Even in the best of times it can be hard to build your child’s optimism but it is especially difficult when they are feeling self-conscious, uncertain or sad. You might hear, “Why bother, I won’t get a good grade anyway” or maybe “I don’t want to go because no one there likes me.” With all the stress and anxieties that kids face today, these negative feelings are all too common, and if it goes on too long this pessimistic attitude can lead to poor social skills, bad grades, and frustration. Not to mention it drags down everyone else’s mood in the room. So what do you do when you have a Pessimistic Pete on your hands?
The first thing you have to do is figure out what is causing this pessimistic attitude. Pessimism can be looked at as four thought patterns that come together to make a person’s overall outlook on life negative. Teach your child to be on the lookout for these types of thoughts.
- Permanence: Your child is thinking that the problem will always be there no matter what they do.
- Pervasive: Your child is thinking that nothing ever works no matter what.
- Personal: Your child is internalizing the issue and thinking it is them that is the issue.
- Powerless: Your child is thinking that nothing can be done to change an issue, it just is what it is.
I remember when we first really started hearing it in Eva. Well, not so much hearing it, but noticing it. “My sister always gets to do things that I never do” or “every time I ride my bike I fall off it” or “no matter what I do I fail my spelling test” or “I’m the only one who doesn’t have a cell phone.” I’m sure you’ve heard these or something similar in your own home. But the thing is, once you start actively listening to the pessimism in your child’s language you have the opportunity to give him a gift. Because the reality is that if you can teach him how to be less pessimistic and more optimistic, he will grow to be a happier and healthier person.
Are you sold yet? Ok, here’s the secret sauce. In order to combat these negative attitudes look to these four thought patterns that you can instill in order to change the conversation. You may have heard this technique referred to as having a growth mindset.
- Temporary: The issue is not going to be happening forever.
- Isolated: This issue is not their entire existence.
- Impersonal: The issue does not detract from your child’s value as a person and it is not happening because of them.
- Power: They have the power to change the situation.
Acknowledge your child’s feelings but have him redirect/reframe the issue into something at least a little more positive. Remind him that it is never an all or nothing situation. Receiving your support will go a long way. Maybe he just needs a distraction to take a break from his thoughts and can come back to the issue later with a different mindset. By teaching your children to change those negative thought patterns with a realistic outlook, they will begin to understand that they are not facing the “end of the world.”
It’s not easy. Particularly if you are converging on the tween or teen years. Teaching kids to recognize when they are talking to themselves negatively, is only half the job. Because after that you have to teach them how to like themselves enough to want to change those habits, and that’s the hard part. You will be met with phrases like “but I can’t,” or “it’s too hard,” or “I’ll never,” because they are stubborn (just like us).
It might be hard to convince your child to take a new outlook at first because this is a learned habit, and one that may be fully ingrained into their very core being. Sometimes kids, all of us really, get stuck in a rut and can’t get out. Just remind them of all the times that things went right. The things they survived (like that math test) even though they thought they would. Maybe they started a new sport in the past and didn’t think they would get any better but instead they thrived at it over time. Find those examples and offer proof that words like NEVER and ALWAYS, need to be saved for only special occasions.
It’s hard… Did I say that already? Well, I don’t care. I’m going to say it again. It’s. Hard. It’s hard because the change can’t just be for your kids. YOU have to model this behavior. Lead by example. The more you as a parent moan about problems or say things like “we are always late” (or worse, “you never do what I ask you to”) the more your child will see that this is how you are supposed to look at the world. Instead, talk to your child about how you handle decisions throughout your day in an optimistic way. Let him know about the things that went right. Another option is at breakfast, tell your child about the meeting you are having later in the day or other stressful event and how you will handle it to make the best of it.
Work with your child on a positive mantra that will boost his optimism. Maybe something like “I can do it”, “I’m confident”, or like the Little Engine That Could, “I think I can, I think I can.” Make it humorous by using it when you are together and doing something frustrating like building a tough lego set or flipping pancakes.
In the morning before school or at bedtime have your child list three things that went well in the past day. Use the struggles he faces as teaching moments. He might say that he’s bad at writing, which leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead let him know it’s hard at first to write but after practice he will get better and then offer ideas on what he can do to practice-- in this case, maybe keeping a personal journal or reaching out to a teacher for some extra help.
Whatever you do, though, don’t lie to your child. Instead, be realistic with outcomes. He might think he will never have friends at a new school. Don’t give him the unrealistic expectation that “of course everyone is going to like you after getting to know you.” Instead let him know that it is hard going to a new school and making friends doesn’t happen overnight, but with a positive attitude it will start to happen. This slowly trains him to think with a more positive outlook.
The goal is to have him focus on the good stuff, instead of the bad. It’s not instant. It’s going to take time. But if you actively work on the skill with your child it is possible to turn that frown upside down.
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