Why Toxic Positivity is a problem when relocating

The benefits of focusing on ‘bad’ feelings

When I work with groups of children to support relocation, I consistently hear that the message they receive from their parents is “We only focus on the positive feelings about moving.” I can understand why parents communicate this message. Moving is a difficult and stressful process. Parents are doing the best they can to cope with the constant challenges as well as help their children with their own challenges.

In my work with parents (and teachers), I frequently hear they very real concern that children focusing on negative feelings makes those feelings worse. In fact, the opposite is true. Articulating feelings, particularly challenging and uncomfortable feelings like grief and fear, is essential for navigating through those feelings. Naming the exact emotion you experience actually shifts your brain activity out of the emotional part of your brain into a more rational, high-thinking brain region. As a result, the chemicals which produce the emotions begin to subside.

The risks of ‘toxic positivity’

This article about toxic positivity does a great job of articulating the dangers of only focusing on the positive. As the author says:

It’s OK to experience negative emotions, and with support, we can help people who are stuck in negativity find their own way out.

For Third Culture Kids, one very real risk of toxic positivity is unresolved grief. TCKs need validation that grief and sadness is a natural response to loss, and that it’s okay to feel that way. When a child’s best friend moves on to a different country, it’s normal for the child who is left behind to experience some degree of sadness. It’s important that they are allowed to articulate those feelings and have those feelings validated by parents and teachers. Constant positivity only serves to teach children that those feelings are unacceptable and should not be expressed. The thing is with grief, it will come out one way or another, and if children are not given space to express their grief at the time, it will be expressed later on, possible in a more unhealthy way.

How I can help

  1. My hello/goodbye programme for families or international schools provides practical strategies for parents and teachers to address feelings of grief and loss with children

  2. Using A New Adventure: Coaching Cards for an International Move provides opportunities for everyone in the family to express their feelings at different stages of a move

  3. Both sets of my emotion cards give practical activities to develop emotional literacy. Emotional literacy is a key skill in navigating challenging feelings - the more precisely you can name an emotion, the stronger the benefits in terms of your brain chemistry

  4. Keep an eye out for my upcoming blogs on emotion coaching and supportive phrases. They will both provide a helpful framework for responding to challenging feelings.