Unhappy Child

If your 3 or 4 year-old gets stuck in The Dreaded Mental Loop of Misery, there’s a good reason for it.

Your child’s brain is developing the ability to concentrate, to focus on one thing, to repeat and explore a thought. (This is also why they don’t always listen the first time – they’ve just figured out how to get lost in thought.)

One time my daughter and I were in California, heading out to get ice cream. There was grandma! Grandpa! Ice cream! Sunshine! The beach! Everything to be happy about, but no – she was stuck in the Loop of Misery, and nothing I could say seemed to help.

Just like my daughter at this age, your little one can now get stuck repeating a thought, over and over and over again. You probably know adults that do this – and they’re miserable, too. Now’s your opportunity to give your child the tools to cheer up, manage their feelings, and think positively, for the long term. There are two steps in the process.

First, lead the child through. One of my favourite ways to do this is to wait until the tone has shifted from the initial emotion (remember that?) and then ask the child to tell you ten things they love. You can also take turns with this. A great way to practice this skill is to play a game at bedtime. Hold your child’s hand, and have them squeeze your hand every time they think of something they love (or that makes them happy, or that is fun to do, etc). You are showing your child how to actively choose thoughts.

Later, talk to the child about choosing thoughts. Point out that continuing to think about something that makes them feel sad will continue to make them feel sad. Remind them about the 10 Things You Love Game, and how it cheers them up. Remember to only do this once the child has gone THROUGH their emotion. If you distract the child before the emotion has run its course, it will get stuck and keep coming back. This tool is for after the emotion has run its course.

As your child gets older, help them put their emotions in the context of The Serenity Prayer. (God, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.) Teach this to your child, and help him or her decide whether the thing they are upset about needs their acceptance, or their courage. If it’s the former, go through the process above, and if it’s the latter, help them make a plan to make the changes that need to be made. 

Emotional intelligence is the foundation of a happy life. Start now to give your child the tools to manage their thoughts and understand their emotions!

And check out the Big Picture Parenting Online Course – it’s packed full of concepts and hands-on tools that will change your perspectives, behaviours and experience of parenting, in such a good way.

Please comment below and let me know how these ideas work in your life!