Have you heard of the term ‘toxic positivity? It can occur when someone goes through a rough time and in response they are assaulted with a barrage of positive comments like; “look on the bright side of life”, “think about how much better off you are than others,” “everything happens for a reason”, and many more. I’m sure you can think of some to add to the list.
We have all been on the receiving end of well-intentioned people trying to cheer us up.
Our students and especially the teenagers among them are vulnerable during times of difficulty. What seems like a tiny problem to us can seem like an enormous situation to them. They don’t have the benefit of age to give problems context.
For example, falling out with your best friend is a horrible experience but as you grow older you realise that young friendships are volatile and it is normal to break up with some just as it is normal to make new friends and so on. Your child does not have the life experience to put a broken friendship in context yet. They don’t want to be told to look on the bright side of life. They don’t care if everything happens for a reason; they just feel devastated.
The next time your child is sad, worried or upset about something, be careful not to respond with toxic positivity comments. How should you respond? An article by Arianna Prothero in Education Week had these helpful responses for parents and educators and I hope they will be of use to you also:
- Acknowledge your child’s emotions. Listen reflectivity to ensure you have understood and, more importantly, they know you have understood.
- Acknowledge that people who use upbeat statements mean well and are trying to be helpful.
- Model a range of emotions and how to handle them responsively. Be open and honest without making it about yourself.
- Don’t ignore negative emotions. Acknowledge their validity. Once children feel that their hurt is understood, they will be more likely to move on.
- Don’t pressure your children to be optimistic all the time. Life is hard and it is important to build resilience.
- Don’t make being happy the goal. We all want our children to be happy but it is much more important to equip them with the tools they need to navigate through life.
Mike Curtis, Principal