5 Ways to Instill Optimism in Our Children

When surveyed, most parents agree that our children’s wellbeing is very important to us. And one of the best ways to do this is to teach and model optimism for our children.

We may be concerned that teaching optimism means that we take away “realistic” thinking methods from our children. However, recent research shows that teaching positive thinking habits to our children is incredibly important for the prevention of depression and anxiety, as well as for success in the future. And, most importantly, optimism can be taught.

Positive thinking, though, is not simply painting a happy face onto whatever is troubling us. It’s about really investigating the thoughts that drive our behavior and working to change them into thoughts that benefit us.  Here are a few ways that parents and educators can teach positive thinking for children, whether at home or in a receptive school environment. (Many of these you may recognize as being some of the same as for adults, however I’ve included here only those that can be easily modified for use with children.)

1. Being a model for positive thinking behavior
How do we handle the emotional stresses of our own day? What do we say aloud when something negative happens to us—a new bill, or someone cutting us off, or a rude salesperson? If we can start to respond to setbacks by identifying the thought behind it, “We never have enough money,” and then reframe the thought with a more positive one, “We do have enough money to pay our bills,” then we can model a better explanatory style for our kids.

2. Emphasizing and using children’s strengths
Identify and name your child’s strengths. (A great online and free strengths finder is the VIA-IS). Then, find ways to use those particular strengths in the classroom and at home. There are many variations on this. Have them paint/act/draw/write about a particular strength and how they use it. Decorate the walls with depictions of the children’s strengths. Or, lead discussions on how a particular strength was used that day. It’s also really powerful to have other students mention when they see a particular strength in action. One other option is to have students discuss each other’s strengths, possibly as a part of a sharing circle (see below), or just generally as they go about their day.  (Find more ideas on using strengths in the classroom here.)

3. Best possible self-exercises
Just as for adults, having children discuss or write about their best possible selves is one scientifically proven way to increase overall wellbeing. We can do this at home around the dinner table or even as a creative drawing exercise. We can help our children to do this in any area of their lives: imagining their best possible self at school, in athletics, at home, with friends or social activities. It seems to create a picture in our minds of the person that we would like to be, and then we subconsciously model the behavior that will help us to be that person.

4. Gratitude Journaling
A recent study of middle-schoolers who wrote gratitude journals found that it “enhanced self-reported gratitude, optimism, life satisfaction, and decreased negative affect.” In other words, the children were happier. One thing that made it even more powerful was to write about “why” it was a positive experience.

5. Positive sharing circles
Many classrooms, especially in the younger grades, have some sort of circle time. However, sharing circles are recommended even for use in middle and high school. The discussion could center around strengths that the student has used that day or even just things that they enjoyed about the day (or previous day). Through the use of these types of guided circles, we can help to move our thoughts towards things that are positive and enjoyable. It’s possible to do this around the dinner table or even right before bedtime, too.

Starting with just a few small changes to our daily routines may help our children to increase their overall wellbeing. By modeling our own best possible self for our children, we can help them to become more optimistic and more resilient. And don’t we all wish for our children to have the most full lives that they possibly can?

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44 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus C1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 years ago

thanks

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Nikki Davey
Nikki Davey2 years ago

Thanks

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

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Birgit Ditto
Birgit Ditto2 years ago

I practice gratitude with my grandchildren all the time. They only 6 and 3 years old.

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Winn Adams
Winn A2 years ago

Thanks

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Fi T.
Past Member 2 years ago

A way to love them and for a promoting future

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Carol S.
Carol S2 years ago

Thanks

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Vikram S.
Vikram S2 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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