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When a family member claims the title of “Resident Grumbler” it often means more work for the entire clan. So parents, rejoice! Child psychologist and author Dawn Huebner, PhD, urges kids to take ownership of the issue. By identifying parents as coaches, she provides families with the tools to steer the negative thinkers toward change — until they grumble no more (or at least less often).
With its inviting cover illustration that highlights hurdlers racing down the track, Huebner’s workbook What to Do When You Grumble Too Much beckons kids to enter. Before I could even pick up the phone to arrange an interview with the author, my own resident grumbler had spotted the bright cover.
“I need this,” my 10-year-old declared, flipping the book open. While I knew this particular child leaned toward the glass-half-empty mentality, I didn’t realize she knew it. With self-awareness already on our side, I handed her a pen.
The coach approach
Huebner says her What to Do series was developed when she recognized that the children she saw as a therapist needed a tool for everyday use at home. Because kids tend to resist their parents’ instruction, she implemented the coach approach. “Teams and coaches draw a positive image in the child’s mind; the sports metaphor normalizes it, helping kids accept the guidance.”
Word pictures also provide parents with a better way to offer their help. As children are learning coping skills, they need frequent encouragement from a parent to remind them to use new skills. “Kids can intellectually learn about the skills, but learning in the moment the skill is needed is much trickier,” says Huebner.
Coaching vs. cheerleading
Huebner recommends parents act as coaches, not cheerleaders, and she maintains there is a difference. Math, for instance, is often a hard subject. The cheerleader’s response to a child who struggles would be, “You’re good at math! You can do it! Rah-Rah!” Using this tactic can actually increase a child’s negativity because he feels unheard, that his parents “just don’t get it.”
“As an alternative, I encourage parents to take on the role of coach, which starts with simply validating the child,” says Huebner. For example, saying “This seems like a hard experience for you,” lets the child know that the parent has an understanding, that they are not dismissing the problem.
“It is immensely important for children to feel heard,” she says, emphasizing that parents need not agree, accommodate, or give in, but simply hear what is being said by your child.
Arlington mom of six Laura Hatcher agrees. “Simply showing them you are listening validates their feelings,” she says, “and once kids realize we understand their less than happy disposition, they can move on more easily.”
Parents can then suggest that the challenge is much like a hurdle in a race. This is where the book becomes a useful step-by-step guide to help parents tap into specific skills. As my own daughter and I began the book together, she immediately appreciated that I (her coach) was willing to work with her to help her overcome her negative slant.
Gratitude is another key to dialing back grumbling. “Gratitude is proving to be one of the most effective tools in dealing with depression, which stems from negativity,” Huebner says. “Simply being attuned to the small, positive things that are happening in your life can bring change.”
When a child claims not one fun thing happened today, for instance, remind him to pay attention to little things, not just the big stuff. “You can suggest events such as friend saving a seat for you or Mom making your favorite breakfast,” says Huebner. “Parents can encourage kids to practice noticing those little things, reminding them that the more they practice it, the easier it gets and the better they will feel.”
Here’s a classic example; you and your son spend the afternoon doing something he wants to do, like playing at the park. Afterwards, he asks for ice cream. You say no, to which he wails he never gets to do anything he wants to do, despite the park visit.
Huebner recommends first acknowledging the child’s response. “Try something like, ‘Ice cream would be great but you know when you’re thinking I never do anything for you, that is the negative part of your brain talking.’ ”
Again, the sports reference serves as an effective tool. “Just as you have to practice kicking a soccer ball with your left leg if you favor the right one, so kids can strengthen the positive side of the brain when they favor the negative,” says Huebner.
She also cites the power of the positive influence. “Sometimes, surrounding your kids with positive friends and family members can help them maintain that positive attitude.”
Be part of the process
The role parents serve is crucial; leading first by example and then by consequences. “Often the kids that read my books are kids that have received frequent negative messages about themselves,” says Huebner. “I want kids to feel competent and empowered and then to build on that; children very much need their parents to be in this role so both can make the shifts necessary to bring about change.”
I had not realized how much my daughter’s grumbling had come between us; I had turned her continual gripes down to a comfortable volume of background noise. This book served as a tool, a reference point, a common ground that enabled me to size up the situation so I could truly help my daughter keep the negative side of life in its place — a skill that will serve her well long after childhood is over.
Margie Sims is a writer and mom of 10. Look in on her blog at margiesims.com
Visit Author Dawn Huebner’s website, dawnhuebnerphd.com, where you can view and purchase more books in the What to Do series.