This blog post was written by Miller D. Knight Jr., Behavioral Health Director at the Beloit Area Community Health Center.
Teach children to have a positive outlook on life
Our kids today are faced with many challenges and struggles are new compared to what we might have experienced when we were their age. Most recently, the struggles and disappointments of a global pandemic.
It often can be frustrating to hear our children say, “Why bother? I won’t make the team” or “It doesn’t matter, I can’t get an A”. Facing enormous academic and social pressures can create an attitude of passive resignation that is not healthy.
Dr. Martin Saligman, author of “Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life,” describes three benefits of optimism you will want for your child: Better health, greater academic and extracurricular performance, and the motivation to keep trying often. He calls this “psychological immunization” against depression.
How to get your kids to look at the bright side of life
Here are some strategies to help your child think and act more optimistically in today’s pessimistic culture:
Practice thought watching
Learn to spot your child’s negative thinking. “My hair looks ugly”, or “I don’t have any friends”. Help them reject these thoughts by stopping and discussing this internal dialogue they are having and identity “bad beliefs”.
Model optimistic self-talk
Talk with your child about what might happen today. Share your excitement with your child. “I’ll get to share my ideas today” or “I might make a new friend”. Do not be afraid to mention coming events that concern you but focus on the potential joys instead of the fears of the unknown.
Make a mantra
Remember The Little Engine That Could? What motivates your family during trying times? Injects some humor and say your slogan together when times are tough. You will end up laughing about how silly you all look. Social support boost optimism!
Try new things. Even scary ones. Go someplace new. Try new food for dinner. When you meet someone new, be the first to introduce yourself. Discuss with your child the benefits of openness to new experiences.
Change your child’s explanations for adversity
Things do not always turn out great. What matters is that your kids make sense of bad outcomes. Move from global, personal evaluations to more specific, situational ones. “I failed the test because I’m dumb and I’ll never be good at math” to “I failed because I didn’t understand the problems and need more practice”.
Focus on improvement
Encourage your child that getting better is a process. Focus on their improvement not just the outcome. Say “You really improved your sprint from the starting line” or “Your spelling has really improved since the rough draft” rather than focusing on the contest or the grade.
Be a skill builder
Kids’ skills develop incrementally. Read a book or watch a video together that teaches a skill your child wants to develop. Practice the skill in a simple way; then move up to bigger challenges. Reinforce the idea that your child can learn do just about anything.