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4 year old focuses on the negative

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Hi Dr. Laura,

I have a 4 1/2 year old girl who on the whole is just a delight. Happy. No dramas. No issues. However when I ask her how she went at kindy, or how was her play with Evie, or tell me something you did at child care today, she will always begin with a negative. I do change my questioning to be more positive and open, I may ask, "Tell me who you played with at kindy?" She will respond, "no one wanted to play with me." I know this is not true. Or, "What was something good that happened?" She will just focus on the negative. I know she has a wonderful time at all these places and is well liked, etc. Why does she do it? How can I steer her to focus on the good and positive?

Thank you!


Most likely, your daughter actually does have some concerns, since four year olds are in a developmental stage where they are dealing with a lot of big stuff (peer issues, exclusion, power, death.) Since she doesn't act out with drama, you're lucky! But she still has to express those feelings somewhere. She is probably so happy to have an opportunity to off-load her anxieties to someone safe that she just uses the opportunity to vent. You won't believe how awful my day was! After she vents, she is probably able to notice the positive things, and share those also. 

I would not try to steer her to the positive until you have empathized with what she's saying. She is telling you something that is real to her. No one wanted to play with me. Wow, really? That couldn't have felt good...What happened? Focus on how she felt, what she chose to do, how that worked out for her. IF it turned out well ("Yes, Jenny and I ended up playing after I went over to her") then you can affirm how she took the initiative to meet her needs or whatever, which will empower her. If it did not turn out well ("No, Mom, no one ever wants to play with me....I played by myself") then you can empathize ("That can be lonely....But sometimes it is fun to play by yourself....What did you play?") and you can ask what she might choose to do tomorrow, and what she thinks might happen then. 

I understand your fear that she is being negative. But I think she is sharing her experience with you. You don't want to argue with her experience. You want her to learn that life has challenges, and that's okay -- she has someone to listen, and to support her through them. Finally, you might want to read my article on optimism.

Good luck!
Dr. Laura

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