How to Raise Optimistic Kids

by Parent Co. August 04, 2016

Most of us are familiar with the storybook characters, Winnie the Pooh and his friend, Eeyore, created by A.A. Milne.

Winnie the Pooh went through his days with a hopeful, optimistic attitude. Even when he was stuck in a situation that seemed hopeless, such as the time that he was stuck in Rabbit's burrow entrance because he ate too much honey, he believed that the situation would eventually resolve itself. He never gave up hope.

Eeyore, on the other hand, was the "glass half-empty" friend. Eeyore was pessimistic, believing that most situations were hopeless, and doom was right around every corner. He gave up easily when confronted with a challenge without believing that he could ever succeed in the first place.

As defined in the book, "The MindUp Curriculum, Brain-Focused Strategies for Learning and Living," a growth – or optimistic – mindset is a way of looking at life with the expectation of success. Optimism is a learned behavior that can be taught. With practice, it can be an effective coping mechanism for children as they learn to see things from other perspectives and develop problem-solving skills. We can help our children develop an optimistic attitude that will give them the skills they need to persevere.

Benefits of Optimism

A report published by the Mayo Clinic, Positive Thinking: Stop negative self-talk to reduce stress, indicated that having a positive outlook on life and engaging in positive self-talk (instead of negative thinking) results in health benefits that include:

  • Increased life span
  • Lower rates of depression
  • Lower levels of distress
  • Greater resistance to the common cold
  • Better psychological and physical well-being
  • Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
  • Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress

The link between a stronger immune system and positive thinking was explored in a 2008 study reported by Harvard Medical School, Optimism and Your Health. The researchers gave each of 193 volunteers a common respiratory virus and found those who had a positive personality type were less likely to develop symptoms of the virus.

Martin Seligman, a noted psychologist and author of The Optimistic Child and Learned Optimism, conducted a study of 8 to 12 year olds called The Penn Depression Prevention Project. In it, he proved that children can be taught to challenge their pessimistic thoughts and increase optimistic thinking.

Learning to think optimistically reduces the risk of depression, raises school performance, strengthens immunity, and provides young children with self-reliance.

Optimistic Phrases to Include in your Child's Vocabulary

As adults, we can help children recognize the possibilities that exist in the world, give them the tools to cope with adversity, and turn a glass half-empty into a glass half-full.

Teach children to counter negativity with positivity. Use phrases such as:

Mistakes help me learn.
Instead of

I'll never get it right!

I'll ask her how she does that.
Instead of

I can't do it.

I'm on the right track.
Instead of

I'm not good at this.

I'll use some of the strategies I've learned.
Instead of

I give up.

What am I missing?
Instead of

I just don't understand.

I'm going to figure out what he does and try it.
Instead of

I'll never be as smart.

This is my best work.
Instead of

This is good enough.

Encourage Independence

Our goal as parents is to ultimately raise children who can take care of themselves and live happy, independent lives pursuing their own personal goals. We begin by encouraging them when they're infants to roll over, sit up, and crawl.

As they grow, they learn to walk, ride a bike, and drive a car. We provide the nurturing supports that aid our children in doing more for themselves. When children's skills grow, so does their confidence. Keep encouraging your child to try new things and grow their skills in a variety of areas – sports, academics, the arts.

This growth mindset will help them to see that they are capable of growing their intelligence by embracing learning with an attitude of possibility.

Model Optimism

Foster an optimistic attitude in yourself, and model it for children. Help them see that mistakes are opportunities for growth, not just for children, but for adults too.

Children who learn to be optimistic develop resilience, problem solving skills, and the ability to move confidently through the world as they grow and change.

Parent Co.


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