photo: Max Pixel

“What was your favorite part of the day?” Taylor Johnson asked her 9-year-old daughter. Looking up at the stars after seeing exotic desert sights, riding camels and surfing down sand dunes, she expected her dream vacation to be magical for her kids, until her child answered: “The car ride here…  because then I could read Harry Potter.”

It’s easy to feel kids are ungrateful in these moments. You’ve spent money and time organizing experiences you think will be fun or unique for them. Instead, they seem to complain at every turn.

But thinking about it, Johnson realized that her daughter had been showing signs of stress. What if she just felt overwhelmed by all the new sights and sounds? Being out of our daily routine and everyday comforts (like reading) can make adults anxious. It can be even more disorienting for kids.

So Johnson told her daughter it was okay to feel overwhelmed, and suggested this:“What if every night we have Negative Time?” she asked. They scheduled a time to cuddle and talk about what was hard, but remain positive during the day. Her daughter agreed, and was relieved to be heard. After that, if complaining started, Johnson gently reminded her to save it for “Negative Time,” then asked her to name some interesting things she had seen that day. The little girl’s mood improved. On the last day, when Johnson’s son whined about his feet hurting, her daughter put her arm around him and suggested that he look for five positive things. “Looking for the good really does help you make the best out of bad situations,” she knowingly added. Johnson felt that moment made the entire trip worth it.

What do you think of the “negative time” technique? Tell us in the comments below.