Encouraging Kids to Be Optimistic

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

“Everything that I do ends up being bad!” choked out the girl in between sobs. “There, there”, said her mother, “not everything was bad today.” “It was too! Bad things always happen to me”, sobbed the girl.

Many parents have had a similar exchange with their children. Most of the time, children are resilient and bounce back quickly the next day. However, the tendency to focus on all of the bad things that have happened can become a habit. Children who start to view everything from a negative light can get trapped into that way of thinking. This can result in the child becoming anxious or depressed.

Parents can take steps to change the way their children view the world from one where the glass is half empty to where it is half full. Being optimistic and developing a tendency to notice and remember the positive things that are happening helps to make children more resilient when they face life’s many obstacles. A first step towards that end can be taken by adding a small exercise into children’s nighttime routines.

Typically there is a point in the nighttime routine when parents tuck their children into bed. Many children take this opportunity to talk to their parents about their day. While it may be a stall tactic for them to delay going to sleep, it also allows parents the opportunity to talk with them about the good things that happened during the day.

A general guide is to have children think about three good things that happened during their day. It is okay to start out by just identifying one good thing that happened and slowly expand to three good things. Some children may struggle with identifying good things, so parents can provide examples from their own day. This has the added benefit of parents beginning to appreciate the good things in their own lives.

While talking about good things that happened during the day can be helpful, parents can go a step further and record the good things in a journal. That way, children can open up the journal when they are having a tough time and remember all of the good things that have happened. This allows them to gain some perspective in that tough times pass and good things will happen again.

Another option parents can choose to do during the nighttime chat with the child is to ask what the good thing means to her. They can also ask about why the good thing happened and in what way did the child contribute to that good thing. These questions enable the child to spend more time thinking about the good thing and how she often contributed to having the good thing happen. This can be quite empowering and encourages the child to start feeling that she has some control over what happens to her.

Eventually, children begin to make identifying good things a part of themselves. This will make them more resilient as they enter their teen years. It will also give them a greater appreciation of the good things that happen in life. Spending a few extra minutes during the nighttime routine focusing on the good things will have lifelong benefits.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on April 7, 2014.

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