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I’m a complete optimist. Inherently, I believe that everything will always work out for the best, tough times will always transition to better days, and hard work and intelligent planning will always lead to success. I credit my glass-half-full way of thinking to both a natural personality trait and my even more optimistic mother. Call her a Pollyanna; I’ll take her rainbows and sunshine way of thinking any day.
Somehow, however, I ended up marrying and creating two children with a total pessimist, the kind of guy who sees clouds coming in (literally and figuratively) and assumes hailstorms and tornadoes are sure to follow. While we’ll probably never have the same reaction to a given situation (you’ll often find me trying to convince him that everything’s going to be fine while he argues that it most certainly will not be), we do agree on one thing: we both hope our children inherit my all’s-good outlook. If you similarly want to raise hopeful little optimists, especially given the often pessimistic nature of the world, here’s how to start.
- Work on eliminating absolutes from your vocabulary. Pessimism stems from thinking things are always going to go wrong, and using phrases like “I can never get that right” or “I always mess up” reinforces that thinking. Instead, work on replacing absolutes with “sometimes,” which suggests the potential for future success.
- Use hard situations to teach your child to look on the bright side. Stuck in traffic, or dealing with an illness that’s kept him home from school? Use the time to teach your kids about how much of life has both good and bad aspects. Sure, you’re not moving as fast as you’d like, but now you have a chance to talk about your day and spend more time together. Being sick isn’t fun, but at least he’ll get a chance to get some extra rest and watch that new movie. Most bad situations have a silver lining, even if it’s just the lesson you learn for the future.
- Give them a chance to succeed . . . and to fail. Optimistic attitudes are best developed when kids are given the chance to prove their abilities. Give them age-appropriate chores to complete around the house; doing so will raise their self esteem, which is a key component to staying optimistic. Furthermore, encouraging them to take risks by trying a new sport or activity, even when success isn’t assured, and by asserting their independence teaches children that you believe in them. Not attempting new things because of a fear of failure is a cornerstone of pessimism.
- Help them reframe struggles. When your child is upset about a setback, help them embrace the challenge. Acknowledge how hard it can be to deal with disappointment and validate the negative feelings, then help your child reframe those thoughts in a more positive way. “I bombed my spelling test, but I’m a hard worker and I’m going to study to do better on the next one.” “I’m not the best player on my soccer team, but I am a good artist.” Let your child know that they’re not alone in their struggle; many other children are going through the same thing.
- Praise effort, not talent. All humans like to be praised, but it’s important to focus on your child’s hard work, not their natural abilities. In other words, teach them that the valuable part is effort (which they can control) versus inherent talent (which they can’t). Also, don’t praise your child when they haven’t done something well. They’ll recognize that it’s false and won’t trust future compliments as fully.
- Let them dream big. Talk to your children about their future dreams and goals. Don’t limit them to realistic options; instead let your child’s imagination run wild. Maybe they want to be the President of the United States or a famous singer. Dreaming big helps frame a child’s view of themselves, and talking about that best version of themselves is a way to practice optimism.
- Embrace anticipation. Having something to look forward to helps humans of all ages stay optimistic. Make a family calendar, and write out upcoming vacations, events, and parties that your kids are excited about. Talk about family goals, and encourage them to keep thinking ahead to the future. You’re also teaching them to stay positive.