The school year is full of learning, excitement, friendship and adventure, but is also includes a fair amount of stress. While some stress can actually help kids learn to problem solve and work through obstacles, academic and peer related stress can accumulate and result in negative thought patterns. When kids are exhausted and overwhelmed, pessimism can bubble to the surface. The problem with the negative self-talk that tends to accompany pessimism is that kids begin to internalize negative beliefs. In other words, they begin to think that bad things always happen to them, that life isn’t fair or that they are doomed to fail. It’s essential to teach kids to practice optimism to counter negative thoughts.
The good news is that summer is the perfect time to teach optimism. Optimism, or the belief that things will work out in the end, plays an important role in building resilience. When kids recognize that they can’t necessarily control everything that happens but that they can control how they react to things, they learn that they can find positive solutions. Many kids experience decreased stress during the summer months. The break from academics and increased time spent with friends and in leisure activities provides opportunities to excel in other areas while experiencing more positive emotions. In short, it’s a good time to flip the script and teach your kids to rely on a can-do attitude.
Do you ever find yourself saying things like, “We are always late” or, “I knew we would be stuck in traffic for hours”? Statements like these, often said in response to frustration and/or anxiety, are pessimistic in nature. The subtext, heard loud and clear by small children in the back seat, is this: The world is against us and we can’t do anything right. Our words and actions speak volumes to our children, and we need to be aware of both how we view the world and how we communicate those views to our kids.
Practice replacing negative statements with positive ones throughout the day. Instead of saying, “We will never get to this party on time, “ for example, try, “We will still have plenty of time to enjoy the fun!” Small changes in our attitudes and language can make a big difference for our children.
Teach positive self-talk
Sometimes kids get stuck in a cycle of negative self-talk. They hyper focus on the “could haves, should haves, would haves” and are quick to respond to obstacles with “I can’t” or “I’ll never”. While these behaviors can trigger frustration for parents, it’s important to remember that when kids verbalize negative core beliefs, they are generally feeling overwhelmed, anxious and/or depressed. In their own way, they are trying to mobilize help.
Teach your kids to replace negative self-talk with positive self-talk in three steps:
- State the worry. Example: I’m afraid that I won’t be able to complete this puzzle.
- State the hope: Example: I really want to put this puzzle together on my own.
- State the positive: I’m very patient and I do a lot of puzzles. When I organize the pieces, I know how to get started.
Kids need to vent their fears and frustrations to relieve pent up emotion. Once they’ve verbalized their feelings, they can shift to positive thoughts and take action.
Failure happens. As much as parents want to protect their kids from failure and defeat, kids can learn a lot about themselves from working through setbacks. Learning to find the silver linings in negative situations is an important life skill. While it might be hard for kids to do this in the heat of the moment, making a game of it at times can help kids learn to find something positive or silly amidst the frustration. A broken plate, for example, is an opportunity to make a mosaic, while a cracked egg on the floor makes a great story starter (remember that day that dad fried an egg on the floor?)
Optimists experience less stress, better health and greater happiness than pessimists. We might not be able to protect our children from failure and defeat, but we can help them internalize positive core beliefs and, in doing so, teach them to find success despite the failure. And that is a recipe for happy kids.