6 Tips for Raising Positive Thinkers
Is your child becoming a Debbie Downer? Help her get sunnier with these ideas!
By Judy Koutsky
One of my mom friends said to me the other day, “I love my son, but I often joke he’s an 80-year-old grumpy man in a 6-year-old body.” It got me thinking: How do we go about raising positive kids? Does it have to do with the people around them? Does creating a gratitude list help? Can you redirect negative thoughts? Here, the answers to those questions and other tips for encouraging your child to have a brighter attitude.
1. Surround your child with the right people. Most positivity comes from external motivation or from our environment, says parent coach Mercedes Samudio. “Kids learn how to think positively from their parents and peers,” Samudio says. “Modeling is how children learn best.”
So, how do you go about doing this? Share the positive parts of your day. Tell your child how happy you were that your boss liked your report, or that the soup you had for lunch was delicious. Both big and small moments are worth mentioning.
2. Get to the bottom of a complaint. If your child is always complaining or whining about something specific (school, soccer, the kid next door), getting to the bottom of that situation is integral, says Samudio. If it’s school, ask your child specifically what she doesn’t like about it. A teacher, a subject, another child? Getting to the root of her negativity can help you navigate the best path for correcting it together.
3. Teach kids that all feelings are acceptable. As a parent, you don’t want your child to hide certain feelings, and you don’t want to confuse so-called negative feelings like sadness or anger with a negative attitude, says Tina Gilbertson, an Oregon-based psychotherapist and the author of Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them . Teach kids that all feelings are acceptable, including ones that don't feel good. Then, help them find words for emotions like “disappointment” and “dread,” so they can effectively express themselves without painting the world as a dark place.
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4. Practice gratitude. Spend time with your kids every day talking about what is going well and what they are grateful for. There is a lot of research in the area of positive psychology that speaks to the benefits of gratitude, says therapist and life coach Cara Maksimow. On the ride home from school, or at the dinner table, go around and ask each child two or three things they are grateful for. (It can be something small like, “It was library day,” or more significant like, “I got picked for the school play.”) “Talking about things that they are grateful for and why they are grateful can help reprogram the brain to more positivity, optimism, and resilience,” says Maksimow.
5. Give your kids the tool of language. How you express a thought is as important as what the thought is. “For example, tell your child that instead of saying, ‘I hate X-Y-Z’ you can say, ‘I'm frustrated with X-Y-Z,’” says Samudio. “Explain that feeling negative emotions is OK, but continuing to only see things negatively is going to drain you.”
Any time my children say they “hate” something, I ask that they pick another word. Now they say, “disappointed,” “upset,” or “surprised,” and just using a different word has made their language and emotions less negative.
6. Envision change. When trying to get kids to see things in a more positive way, it is helpful to first acknowledge what they are disappointed about and then ask them how the situation can change, says Allison J. Spinneweber, a Pittsburgh-based therapist.
She suggests saying, “I hear that you are very frustrated with school right now. School can sometimes be difficult, and I wish I could make it easier for you.” Then, go into why you want them to see things differently, and how that can happen. For instance, “I am concerned, because I see you getting more and more frustrated and I’m wondering if it might help you feel better if we talked about some positive things going on, and also some ways you might be able to change the situation.” Through an open conversation, you and your child can come up with a plan to turn things around.
How do you get your kids to think positively?
Judy Koutsky is the former Editorial Director of KIWI magazine, a green parenting publication. She was also Executive Editor of Parenting.com, AOL Parent and BabyTalk.com. Follow her on Twitter @JudyKoutsky.