Teaching Our Kids Optimism

22
Aug
2013


If you could take small steps now to point your child toward a life which would likely include lower stress, better health, more confidence and a more positive outlook, would you be interested?

There benefits of optimism are shown over and over again.  Researchers like Martin Seligman have been studying optimists and pessimists for years, and they have found that an optimistic world view carries certain advantages.  One example:

In a study of 99 Harvard University students, those who were optimists at age 25 were significantly healthier at ages 45 and 60 than those who were pessimists.

There is much to say about the whole nurture or nature philosophy, and one I am learning about with children from 3 different sets of parents all under the same roof.  It is interesting to see how you can influence your child’s tendency toward an optimistic outlook or pessimistic thinking – I do truly believe optimism can be a learned behavior.

Children with optimistic thinking skills are better able to interpret failure and are better able to bounce back when things go wrong in their lives.  In my opinion, they have a better perspective of their self-image.

Let me share some ways you can help build an optimistic outlook and character in your child.

Learn to think optimistically yourself

What children see and hear indirectly from you as you lead your life and interact with others influences them much more than what you try to teach them.  So if you find yourself to be more pessimistic than optimistic, find ways to readjust your thinking and approach.

You can model optimism for your child by incorporating optimistic mental skills into your own way of thinking. This is not easy and does not occur over night. But with practice, almost everyone can learn to think differently about what life brings to us each day. When you achieve success, don’t downplay it with false modesty, but give yourself credit for a job well done. When things go wrong, don’t catastrophize it, put things in perspective.

Help Them Experience Success

Children develop self-esteem and optimism by experiencing success, even in the face of some challenges.  This does not mean you never allow them to fail or do you always make things easy.  Starting young, let your child do things for themselves (with you in a supporting role rather than doing for them), and acknowledge their success.

So, instead of you making their bed for them at age 3 because it won’t look as good as if you did it, allow them to make it and loosen your criteria to their level of ability.  Give them encouragement and incentive to complete the task.  You can carry this over to other areas and tasks as well, like folding/sorting laundry, emptying the trash and self-care tasks.  Even if it takes more work on your part to allow them the opportunity you will be giving them a huge gift.

Give Credit For Success

When your child has a success, help them see how they contributed to it, and label those actions as strengths.  Instead of giving a general “Your really smart.”  or “Great Job,” be specific and give them concrete skills that lead to their success.

When they succeed at a large task that was challenging, point out that they had the perseverance to continue even when it was hard.  Point out characteristics you see in them so they can begin to identify those in themselves.

Identify Negative/False Talk

Teach your child how to evaluate automatic thoughts. This means acknowledging that they things you say to yourself are not necessarily accurate.  As I was reading the book, “Uncovered,” by Susie Davis, she talks about that self-talk we give ourselves almost constantly throughout the day.  She call them ‘text messages’ your brain sends yourself, most being negative messages not positive ones.  Helping our children realize these thoughts are not realistic nor true is a first step to combating negative and self-defeating self talk.

For instance, after receiving a poor grade your child may be telling himself he is a failure, he is not as smart as other kids; he will never be able to succeed in school, etc.  These ‘text messages’ are being sent to him at an alarming rate and many of these self-statements may not be accurate, but they are automatic in that situation.  Help your child identify those and counteract them – this will take years of practice.

Look For The Bright Side

Help your child see that there is good and bad in every situation.  Keeping a positive outlook is always better.  The more you help encourage your child to find the good in all things, the easier it will be for them to do this on their own.  For example, if your child can’t play outside because it’s raining, look at the positives of indoor play, or focus on another activity that can be done instead.

Instruct your child on how to generate more accurate explanations (to themselves) when bad things happen and use them to challenge your child’s automatic but inaccurate thoughts. Part of this process involves looking for evidence to the contrary (good grades in the past, success in other life areas, etc).  These steps to bringing about new thinking will be key to them implementing it themselves.

Are you generally Optimistic?  Why is that and how do you keep that characteristic?
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