7 Solutions to Turn Pessimistic Kids Into Optimistic Thinkers

“Why should I bother? You know they won’t choose me.” “What’s the point? I’ll never make the team.” “Why are you making me go? You know I won’t have fun.”

Let’s face it: Kids with pessimistic attitudes are among the most frustrating breeds. They give up easily, believe anything they do won’t make a difference, and assume they won’t succeed. Sadly, they rarely see the good, wonderful things of life. They dwell instead on the negative, bad parts, and often find only the inadequacies in themselves: “I’m so dumb, why study?” “Nobody’s going to like me, why bother?” (Beware: the trend is increasing: a child today is ten times more likely to be seriously depressed compared to a child born in the first third of this century.) So what’s a parent to do?

Pessimism hurtsFirst, do know I empathize if you have one of these little critters. I know this is troubling stuff, and at times even heartbreaking. After all, one of the hardest parts of being a parent is when your child isn’t happy. But there is one point you must keep in mind: Kids are not born pessimistic. Research shows a large part of this attitude is learned along the way. So take heart: research at Penn State University concludes that parents can help their kids become more optimistic. Doing so will dramatically increases the likelihood of your son or daughter’s long-term happiness. So roll up your sleeves, and let’s get started. Here are secrets to help make a real difference on your child’s life from The Big Book of Parenting Solutions.

  1. Eliminate the negatives you can. Start by doing what you can do: Cut the sources that might be exacerbating your kid’s pessimism. Possibilities? Why not reduce the terrifying news on CNN; stop talking about the bad stuff on the front page; listen to your own negative talk and curb it; monitor the cynical musical lyrics your kid is hearing? Where once those tragic and terrifying world events seemed so far, far away or only printed words in the newspaper, they are now 24/7 on our TVs and Internet screens. So be more vigilante and turn off what you can control. Enough!
  2. Look for the positive. Next, consciously stress a more optimistic outlook in your home so your child sees the good parts of life instead of just the downside. For instance, start nightly “Good News Reports”: each family member can report something good that happened that day to him or her. Or share optimistic stories. The world is filled with examples of individuals who suffered enormous obstacles, but don’t cave into pessimistic thinking. Instead they remained optimistic, and kept at their dreams until they succeeded. So look for examples to share with your kids.
    • Institute goodness reviews. Each night start a new ritual with your child of reviewing all the good parts about her day. Your child will go to sleep remembering the positives about life. If you do it often enough, it will become a routine that your child will do on her own.
  3. Confront pessimistic thinking. Don’t let your child get trapped into “Stinkin’ Thinkin’. Help him tune into his pessimistic thoughts and learn to confront them. You could point out cynicism by creating a code–such as pulling on your ear or touching your elbow–that only you and your kid are aware. The code means he’s uttered a cynical comment. Encourage your kid to listen to his own cynical comments. Suggest an older kid wear a watch or bracelet. The watch reminds her to tune into how often she is pessimistic. Or even help your kid count their pessimistic comments for a set time period: “For the next few minutes listen how many times you say downbeat things.” A young kid can count comments on his fingers. An older kid can use coins moving one from his left to right pocket.
  4. Balance pessimistic talk. One way to thwart your kid’s pessimistic thinking is by providing a more balanced perspective. If you use the strategy enough, your child will use it to help counter pessimistic talk. Suppose your child won’t go to her friend’s birthday thinking no one likes her. Offer a more balanced view: “If Sunny didn’t like you, you’d never have been invited.” Or if your kid blows her math test exclaiming that she’s stupid. You say: “Nobody can be good at everything. You’re good in history and art. Meanwhile, let’s figure out how to improve your math.”
  5. Deal with mistakes optimistically. Pessimists often give up at the first sign of difficulty, not recognizing that mistakes are a fact of life. Tips to help kids keep a more optimistic outlook to setbacks are: Stressing that it’s okay to make mistakes. Give kids permission to fail so they can risk. Admit your mistakes. It helps kids recognizes mistake making happens to everyone. Or even call it another name. Optimists call mistakes by other names: glitch, bug, etc., so rename it!
  6. Encourage positive speculation. Help your child think through possible outcomes of any situation so he’ll be more likely to have a realistic appraisal before making any decision and less likely to utter a pessimistic one. You might: Asking “what if?” kinds of questions to help your kid think about potential consequences. List pros and cons of any choice to help your child weigh the positive and negative outcomes. Or name the worst thing that could happen if he followed through so he can weigh if it’s all that bad.
  7. Acknowledge a positive attitude. Do be on the alert for those times your child does utter optimism. If you’re not looking for the behavior, you may well miss those moments when your child is trying a new approach. “Kara, I know how difficult your spelling tests have been. But saying you think you’ll do better was being so optimistic. I’m sure you’ll do better because you’ve been studying so hard.”

Face it, this is a troubling time to be growing up, and cynical kids tune into the bad times often seeing only the downward side of any situation. The world really is a wonderful and hopeful place. We just need to take the time and point out all the goodness in it to our kids. After all, this is their world, and the habits they learn now will last them a lifetime. Let’s make sure that one of those habits is the optimistic thinking and recognizing the wonder and beauty in life.

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Dr Borba’s new book The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries, is one of the most comprehensive parenting book for kids 3 to 13. This down-to-earth guide offers advice for dealing with children’s difficult behavior and hot button issues including biting, tantrums, cheating, bad friends, inappropriate clothing, sex, drugs, peer pressure and much more. Each of the 101 challenging parenting issues includes specific step-by-step solutions and practical advice that is age appropriate based on the latest research. The Big Book of Parenting Solutions  is available at amazon.com

About the Author

Michele Borba, Ed.D. is an internationally renowned consultant, educational psychologist and recipient of the National Educator Award who has presented workshops to over a million participants worldwide. She is a recognized expert in parenting, bullying, youth violence, and character development and author of 22 books including her upcoming release, UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About Me World. She has appeared over 130 times on the TODAY show and is a frequent expert on national media including Dateline, The View, Dr. Oz, Anderson Cooper, CNN, Dr. Drew, and Dr. Phil. Visit her daily blog on www.micheleborba.com, or follow her on twitter @micheleborba.Dr. Borba is a member of the PedSafe Expert team

Comments

2 Responses to “7 Solutions to Turn Pessimistic Kids Into Optimistic Thinkers”

  1. I teach my 4 year old daughter that happiness is a choice and whatever energy we put into the world comes back to us. Each morning in the car we take turns saying “It’s a great day” three times and then “hip hip horray” a few times to consciously get our positive energy flowing. I ask her “what kind of a person do you want to be? You can choose to be a person that is grumpy all the time or someone who is cheerful and spreads happiness to others.” Kids can understand these concepts from a young age.

  2. Angela says:

    Thanks for the advice. I have a “negative nancy” in my house and I’m going to work with him on some of these things. Thanks for the follow too. 🙂 I’m following you on twitter. @suburbanjung
    .-= Angela´s last blog ..Ipsos Survey looking for mothers with young children =-.

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