Optimism is quite simply one of the best gifts you can give your kids. Here are some tips on how you can help your child be more optimistic.
Psychologist and author of The Optimistic Child, Dr Martin Seligman, says: “A world of optimists is a bigger world, a world of more possibilities.”
Research shows that those who have a more positive outlook on life are more likely to be resilient, more likely to be successful, and less likely to be depressed, get fewer illnesses, have longer relationships, and live longer, healthier lives.
“Teaching children optimism is more, I realised, than just correcting pessimism,” says Seligman. “It is the creation of a positive strength, a sunny but solid future-mindedness that can be deployed throughout life – not only to fight depression and to come back from failure but also to be the foundation of success and vitality.”
Is optimism nature or nurture?
The experts explain that while optimism is an inherited trait, science shows that we develop our view of the world from an early age, and from those around us. If there is a depressed or negative parental influence, the child can be influenced to interpret events around them in a negative way.
Clinical psychologist, Dr Laura Markham, founder of Aha! Parenting and author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, explains that the way we talk to ourselves about events and how we interpret them, has a direct impact on our emotional reaction to our experiences. Markham adds that even if you or your child are born leaning toward negativity, you can increase your optimism quotient.
Carmia Annandale, founder of the Happiness Agency and certified Master Life & Executive Coach, explains that we are the only organisms that have consciousness, which means, “We can choose negative feelings, such as anger, pessimism, and resentment – which lead to disasters such as war and conflict, or we can choose positive feelings, such as optimism, compassion, and joy – which light up our lives and, essentially, the world”.
Optimism and health
In addition, scientists have proved that being optimistic boosts your immune system, helps prevent chronic disease, and enables you to cope better with bad news. “Recent research indicates that optimists and pessimists approach problems differently, and their ability to cope successfully with adversity differs as a result. Positivity also helps make a person more resilient,” adds Annandale
8 Ways parents can boost a child’s optimism
- Stop complaining: It’s easy to focus on negative thoughts and frustrations and to moan about these in front of your child. Toddlers tend to mimic your actions since you are her role model. The more you moan and groan about things, the more likely they will be to pick up on this trait as well. Try to view the glass as half full and find something to be grateful or happy about each day. Build it into your daily routine that each member of the family reveals the worst thing that happened to them that day, the best thing, and the thing they are most grateful for. Not only will this help your toddler see something good in every day, but it will help to improve your outlook as well.
- Look at the positive: Everyone has a bad or grumpy day – accept this and the fact that your toddler (and you) are entitled to feeling off on occasion. Embrace that emotion and talk it through. Then try to put a positive spin on this.
- Encourage routine and chores: Find an age-appropriate chore for your toddler, like helping you pick out clothes or pajamas for each day, put dirty laundry in the basket, or help pack toys away. Having the opportunity to prove their worth, will help your toddler to develop an optimistic, can-do attitude. Giving them simple tasks helps them feel capable and proud of their achievements.
- Promote risk-taking: Of course, this needs to be within reason. Your natural reaction may be to discourage your child from certain activities as you want to protect her from injury or failure. But this can encourage a pessimistic attitude or a belief that she is not good enough. Allowing your child to try new things or activities like climbing that jungle gym or going down that slide will help boost her confidence. Of course, you want to keep your child safe, but you also want to encourage her to try new things and be proud of her achievements.
- Stop interfering: It is natural to want to try and help your child, be it sounding out a new word, trying to fit a piece into a puzzle, or putting on an item of clothing. Your first reaction will be to intervene. However, letting your toddler try and solve this on her own allows her to feel a sense of accomplishment and helps her be more optimistic about her abilities and what she can achieve.
- Have realistic expectations: Seeing the sunny side of life doesn’t mean that your child needs to be protected from reality. In fact, the opposite is true. Optimism, say the experts, is based on having realistic expectations. This helps create an adaptable child who is prepared for whatever she faces and is more resilient.
- Be a good role model: Your view of the world is communicated to your child daily. If you want your toddler to be more optimistic – you will need to be more optimistic yourself.
- Keep track: Life and business coach Gill Cedarwall explains that keeping track of your mood is an important tool for optimism. Use the acronym HALT ( Hungry | Angry | Lonely | Tired). If you or your toddler is feeling one or more of these things, there is the danger of emotions becoming overwhelming, and it’s time to take corrective action.