I had just completed a session with about 30 girls, varying in age from 12-17 years old. The session was filled with the signature Raising STRONG teaching– filled with positive affirmations, words that we can use to empower ourselves, and how we can support the other girls in our lives. Yet I had a few of those girls fill their “I AM” cards with all the UN-words about themselves and all the negatives that they had heard.

Some of those cards were completely filled with negative words, words that no doubt they had heard other people call them, words that they had begun to embrace as their own…and my heart sunk, could I help them?

How was it possible for these girls to feel this way? How is it possible that they couldn’t write down one positive thing about themselves on that card? How many times had they heard the UN-words (unworthy, unloved, unlikable, uncoordinated) or negative words (outcast, introvert, weird) as part of their day-to-day lives? We need to change this!!!

As a parent, your own thinking style is always on display and your children are listening intently! Did you know that the way you talk to yourself is reflected in the way your kids talk to themselves? Did you know that your kids view of themselves is directly reflected in their self-confidence? Did you know that kids who lack optimism also often lack self-confidence? I know that’s a lot of questions…so let’s talk solutions!!!

The Importance of Optimism

Why should you want your child to be an optimist? Because, as Dr. Martin Seligman explains: Pessimism (the opposite of optimism) is an entrenched habit of mind that has sweeping and disastrous consequences such as depression, resignation, underachievement and may even negatively affect your physical health.

Children with optimistic outlooks are able to learn from failures, have a stronger sense of personal mastery and are better prepared to bounce back when things go wrong in their lives. We often feel that we have to get it all right the first time, but a true optimist will see every experience as a learning experience, which is why we want our kids to embrace optimism!

Because parents are a major contributor to their children’s developing minds, it is important to follow these five steps to ensure healthy mental habits in your children.

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How every parent can help raise an optimist:

Step 1: Learn to think optimistically yourself. What a child sees and hears directly or  indirectly from you as you lead your life and interact with others will influences them as much or more than what you try to teach them or tell them to think.

You can model optimism for your child by incorporating optimistic thinking into your everyday life. This is not easy and will not occur overnight, instead we must all practice it daily and almost everyone can learn to think differently about life’s ups and downs and to find the positive in every situation.

Step 2: Teach your child that there is a connection between how they think and how they feel. The easiest way to do this is by voicing out loud how your own thoughts about adversity create negative feelings in you.

For example, if you are driving with your child and a driver cuts you off, verbalize your thoughts and feelings by saying something like, I wonder why I’m feeling so angry? I guess I was saying to myself- wow I’m going to be late because the guy in front of me decided he needed to be in front of me…ok, let’s just breathe… And then find a way to let them know that it’s ok to be challenged but to look on the bright side, no matter what!

Step 3: Play a game called “thought catching.” This helps your child learn to identify the thoughts that skip across his or her mind at the times they feel bad. These thoughts, although barely noticeable, greatly affect mood and behavior.

For instance, if your child received a poor grade, ask: “When you got your grade, what did you say to yourself?” Capture that thought and think about why you thought that?

Step 4: Teach your child how to evaluate automatic thoughts. This means acknowledging that sometimes the things you say to yourself are not always true and helpful.

In example, after receiving the poor grade your child may be telling themselves that they are a failure, or is not as smart as other kids; or will never be able to succeed in school, etc. Many of these self-statements are not accurate, but they often negative thoughts are an automatic in these types of situations.

Step 5: Instruct your child how to generate more accurate explanations (to themselves) when bad things happen and use them to challenge your child’s automatic but truly inaccurate thoughts. Part of this process involves looking for evidence to the contrary (good grades in the past, success in other life areas, etc).

Another skill to teach your child to help him or her think optimistically is to realize that our past failures don’t define our future successes. Like riding a bike or learning to walk, sometimes we all fail on the way to succeeding and very few things in life are truly as devastating as we fear, yet we blow them up in our minds.

Parents can influence the thinking styles of their children by modeling the principals of optimistic thinking, so let’s make a point to do this daily!

Be sure to share your thoughts with your children and try to help them see the positive in every situation. Help them change their self-talks to reflect optimism as much as possible. If you can’t see the positive at the time, help them look towards a brighter tomorrow by committing to talking about it more later when there are less emotions tied into the discussion, sometimes just getting a good night’s rest allows you to look back at yesterday with a brighter view.

If this resonated with you, be sure to share with your children and friends. We would also love to hear you share your thoughts about how optimism has helped you in your life with us on Facebook!