Have you ever noticed that children are just naturally optimistic? They just don’t know any other feeling — that is until they get a little older and we adults start filling their heads with who know what. Anyway — that natural optimism is a precious commodity for kids.
Teaching optimism starts early. I mean really early. According to magellanassist.com, teaching optimism begins in infancy: Each time babies open their eyes and see people smiling, we communicate that they’re wonderful. In turn, babies develop good feelings about themselves and expect that good will come their way. Meeting the infant’s needs – for food, warmth and attention – teaches them that life is good and they can expect good from people.
Later, parents tell youngsters, “Good job,” when they get dressed by themselves or draw pictures. That reinforcement sends the message that they should feel confident about their abilities to succeed.
In theory, this type of reinforced behavior should follow children through life (or at least while they’re growing). It doesn’t always work out that way.
According to an article on CBSNews.com, the trick with creating a sense of optimism in your children isn’t about “…boosting our kids, it’s about helping them to figure out what will they do if they don’t win, focus on the positive, and hoping for the best. Think about it: if they don’t win, how are they going to cope with that? Optimism is about coping. Winning and success is about putting life in perspective. If you don’t win that game, what’s one thing can you do differently for the next game to increase the chances you’ll succeed?”
A new program entitled “Fishful Thinking” is looking help children realize their full potential by promoting a healthy lifestyle, while at the same time helping children develop a sense of optimism through a set of learned skills. Check out some of the following activities — they are meant to be interactive (which means YOU get to play along as well). And who knows, maybe you’ll become a little more optimistic as well.
Create Collages that Illustrate Feelings: Experts agree that being able to identify and describe what you are feeling and what others are feeling is a building block of a healthy emotional life. Children instinctively relate to their happiness and sense of optimism with positive symbols: bright colors, the sun, even the way they draw themselves(partially, completely, with facial features). Take the collage activity one step further and ask your child to pick a feeling (i.e. happy, sad, frustrated) and work together to create a collage that represents that emotion. Clip pictures from magazines, photographs, and even words to illustrate what that feeling is like for your child.
Play “What Would You Do?” According to upliftprogram.com, the experience of being in control of your world is known as “mastery” and is a fundamental component of resilience. In fact, experts say this emotion is essential for success and well-being. Children who believe they have control are more likely to feel happy and feel less anxiety. For the What would you do? game you need to take a stack of index cards and write down 15 or 20 ethical dilemma’s or problems. Take turns choosing a card and sharing how you would handle the situation. The key here is to not criticize your child’s decision. The goal isn’t to find the “right” answer but rather to give your child the opportunity to practice making decisions, while at the same time building their confidence.
Take “Happy Trips” Once a week take a brief 5-minute “happy trip” with your children to notice something beautiful or inspiring that maybe you would not have normally noticed. For example, drive down streets you normally don’t take, look at houses you normally don’t see, stop at a lake or a park. Find something and try to discover something good about it.
These are easy activities that build a sense of optimism over time. Don’t ruin it by telling your child, “today we’re going to build your optimism!” Just do it. They’ll be learning without even realizing it. And come to think of it — a couple of these activities wouldn’t be too bad for adults as well!
For more resources check out my AC article of “The Secret of Happiness,” “Developing Creative Kids” and of course tap into www.fishfulthinking.com or any of the other links in this article.