Listen, life isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. We all know that. And if the past few months have taught us anything, it’s that optimism is needed more than ever. But it can be hard to put on a brave face for your family when you’re stressed out, too. Even if you’re having ups and downs of your own, though, it’s important to know
how to raise optimistic kids, because we could all use some positivity right now.
“Optimism is much more about resiliency, overcoming struggles, and being able to hold a feeling of frustration, anger, disappointment or sadness,”
Dr. Deepika Chopra, PsyD, a clinical psychologist tells Romper in an email. “At the very same time, it means holding space for hope that something better will come, which is so important especially now.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 3.2% of children ages 3 to 17 have been diagnosed with depression — which equals about 1.9 million children. (Of that, boys ages 2 to 8 were more likely than girls to suffer from a developmental, behavioral, or mental disorder.) And while you're not responsible for making sure your child is happy every second of every hour of every day, as a parent, you do need to equip your child with the tools and strategies (and in some cases, outside help) to ensure that they can look at life in a more optimistic way.
So if you’re looking for ways to have a more cheerful child, these tips can help your kiddo have a glass-half-full attitude.
If you feel like your child is a carbon copy of you, there’s a good reason for that. Children often parrot what we say and do — sometimes for the good, and sometimes, for the bad. “Children learn by watching us, so try to model optimism for your them,” advises Chopra. “Avoid using negative or permanently pessimistic phrases when speaking in front of your child to advocate for a more optimistic outlook and approach to life.” So the next time you’re feeling frazzled, for example, you can say something like, “I am so frustrated right now, but I know this won’t last forever.” This helps kids realize that many things are temporary, and it shifts the focus towards overcoming less-than-ideal situations.
There’s a reason why the founding fathers wrote about the “pursuit of happiness” in the Constitution. Feeling good isn’t a forever state, and in order to be happy, you need to actively seek it out. Chopra advises to go on a “happiness hunt” of sorts. “Similar to Eye Spy, point out the things around you that make you happy,” she says. “Make it a game with your family and see how many things do make you feel happier in your life.” It might be something as simple as taking a walk around your neighborhood or even eating some ice cream, but helping your child to proactively seek out happiness can make them more optimistic about life.
If you’re ever feeling in a slump, strap on your sneaks and head outside with your kid. Spending time in the great outdoors is a natural mood booster. “Encouraging your child to exercise or stay active everyday will help your child release endorphins, which is a natural way to increase happiness,” says Chopra. “Combining these two elements will make for a more optimistic child.”
Let’s face it: common core math isn’t for the faint of heart. So in those moments when your child might want to throw in the towel, help them to channel their inner superhero and be persistent. Says Chopra, “Don't shy away from things that might seem hard or intimidating at first. Focus on how we can grow from hardship, and the good that comes from adversity and overcoming failure.”
Do Something For Your Community
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There’s something about being a do-gooder that feels, well, good. That’s why inspiring your child to do good things for people can really make them feel optimistic and hopeful. You and your child can work together to figure out how they want to help the community; it might be shopping for an elderly neighbor or sitting with a kid at lunch who’s new to the neighborhood. “Do something empathic and kind for someone else, and talk to your children about how that made them feel, and how that made the recipient feel,” says Dr. Chopra. “Discuss the ways in which your child can better your community, and how those ideas can contribute to a positive mentality.”
When your child is stressed out about school or other issues, it’s time for them (you included) to take a breath — literally. “Children who are feeling anxious should learn to focus on their breath,” Dr. Tonya Crombie, author of
tells Romper in an email. “When it’s done correctly, it truly works to calm a child (or an adult) in a matter of minutes.” But quick, shallow breaths won’t do here; you’ll need to take long, slow, and deep breaths, inhaling and exhaling slowly. Being able to breathe well can help a child readjust their thinking, relax them, and make them feel better about whatever was bugging them before. Stop Worrying About Your Anxious Child,
Keeping your cool is an integral part to raising an optimistic child. “Learning to stay calm in the moment is the foundation to optimism about the future,” says Crombie. “Without learning basic tools to calm an anxious mind, it is very difficult to feel OK right now, much less optimistic about the future.” And when you (or your child) are calmer, then you can open yourself up to planning positive things for the future.
Adopt An Attitude Of Gratitude
If you’re looking to have a happier kid, you’ll need to find ways to build gratitude into your day. “Parents can create times to share things they're grateful for and to ask their children about the things they're grateful for as well,” advises Crombie. “Learning to practice gratitude is also a foundational skill for creating an optimistic outlook.” By practicing gratitude, you’ll be able to train your brain to find the good things and be grateful for them.
Encourage Your Kid To Be Creative
A great way to open the doors to optimism is by allowing your child the room to be creative. “Art is a skill that shows up in many forms in life from singing, drawing, painting, building, or even creating with clay,”
Dr. Elizabeth Jennings, a pediatric occupational therapist tells Romper in an email. “Parents should encourage kids by purchasing craft books or looking up creative and fun ideas to use their hands to create beautiful masterpieces.” And when kids tap into their natural talents, they’ll feel happy expressing themselves.
Share Inspirational Stories
Sometimes, it feels like all doom and gloom everywhere, and that can unwittingly seep into your family’s collective psyche. But there are lots of good things happening every single day, too, and it’s important to show your child that. So take the time to show your child something inspirational and motivational to counterbalance any negative news reports they might be seeing, advises Jennings. “Parents can take time to look up or research inspirational real-life stories of kids or youth role models, share those stories with kids, and talk about them openly,” she says. “By allowing kids to freely explore options through exposure and open-mindedness, there are no limits to what kids can accomplish.”
While it’s OK for your kiddo to feel a wide range of emotions, it’s important for them to make their own optimism a priority. And while their feelings are entirely their own, you as the parent can still help them to hone in on happiness. And by helping your child adopt a more positive outlook on life, you’ll quite naturally start to feel happier and (hopefully), optimistic, too.
Experts: Dr. Deepika Chopra, PsyD, a clinical psychologist, optimism doctor, and visual imagery expert Dr. Tonya Crombie, author of Stop Worrying About Your Anxious Child Dr. Elizabeth Jennings, OTD, OTR, c/NDT, a pediatric occupational therapist