I believe totally in the power of positive thinking, and I am trying to instil this in my 14-year-old daughter. Whenever she complains about her looks, wardrobe, studies, friends, etc., I don’t let her go on, but try to get her to zero in on the positive things in her life. However, my mother has been telling me that she senses my daughter is, as a result, telling me less and less of what is going on in her life and bottling it in. Am I wrong in trying to prevent her from becoming a whiner and get her to focus on what is going right?
Well, positive thinking does have a role, but to a troubled 14-year-old, there’s only so much that good cheer and smiles can do when she’s having a rough time.
Psychologist Barbara Held, author of Stop Smiling, Start Kvetching (seriously, this is what she has titled her book), writes: “There is no one right way to cope with all the pain of living. If we are prevented from coping in our own way, be it ‘positive’ or ‘negative’, we function less well.”
So your mother is right, and I suspect that in your bid to have the girl look at the bright side of everything, you could be tending to simply not listen to the real emotional underlying trouble she is trying to tell you about.
Sometimes, all that your adolescent needs, when she comes to you feeling bad, is not an over-bright, brassy lecture on “look at the positive side”, but just the space and permission to feel lousy for a while. Feeling weighed down at times and not upbeat 24x7 is perfectly okay and understandable. You need to see (for the child as well as for yourself) that feeling bad and having some degree of anxiety is not automatically the same as being “whiny”.
I, too, would mistrust the positive-attitude-as-panacea-for-all-ills. Especially with young people, it puts a double-whammy burden: She’s having a rough day or bad patch, and you insist that she delve deep for the “bright side”, so she feels worse because somehow she’s not grinning her way to a better state of mind. Held puts it nicely: “First you feel bad about whatever’s getting you down, then you feel guilty or defective if you can’t smile and look on the bright side.”
Most importantly, your daughter could begin to feel that you’re fobbing her off, and dismissing and reducing her issues to just something that she should “tackle with a smile”. I would guess that this would alienate any child from its mother. This is what your mother is trying to say too, I am guessing.
I understand that you don’t want her to get into the “victim” mentality in life. However, if you listen carefully, you will be able to discern which things she is simply whining about and which things she needs to talk and feel her way through with your help, not just with a vaccination of positive thinking.
Gouri Dange is the author of The ABCs of Parenting.
Send your queries to Gouri at firstname.lastname@example.org