How to Teach Kids Optimism
Your mindset plays a significant role in how you view and experience life.
You can share the exact same experience as someone else and interpret its significance in completely different ways. A bird chirping outside the window at dawn may call to one person’s mind the beauty of nature or the possibility of the day, while someone else sees it as a noisy nuisance or as disruption of sleep.
Avoiding a car accident might lead you to feel thankful for your good fortune while someone else may feel unlucky or a sense of anger toward the other party. Or an increase in responsibility at work may seem like an opportunity to you and a burden to another person.
While most parents spend time instructing their children how to tie their shoes, memorize their ABCs, and use good manners, teaching them to maintain a positive mindset throughout the day may not come so easily.
Teaching optimism, though, can benefit children for their entire lives. Such an understanding may be one of the most valuable gifts you can give your child.
According to psychologist Ashley J. Smith of Overland Park, Kansas, “A more balanced mindset is associated with reduced risks for anxiety, depression, substance use, and suicide as well as increased happiness.” Focusing on positivity in your children is a worthwhile effort that may even lead to your own increased happiness as well.
Here are five ways to foster an optimistic mindset in your children.
That means you, Mom and Dad. Children model what they see. “It’s hard to encourage kids to have a positive attitude if parents constantly complain, criticize, or focus on the can’ts and the what is wrongs,” Smith said. Instead, work on your own mindset and see if there’s room to see your life experience in a more positive light.
Help Them See the Good
You can help your children to find the good in any situation. When you see your children being negative, “Prompt them to find the bright side,” Smith said.
Negative thinking takes many forms, he added. “Things like complaining, discounting the positives, attending to the negative parts of a situation, and global thinking—using terms like ‘always’ and ‘never,’” are manifestations of a pessimistic outlook.
“Labeling a negative thought and asking the child to do the work to find a positive is much more effective than providing one for the child,” Smith said. When your child is focused on what went wrong, ask them what went right. When your child is complaining about something, ask them if they can find the silver lining.
Everything has a positive side and a negative side. “The goal is to help children seen both the good parts and the bad parts of the situation,” Smith said. “They’re probably already pretty good at seeing the bad parts.”
Educate Your Children
Teach your children about the differences between positive and negative thinking, and how these can impact them. “Parents can teach their children that their brain has two sides,” Smith said, “One that does negative thinking—the right prefrontal cortex—and one that does more neutral, positive, and rational thinking—the left prefrontal cortex. The negative side is really strong and good at its job, so we have to practice and strengthen the positive side—like going to the gym to build your muscles.”
You may find your children more interested in these ideas than you’d thought, and by offering them such insights, they can make better decisions.
Recognize Their Positivity
Use positive reinforcement to reinforce positivity. “Parents can praise their children’s efforts to catch and counteract negative thinking,” Smith said. When you see your children focusing on the good, notice and let them know.
Encourage an Attitude of Gratitude
“A gratitude practice can also be extremely beneficial,” Smith said. Encourage your children to focus on what they are grateful for in any way that you can. Whether through journaling, creative craft projects, or simply by making gratitude part of the daily conversation, you’ll soon find that looking for things to be thankful for works those positivity muscles.