Role modeling techniques and go-to resources can help parents transform little pessimists into bright-eyed optimists. "Children mimic their parents' emotions as early as six days old; it's one of the primary ways they learn and grow," says Christine Carter, Ph.D., author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents. "This is why parents who explain things optimistically tend to have kids who mimic their explanatory styles." To help foster a more hopeful attitude in your child, follow Carter's simple strategies:
Be open with affection. According to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, children with demonstrative, caring parents are more hopeful, notes Carter. "Parental affection and care is - no surprises here - essential for kids to develop trust in the world. When kids have a secure base in their parents, they tend to believe the world is a good place."
Encourage taking risks. Learning how to face a challenge and handle frustration are solid steppingstones to building optimism. "When we make mistakes and learn from them, we also learn that we can overcome challenges that likely lie ahead," says Carter. "This makes us feel hopeful about the future." Always make sure any challenge your child is seeking is developmentally appropriate to avoid repeated failure and a growing sense of helplessness.
Praise effort over ability. Recognizing when your child invests energy and hard work - whether or not it pays off - validates their willingness to move out of their comfort zone in hopes of a positive outcome. "Optimistic praise points to the causes of good things as likely to occur again and is specific to the person being praised," Carter explains. Saying something to your child like, "I can tell you worked really hard on that painting… your passion for art shows," commends the fact that they attempted something new, she adds.
Point out the positives. Encourage your kids to share the good things that happened to them during the day. "Ask them what went well and why," says Carter. Helping them to see how or why certain situations unfolded in their favor reinforces the fact that they had a sense of control or power in the outcome, which further helps develop an optimistic outlook. For those times when things don't go as planned, help them find the bright side. "Looking for the silver lining is not superficial… but a decision to replace bad feelings with good ones," stresses Carter.
Turn things around. Gratitude goes hand-in-hand with a 'glass-as-half-full' disposition. "Encouraging kids to look hard for a reason to feel grateful for unpleasant events or difficult relationships teaches growth and promotes change," says Carter. The experience can often result in a shift in perception, from a pessimistic viewpoint to a more positive one.