It’s interesting that the first part of the word ‘optimism’ spells ‘opt’ because being optimistic is a choice that you can opt in or out of.
That’s probably the most important thing we can impress on our children. Optimism is a choice. And choice is a superpower.
We all become discouraged at times. For children, the frustrations are great because they’re trying to learn so much at once and often don’t have the focus, patience and wisdom to understand that practice is key to achieving their goals.
At the first sign a failure, a child may become morose and feel that they will never achieve their goals.
When we promote optimism in kids, we teach them to welcome mistakes as vital learning tools.
This, in turn, will give them the resilience and determination to keep trying, rather than give up.
So how do we promote optimism in kids?
WHY PROMOTE OPTIMISM IN KIDS?
When a child becomes frustrated because they cannot complete a task, they may express themselves in pessimistic terms.
“I’ll never be able to climb this tree – paint this picture – understand this homework”.
If this pessimistic attitude continues the child will start to believe they are worthless, the world is their enemy and cannot achieve anything. Then they may give up trying.
If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. Historian Howard Zinn
They perceive negative events as personal and permanent. This can lead to serious mental health problems.
Children with a pessimistic attitude will consider they are doomed when things go wrong. They blame their own inadequacies and do not entertain the thought that things will improve.
On the flip side, optimistic children will see negative events as temporary setbacks, not personally related to them. They don’t become stuck in a pit of self-blame.
This, of course, makes them happier and more productive. They are less likely to get depressed, have fewer illnesses and longer relationships, and live longer.
What better reason to promote optimism in kids?
HOW TO PROMOTE OPTIMISM IN KIDS
“Be careful, they’re watching”
The first thing to be aware of is the example we set. If we load our own words with pessimism, the children will watch and copy. It will soon become habit. Therefore, we must set an example of optimism. We may slip from time to time (we all have our limits and our moments), but we can correct this when we calm down. We can explain we were reacting from anger and frustration and not common sense. And, we can suggest optimistic reactions, if not solutions, to our own issues.
Optimism in Kids – Show empathy
When a child is expressing pessimistic thoughts, it’s important to really hear them out before offering advice. Allow them to vent and let off enough steam to calm down. Rephrase what they have said to make it clear you understand them. Correcting them too soon or too harshly will only add to their feeling of worthlessness and confirm their sense of doom.
One of the Goddesses, a fellow leftie, became so frustrated and quite negative about her inability to use scissors successfully when she was little. It was easy to empathise with her. Life can be tricky for us left-handed people sometimes.
I heard her out and told her I truly understood her frustration. I had felt it too. The scissors provided in schools do not cater for lefties – as many utensils don’t. I explained it is difficult and we have to work harder and practise more, but when we finally nail it, we are superheroes.
Fortunately, I have ‘unihand’ scissors in my studio, so I had her practice with those and we moved on to the more challenging right-hand scissors when she gained confidence. It worked like a charm. She cuts paper beautifully now and is so proud of her ‘leftiness’. We even have a secret handshake, reserved only for ‘superlefties’. 😊
Optimism in Kids – Distract them
Help them lift their bleak mood by distracting them with an activity you know will be fun and successful. If using scissors is a challenge, suggest the child make a beautiful drawing, or help you bake cookies. Be sure to praise their successful efforts. But don’t overdo it. They are children, not fools, and will soon see through it if you overcompensate.
Ask ‘What if?’
Ask your child to think of the worst thing that can happen if they don’t achieve a particular task. Often they feel like the sky is falling in on them. When they realise it isn’t, they have the space to breathe in calm and see things in a more positive light.
Most issues are not permanent and can be overcome. Others, like left-handedness, we have to live with (thank goodness the days of forcing lefties to change are over). We need to teach children to be super proud of accommodating the things they can’t change and finding ways to cope with them.
Optimism in Kids – Celebrate past successes
Reminding them of past successful outcomes from frustrating and negative events will help children to let go of the idea that things will stay bad forever.
Break down the problem
When emotions have calmed, you can revisit the problem with your child. Break it down into small steps and ask them how they think they could solve the issue. Discuss various ways of pursuing the task. This gives them alternatives to try when one way doesn’t work out. This teaches creative thinking. It gives the child power instead of feeling like a victim of circumstance.
Help them break the habit
Negative thinking can become a habit and, like other habits, can be broken with practice. Help your child rephrase their negative thoughts. Even in calamity, a bright side can be found. I came home one day to find the hose on my washing machine had broken and my laundry was flooded. It was messy and annoying but my predominant thought was how lucky it was my laundry is a step down, so the house wasn’t flooded.
Optimism in Kids – Teach gratitude
It is virtually impossible to entertain negative feelings when we are focused on things to be grateful for. When a child expresses a negative thought, offer them an alternative way of thinking.
Recently one of the Goddesses was lamenting the fact one of her buddies wasn’t there to share in a fun craft project.
“I really wish Riley was here today,” she said.
“Yes, that would be really fun”, I replied.
“But you know, another way of thinking would be how wonderful it is that your Grandy (that’s me) has a studio full of crafting goodies for you to play with whenever you visit. What are you going to focus on?”
Help them understand the power of thought
Remind your child they have the power to choose their thoughts. They can choose happy thoughts or sad thoughts. Sometimes, a situation or event will result in them feeling sad, or frustrated. That is natural and their feelings should be validated. However, it is, in the end, up to them to make the choice to move back into happiness. When they understand this, they will learn to take responsibility for their reactions and their outlook. They will know they have the power to opt-in to optimism.
Wishing you an optimistic and gleeful week, Tamuria.