10 Ways to Help Your Children Develop a Positive Attitude
“My life is perfect,” said no serious person ever. We all know that life does not always go the way you had planned. Still living at home? Surviving from paycheck to paycheck? The ‘dream house’ you bought turns out to be a money pit, and now you are upside down and have no idea what you are going to do? Okay, a little specific but, you get the idea. I am 26 and still in denial that I cannot control everything. Bad things happen. As an adult, we often cope with disappointment.
Teaching my daughter how to deal with disappointment has been a learning experience. Christmas morning, I watched as she eagerly tore open one of her gifts, only to watch her face fall and her little 3-year-old voice quietly say, “Pajamas?” Or yesterday, when I went back on my promise of Wendy’s nuggets and instead insisted on getting pizza because, hey, I’m pregnant! I have needs, too. The things that disappoint our children may often seem trivial but they are learning how to navigate their emotions. I try to teach my daughter to “look at the bright side.” After all, the pizza was delicious, and she really needed new PJ’s. Helping our children develop a positive attitude will help them be successful adults in the future.
Here are 10 tips on how to do it:
Set an example.
I am stuck in traffic with my daughter, and we are crawling, when someone decides this is the perfect time to move into my lane. Each passing minute brings them a centimeter closer to me until finally, I snap, “YOU IDIOT!” My daughter, startled, asks who I am talking to and I feel the guilt creep in. This is how not to set an example. Learn from my mistakes (and your’s, too). They watch your reaction to stress. They watch how you treat difficult people. They watch how you react to your failures. (“I know it doesn’t really look like a horse, okay? Mommy is not an artist.”) Author Tiffany Fletcher writes, “ Your children really are exceptional listeners. They may not be listening to the things you want them to hear, and that’s probably intentional on their part, but they are listening to everything else.”
See the best in each other.
Encourage your child and recognize their accomplishments. I am a preschool teacher and, in my classroom, “Good job!” doesn’t cut it. I have learned to be specific. “Wow! You worked hard!” “I appreciate your help!” “I love how you took your time, it really shows.” “When I look at this, I know you did your best work.” This is one of the classroom tools successful teachers have been using for years. And now you too can use this black magic — in the comfort of your home! This kind of specific encouragement will build your child’s confidence and help learn to identify and celebrate their triumphs.
Make lemonade out of lemons.
I’m not talking about this recipe. I am talking about the ability to turn negative statements into positive statements. I lay in bed with my daughter, counting kisses in a book we love. I kiss while she counts, “1…2…3…8…4…” And I gently say, “Try again.” She sighs and says, “I can’t count. I am bad at it.” I smile and say, “You just need to practice. It takes time. Let’s count together.” Alex Blackwell, the founder of The BridgeMaker, writes, “I can be an intelligent person and still do something stupid. I can love my wife and still be angry with her sometimes… The most important word in each sentence is and. The word and suggests a balance.”
Make your home a positive place.
Before bed each night, my room become a tickle torture chamber… and I love it. We tickle, we laugh, and we have a lot of fun. Your home should be your “happy place” and a place where your children feel safe. It has nothing to do with making the bed or picking up toys (Rejoice!). Instead, it is about the mood we choose to create. Don’t forget to smile. CBS News medical contributor Dr. David Agus says,“When you smile, your whole body is changed. The chemicals, the endorphins, actually make your brain feel better and do better.” I also love this article about “Encouraging Your Child’s Sense of Humor” that says:
Choose your feelings.
Huffington Post has an excellent article entitled “Real Love is a Choice.” We do have the ability to influence our emotions. John M. Grohol, Psy.D. says, “Our beliefs and expectations about a person or event or situation directly influence and, many would argue, cause our feelings. …Others do not cause our feelings — we cause them ourselves. … that means that we have control of our feelings, much like we have control over other choices we make in our life.” Choose love. Choose to forgive (yourself and others)- there is a lot of evidence for the power of forgiveness. Choose to stay positive.
Stop saying, “No.”
(Or, at least, say it less.) Children constantly hear the word “no” at home and school. In my classroom, I avoid the word as much as possible. “No, Jimmy!” does not tell Jimmy anything about what he is doing that I do not approve of or offer an acceptable alternative. “Jimmy, we sit on the chair,” says stop standing on the chair (I don’t want to take you to the hospital) and sit on it instead (Phew! Much better). “Teeth are for chewing food,” might make Jimmy think twice before he tried to cannibalize his classmates.
Parents.com offers 10 Ways to Say “No” Without Saying No, and they have some excellent tips. Neuroscientist Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Prof. Mark Robert Waldman, authors of the book Words Can Change Your Brain, show how negativity and stress are related. For example, with just one flash of the word “no,” our brains release dozens of stress-producing hormones and neurotransmitters that create havoc with our normal functioning (more from this article). Choose your words wisely, there might be a better way to make your point.
Feel blessed, not stressed.
Find things to be thankful for each day. Dr. David Agus, mentioned above, explains the findings of a study in which one group of people were asked to write down what they were thankful for every week, while others wrote about their hassles and a third group wrote about neutral topics.
Focus on what you have and not what you don’t.
Build their self-esteem.
Help your children learn who they are and what makes them special, unique, and different. Show an interest in them and help them learn to appreciate themselves. Justin Bieber says, “You should go and love yourself.” While I do not consider him a great philosopher, I have to agree with him on this one. As your children grow more self-aware, they may become more critical of themselves and others. Help them see their strengths. Here are some practical tips for boosting your child’s self-esteem from Parents.com.
Stop complaining. Instead, seek solutions.
Every time I had the bright idea of taking my daughter to the beach, I had to mentally prepare myself for the complaining. “There’s sand in my shoe!”- this, after meticulously polishing her feet, rinsing her shoes, and a ten-minute ritual of putting them back on. (Hello, kid, that’s how the beach works!) I would complain about her complaining and ‘round and ‘round we would go. Then I had a genius solution: Stop going to the beach. It was really that simple and, yes, I survived living in Miami without going to the beach for 6 months, and we didn’t die. More recently, I grew brave and attempted it again. This time: success! Life lesson learned.
Acknowledge when bad things happen.
Because they will. Don’t dismiss the negative. Listen to your child and feel with them. “I know it hurt.” “I realize you are having a hard time with this.” “I can see you are disappointed.” We often have a hard time coping with and understanding our own feelings so it is natural to feel uncomfortable when other people share theirs. I often catch myself telling my daughter, “it’s not a big deal,” when, to a four-year-old, yes, yes it is a big deal. Ask questions instead of telling them how to feel.
The power to stay positive will help your child navigate through difficult times in life. We cannot protect our children from disappointment and occasional failure. Instead, help them recognize their mistakes and still choose to stay positive or, as Lyndon B. Johnson once said: