5 Tips for Raising Optimists

Image via Katie Hurley
Image via Katie Hurley

Optimism, the conviction that things will work out in the end, plays an important role in resiliency.  When kids believe that they can work through difficult situations and come out on top, they are more likely to push harder and keep trying.

Optimists enjoy better health, experience less stress, and achieve greater success than those who tend to get stuck in negative thought patterns.

The benefits of optimistic thinking don’t stop there, though.  Optimists enjoy better health, experience less stress, and achieve greater success than those who tend to get stuck in negative thought patterns.

While personality traits are inborn, and some kids are more naturally optimistic than others, optimism can be taught.  With enough practice, kids can learn to rely on the power of positive thinking. 

But both positive and negative thinking can be contagious, so it’s best to practice optimism as a family.

5 Tips for Raising Optimists:

boy on books
Image via iStock

Confront Negative Thinking:

When faced with challenges, be it a difficult puzzle or a painting that doesn’t seem to turn out as anticipated, kids can get caught in negative automatic thought patterns.  Frustration is a difficult emotion for little kids to cope with, and they do have a tendency to slip into “all or nothing” thinking.  “I can’t” is a common phrase when frustration sets in.

Instead of jumping in to save the day or distracting your child with a different activity, consider confronting the negative thought in a calm voice.  Use your logical thinking to help your child remember that he has completed a difficult puzzle in the past and that he can work through this one, too.

boy learning to ride a bike
Image via iStock

Give credit for success:

Kids achieve small goals every day, and yet it’s common practice to reserve praise for the bigger moments.  Give your kids credit for the accomplishments they achieve each day.  Be specific in your praise.  Instead of a general, “Great job!” after your child does complete that puzzle, try, “Wow!  You worked very hard to make those pieces fit and you did it all by yourself – you should be proud!” 

Give your kids age-appropriate tasks around the house to increase their independence, and be sure to give them full credit for completing those tasks.  

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Image via Sara McTigue

Teach optimism:

Even very young kids can handle big words, particularly when those big words mean that they are becoming more independent.  Teach them the meaning of optimism and give them examples of positive versus negative thinking.

Encourage your kids to view setbacks as temporary so that small setbacks don’t define them.  Kids need to learn that they are not powerless.  They can handle setbacks however they choose, but when they choose to see the positive, they have more control over the situation.

mom and daughter playing
Image via iStock

Model optimism:

Have you ever been stuck in terrible traffic on the way to an important appointment and found yourself muttering, “We will never get there in time”?  Or maybe you’ve circled the parking lot twenty times and finally declared that you will never find a spot.  If your kids are with you, chances are they’ve heard your negative thoughts.

Kids internalize what we model for them.  And although it can be exhausting to be “on” at all times, that’s simply part of parenting.

Reframe your own thoughts, even if you’ve already blurted out something negative, and show your kids that you rely on positive thinking, too.  Think out loud when you’re working through something difficult so that your kids see that reaching a positive outcome is a process, and doesn’t always happen in an instant.

dad and son
Image via iStock

Find the silver lining:

It’s not always easy to find the bright side.  Life can be hard and unforgiving at times.  But, more often than not, there is some tiny little sliver of a bright side somewhere out there.  Find it.  Talk about it.

Talk about the fact that there is good and bad in almost every situation, and sometimes you just have to choose to find the good.  Make it a family challenge.  Tack a giant rainbow on the wall and put up a sticker each time someone reframes a negative situation and finds the bright side.  When your rainbow is full, go ahead and celebrate with ice cream covered in rainbow sprinkles.  You deserve it.  You earned that happy ending.

MORE: Raising Responsible Kids }

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5 Tips for Raising Optimists

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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2 comments

  1. Grace says:

    thats a good idea- help your child work through the problem.

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