The problem is that like certain behaviors, emotions can become habits. That’s not a problem when the emotion in question is functional (e.g., an optimistic outlook), but it can become a major problem when it’s anti-social (e.g., finding humor in other people’s tragedies).
A person who repeatedly says, “Life stinks,” is in danger of coming to believe it, despite lots of evidence to the contrary. Likewise, your son is in danger of his negativity becoming a habit. The good news is that he’s young enough for you to head that off at the proverbial pass.
First, you sit down with him privately, when he’s not in a foul mood, and you gently confront him with his gloom and doom attitude. You tell him that it’s not appropriate, that he lives a better life than 90 percent of the world’s kids (true) and that bad moods affect other people in bad ways.
So, from now on he won’t be allowed to be around the rest of the family if he’s in a bad mood. You’re simply going to send him to his very nice room to mediate on his bad attitude. When he can be happy, he can rejoin the family. In other words, you take away his audience.
When you’re making plans to go somewhere or do anything as a family, ask him, “Do you think what we’re going to do is stupid? Because if you do, we can find you a very mean and ugly babysitter and you can stay home. You’re only invited if you can be happy, like the rest of us.” The overwhelming likelihood is that he’ll want to be included in the event. Right? Right.
That approach (I call it loving confrontation) will force your son to begin practicing a positive attitude. Within a few months, if not sooner, you should have a much more likeable middle child on your hands.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website, www.rosemond.com.