Having an optimistic outlook is much than living life with rose-colored glasses. It’s a mindset that can really set us up for resilience and growth. Life is sure to throw us curve balls, and having an optimistic outlook can really help us through these difficult times without minimizing the difficulties we will face. Fostering this mindset in our kids can help them overcome life’s obstacles and build resilience.
Importance of Optimism
Optimism is important for many reasons. Having this outlook can help us:
- Be more resilient to stress
- Be healthier and happier
- Reduce depression
- Work toward our goals
- Face challenges
- Overcome setbacks
As parents, these all sound like things we want for our kids. Additionally, researchers have found how important instilling optimism in kids is:
“Kids who believe bad events are permanent, pervasive, and personal while good events are temporary, local, and externally caused are at heightened risk for getting depressed.”
“So we established that pessimism in a child puts him at risk for depression. And once depression sets in, the biggest risk factor for later depression is prior depression. A vicious circle has started, and children now react to each new setback by getting depressed again.”
Quotes from page 82 of The Optimistic Child: A Proven Program to Safeguard Children Against Depression and Build Lifelong Resilience (2007) by: Martin E.P. Seligman, PhD.
What Optimism Isn’t
Optimism can easily be confused with toxic positivity or seeing the world through rose-colored glasses. The important distinction is that optimism is still grounded in reality, while the other two aren’t. Being optimistic doesn’t mean we discount struggles, but see them for what they are in reality, see how we can overcome them, and what we can learn for the future.
What Optimism Is
Optimism is a mindset that allows us to understand we are capable of overcoming hard things. This mindset helps us be resilient. A person who tends towards optimism will see their setbacks as something to overcome, whereas a more pessimistic person may see a setback as too much to overcome or something final with no solution.
Our explanatory style is how we explain what happens to us. It isn’t the “thing” (the stressor, the event), that can tell us what to think or feel. Instead, it is what we think or feel about the “thing.” It’s the story we tell ourselves. We can get so frozen in what we are telling ourselves that we can’t act.
8 Ways to Foster Optimism in Our Family
- Give kids opportunities to succeed:
Researchers have found that repeated successes for our kids can lead to more optimism (Seligman, 2007). We, of course, don’t want to just hand successes to them or not allow them to struggle with manageable problems. But we can also help create situations where they thrive. We can foster an environment of active learning in things they are interested in or physical activity in things they can do well.
- Foster positive thinking:
Negative thoughts can be hard to get rid of. Wiring our brains for more positivity is good for our mental and overall health. We can interrupt negative thoughts by recognizing when we tell ourselves something negative and countering it with something neutral or positive. We can help our kids do this as well with statements like this:
“I am telling myself ___, but that isn’t true because ____.”
“I have overcome hard things before, so I know I can ______.”
- Foster reality thinking:
Our own thinking can lead us to believe things that aren’t reality. One bad grade doesn’t make a child a failure, but their minds can easily lead to that conclusion. Kids can become so focused on these negative thoughts that they are unable to solve the problem or move forward. We can help our kids counter these unrealistic beliefs with more reality-based thinking.
“Is this belief accurate to the situation?”
“What negative thoughts am I thinking?”
“What is a more accurate way to see this situation?”
“When have I overcome something like this in the past?”
- Foster mental cleverness:
Our ability to see things from other perspectives and see the causes of problems can greatly help us develop
“This is the situation right now. This thing I am worried about hasn’t happened yet, but if it does I will _____.”
“I have overcome challenges doing ____ before.”
“This problem may need creative solutions. What’s a different way to look at it? What have I learned in the past that can help me here?”
- Foster thankfulness:
When we focus on the good things in our life, we are more inclined to see the good more often. You can read more on the Importance of Instilling an Attitude of Gratitude here. Whatever ways you can make the habitual practice of expressing thankfulness work for your family will greatly impact everyone’s mental health.
- Face challenges:
Instead of running from challenges, help your kids face them head on, look for the cause, find solutions, learn to ask for help, and be proactive.
- Be mindful of criticism:
Kids can really internalize our criticism, however “constructive” we mean it to be.
Instead of saying, “You are just not so good at guitar.” Try something like, “I can see the effort you’re putting in.” or “I think this instrument is giving you a hard time.”
Instead of saying, “Spelling is not your strong suit.” Try something like, “This week’s spelling list was a tough one.” Or “I think we need to put aside more time for spelling each week.”
The key difference here is that we aren’t criticizing the child or putting a label (bad speller, crummy guitar player) on them. We are talking in more temporary terms and about things that can be changed. Kids need to know they can change things they struggle with. Their effort is always more important than their results.
- Model it:
When our kids hear us speaking negatively about ourselves (or others) they will pick up on that attitude. If I want to see my kids live out a certain mindset, they certainly need to see me live it out.
Do you have a tendency to be negative or pessimistic? What steps can you do to help shift your own mindset? What ways can you model this in daily life and conversations with your kids?
By: Emily Scott, PhD
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This blog is written as an educational and general resource only. It should not be used to diagnose or as a substitute for parenting or relational therapy, advice, or counseling with a professional therapist or medical doctor. Renewed Hope Parenting is not responsible for results or use of the information provided in these pages if you choose to use them. Everything included in this blog and website is copyrighted to Emily Scott, PhD and Renewed Hope Parenting and may not be used without permission.