are just more negative than others and it's no cause for alarm. If that's the case, just make sure to give your child attention for being positive and encourage a good attitude.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Micalizzi L, Wang M, Saudino KJ. Difficult temperament and negative parenting in early childhood: A genetically informed cross-lagged analysis. Dev Sci. 2017;20(2). doi:10.1111/desc.12355

  2. American Academy of Family Physicians. What you can do to change your child’s behavior.

By Kimberly L. Keith, M.Ed, LPC
Kimberly L. Keith, M.Ed., LPC, is a counselor, parent educator, and advocate for children and families in the court and community.