In the last few months, I have been conducting corporate workshops for employees and managers in different companies on how to become more optimistic in every aspect of life. I am amazed by how happy attendees are to finally learn specific skills to improve the quality of their lives so they can approach life in a more optimistic manner.
You may not know it, but being an optimist has been associated with many positive attributes including better health, greater perseverance and flexibility, and feeling happier and less depressed. This has me thinking…why do we have to wait until we reach adulthood to learn the skills of optimism? As a parent, you can begin inoculating your child against pessimism right now so he can develop all these great qualities. I will give you the most important tools you need to do so. To begin, keep in mind that optimism is not about being in a good mood all the time. Rather, it is about having a positive, rather than negative approach to life, even during difficult times. This doesn’t mean you are always happy, but you are more likely to become proactive, rather than helpless in your approach to life.
Optimism Tool #1
Teach your child that when good things happen, they are generally the result of planning, hard work, and the choices you make—NOT luck. If your child believes positive events happen mainly by chance, she will be less likely to have an optimistic outlook that she can control her life.
Examples: You do well on a test because you study hard; you’re less nervous at a recital because you practice beforehand; mom won’t be angry with you if you choose to be nice to your brother.
Optimism Tool #2
Teach your child that he will certainly have negative experiences, but no matter how bad one may be, he will soon start to feel better and sometimes can even take action to help himself feel better more quickly. In addition, help him see that a negative experience usually doesn’t have to cast a shadow over every part of his life.
Examples: When a pet dies, you feel very sad, but over time you will feel less sad and you can draw pictures or write poems or stories to remember your pet; you don’t make the basketball team so at first you feel hurt and rejected but maybe it leaves you time to focus on something else you love (and perhaps you didn’t practice enough—Tool #1); you have an argument with your friend, but once you resolve it your friendship could be stronger than ever.
Optimism Tool #3
Review your child’s achievements regularly —big and small—and encourage her to do so too. The quicker she learns how to focus upon the positive parts of her life, rather than the things she hasn’t accomplished, hopes to accomplish, or has failed to accomplish, the sooner she is will begin to think optimistically about her life.
Examples: “Let’s put up a display shelf for your trophies (even if they’re just for participation)”; “Count the number of toys you put away in the next five minutes”; “read your latest poem to me—I don’t care about spelling mistakes”; “I noticed that you made fewer spelling mistakes on your test this time—good job!”
Dr. Susan Bartell is a family psychologist. Her latest book is The Top 50 Questions That Kids Ask.