Teaching Your Child the Power of Optimism
“We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.”- Anais Nin
How does your child view life; positively or negatively? What does your child expect from the world on a daily basis; pleasure or pain? How does your child perceive his ability to recover from setbacks, life challenges, and emotional struggles; with ease or difficulty? Does he let upsetting moments “roll off his back like a duck”;chalking them up to moments in time; seeing them as springboards for change? Or does he internalize the negativity associated with the experience and find fault within himself?
How do you, as a parent, face your life challenges? Do you accept life’s hurdles with compassion and patience or do you react with anger and frustration, blaming outside forces for what happens to you? Asking yourself how you embrace events in your life is the first step in understanding how your child deals with difficulty. How full is your glass?
While many of our personality tendencies are inborn, you can influence your child’s tendency toward optimistic or pessimistic thinking. Believe it or not, optimism can be taught and learned!
Optimism is measured by how positively you define events in life and the meaning you assign to them. Everyone has heard of the saying that “attitude is everything” right? Well, it’s true! Life experience is said to be 10% event and 90% attitude.
Attitude is a choice. Choosing your attitude greatly influences your reactions to what you experience in life. Resilience is directly related to optimism.
Resilience is the ability to “bounce back” from a negative experience and move forward; learning the lesson that accompanies the challenge. Resilient people can also be referred to as optimists since they resist being stuck or bogged down by challenges. They believe that with every challenge comes growth. Optimistic people find the silver lining in everything, approach challenges with a positive attitude and believe that every problem has a solution.
One day, I received a call from a very worried mother. Her daughter had been bullied by a particular girl at school. Mrs. C. tells me that her daughter’s grades have fallen dramatically, she can’t concentrate in school and her mood has changed from a once excited confident young girl to a sad and hopeless child. Every day for the past month, her child has come home from school crying about how cruel this particular girl and her followers treated her. Mrs. C. exclaimed, “I just don’t know what to do to help her.”
When I met with “S”, I explained to her that her setback was temporary and that there were simple techniques that she could use, not only to change the dynamics of the experiences she was having, but also to change how she perceived challenges in the future. I also taught her mother these techniques to use in her own life.
Each week we would test out specific strategies. Within a few weeks, this child changed her perception of herself from victim to victor. She regained her self-confidence, her grades shot up within the month and she resumed her usual happy mood. Now, when she enters each session, she is smiling and ready to tell me about the good things in her life and how she faced challenges successfully.
Here is another story. This is a parable about a farmer who owned a mule. The mule fell into the farmer’s well one day. The farmer heard the mule braying and after a careful assessment of the situation, decided that neither the well not the mule were worth saving. He enlisted his neighbors to help haul dirt to bury the old mule in the well and put him out of his misery. Initially the old mule was hysterical. But as the farmer and his neighbors continued shoveling the dirt that hit his back, he would shake it off and step up. This he did blow after blow; shake off the dirt and step up, shake it off and step up, shake it off and step up. It wasn’t long before the old mule, battered and exhausted, stepped over the wall and out of the well.
If we face our challenges and problems in the same way, with optimism and resilience, we, too, can realize the benefit of our choice to see the cup half full and ultimately, teach our children the same skills.
Here are several ways to teach your child optimism
1. Find the silver lining. Help your child see that good can be found in every situation and make a game of looking at the bright side of the negative event. For example, if your child is disappointed about a grade that he made on a test, help him to see how the test score isn't a reflection of his personal weakness. Let him know that you have faith in him that he will do better next time. Have him verbalize the faith he has in himself to do better in the future and correct the errors he made.
2. Discuss how your child has been successful in the past. A discouraged child finds it hard to see that he has ever been successful. Have your child identify his past victories and ask him how he was able to be successful at those times. Once he becomes aware of his strengths, encourage him to apply that way of thinking to the current disappointment. Allow him to take responsiblity for this wins and internalize his achievements. Abraham Maslow once said that "whatever is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself."
3. Affirm the positive. Wherever focus goes, energy goes. The law of attraction says that "whatever we predominantly focus our thoughts on we invite into our lives." Teach your child how to focus on his strengths. Teach him how to create positive affirmations that he can say to himself when he feels down. Affirmations are most effective when used in the present tense, speaking about the issue as if it already exists. For example, "I am successful in school." "I am already on the baseball team.""I am a good person." Get your child to close his eyes and really "feel" the statement in his heart. That is how we manifest what we want. We say it in the present tense, feel it in our hearts (know it) and then continue to affirm its existence through active gratefulness that it is already here.
4. Point Out Success.Take the time to identify how well your child moves through the big and small events in his life. If you child followed directions the first time, let him know by saying, "Great job listening the first time." or "What great listening ears you have!" If your child tried out for the soccer team but didn't make the cut, point out how successful they were by having the courage to compete in the first place. "I know you feel disappointed about not making the team, but do you realize how much courage it takes to get up in front of all of those people and take a chance? Let alone having the committment it takes to practice as much as you did to prepare? Practice and determination are winning qualities to have!"
5. Make an example of yourself. Children watch parents as constant examples. The good news is that you can teach your children how to become positive thinkers by consistently modeling optimism for them. When you achieve success, don't downplay it with false modesty or not bring it up to your children just because they might not get the full picture of the significance of the victory or even what you were victorious about in the first place! They WILL catch onto your mood and KNOW that something good just happened. So, give yourself credit, out loud, for a job well done. When things go wrong, model how you can put your optimism into play by devloping an "attitude of recovery" and regain a balanced perspective. Use positive affirmations ,of your own, to let them know that you will never give up. Openly take pride about the times when you stepped up and into the opportunities that presented themselves to you.
I hope you will take the time to re-evaluate how you cope with disappointment in your life, seeking to see the goodness and the soul lessons inside each obstacle you encounter. Your children will thank you for teaching them what it takes to become the victors of their thoughts and perspectives and you will know that you have taught your child a very important and valuable life skill; the skill of optimism.
In love and light,