How to raise optimistic children?

Being the mother of two children, I often ask myself what kind of education I can offer them so that they become healthy and happy adults? Is love enough or the stories that I tell count, too?



Being the mother of two children, I often ask myself what kind of education I can offer them so that they become healthy and happy adults? Is love enough or the stories that I tell count, too? When I say stories, I mean ideas about life, about ourselves, about the world we live in.

While studying psychotherapy I got a lot of answers and I still do. In the following lines I want to share with you some ideas that have inspired me both in the education of my children and in counseling parents. Many times I asked my supervisors: “how can I help my kids be happier?” One supervisor answered with a simple sentence: “well, kids reflect you. So if you are happy, they will be, too. “ “Can I put more pressure on me?” I was asking myself at that time…

The thing is, that's actually true:

it is easy to be happy and be in a good mood when everything goes well and therefore, because of emotional contagion, the others will be, too. But what can be done when we encounter setbacks and our mood changes and how to avoid that this has an impact on our children? The way we approach negative life situations is extremely important for us and for our children: do we approach setbacks with hopelessness or with resilience? And this is one of the first stories we can tell our children. 

To start from the beginning, the very first “story” is that we love them and we are there for them whenever they need us. If children know they are loved unconditionally it is already a good start. This leads to kids trusting us to share their deeper thoughts with us. And this is very important, as we shall see, thoughts are determinants for our emotions. Then, we want our kids to be independent, optimistic, and healthy and here are coming in the other “stories” we tell or the way we approach life. 

Becoming an optimist means learning a set of skills about how to talk to yourself when you suffer a personal defeat from a more encouraging perspective. Optimism means that we trust that things will turn out ok in the end, despite obstacles and frustrations that come along in negative life situations. Please, be aware that being optimistic is not the same as thinking positively while ignoring the negative. It is rather the approach of a difficult situation from all sides so that we can have more helpful ways of understanding things and finding solutions. 

In the following lines I will describe some approaches for treating life difficulties that I experienced as being important to pass on to my children:

1. One thing I wish I knew when I was younger is the fact that life comes in waves

We are not happy all the time, we can also experience times of unhappiness. And it is good so, otherwise how can you tell you feel happy unless you don’t experience sad moments? It means that problems too, are not permanent. Everything is relative and in continuous change. Think about children stories: in almost every story there is a character struggling with the bad for the good to win in the end. 

2. We are not perfect. I often surprised myself blaming me for not handling situations with my kids as I wished to

Now I turned towards a more self-compassionate approach. I sometimes joke with them and say that life would be sooo boring if everyone were perfect: what else to learn, what else to improve? Where is the challenge? That has two effects: first, it helps me striving for improvement and secondly, it takes off the pressure from my kids to be perfect. 

3. Another thing is to understand the fact that most of the time we experience feelings that are determined by our thoughts

That means we are not at the mercy of our feelings. Instead, if you find the source thought, you can take control by checking the validity of that thought and thus change our mood. Here comes in our role to nurture an atmosphere of trust and understanding without judgment and criticism, to validate children emotions and needs and help them on the way of getting out of difficulties. It is important that children understand that negative emotions are not always present. They come and go. 

4. I find it of crucial importance to involve children in the solution-finding process starting at an early age

As parents, we tend to think we might have the best solutions, or we don’t have so much time to invest in the process, but you might be surprised to see the creativity of the children in finding solutions. I usually bring a piece of paper to write down my ideas and my kids’ ideas and in the end we choose the best one. The result is: the children feel they had an active contribution in finding their own solutions. Later, it will become an automatic process: instead of focusing on the problem, they will start looking for solutions. 

5. Close related to the previous point is to offer your children an environment that nurtures creativity

There is a general misunderstanding that creativity is only expressed in realms such as music, visual art, theater. A broader definition of creativity includes the creative acts we perform in our everyday life to make our personal and professional life more effective, interesting and enjoyable. Or, like J.P.Guilford said: “To live is to have problems and to solve problems is to grow creativity”. So I suggest that next time when your child comes with an idea, don’t say NO from the beginning. Try to defer your judgment for a later time and instead relax, listen and understand. Small creative miracles can happen. Allow them place.

With the idea of creativity in mind, I am not closing here my “stories”, instead I offer you place to further discover more ideas about nurturing optimism and I‘ll be happy to hear your stories, too. Just keep in mind that optimism can be cultivated over time. When we have an open mindset, meaning when we believe that our capabilities and skills can change and improve over time, we can actively strive to be more optimistic. 

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