As a parent, you want your kids to be successful. One way to help set your kids up for success is to teach them how to have positive attitudes even when things are new or a little difficult. It can be tough sometimes for kids to have positive attitudes when they are constantly facing the challenges of learning new things, having to listen to and follow rules decided for them by adults, and simply growing up. By giving them the right tools and cultivating a (mostly) positive environment, kids can learn how to have positive attitudes about life and the world around them.
Why Positivity is Important
Positive thinking is important because it is good for both your physical and mental well-being. When someone looks at things with a positive point of view, they are more likely to cope better with stress, have better immunity, lower rates of depression, and even live longer. There are even studies to suggest that positivity improves memory and problem-solving abilities.
People with positive attitudes are also found to feel happier and be more satisfied in life than people who look at things more pessimistically. People with positive attitudes are more self confident. They treat themselves with more respect and kindness. They also tend to exercise regularly, avoid smoking, eat healthier, and get more quality sleep.
It is easier to be in control of your emotions and see things clearly when you have an optimistic outlook on things rather than a negative outlook. Rather than blaming yourself for a problem or going straight to the thought that the world hates you and is unfair and terrible, when you try to think about things more positively, it is easier to look at a situation and see it for what it is. Negativity produces unhappiness. Positivity produces happiness.
…and Why It Can Be Hard for Kids to Stay Positive
When we specifically think about kids, it is especially important to encourage positive attitudes because neuroscientists have found that kids’ inner voices tend to be especially negative because of feelings of doubt and fear. This means that in their day-to-day thoughts, kids view the things that are happening through a lens of negativity. They think things like “Of course, I didn’t make the soccer team because I’m terrible,” or “Those kids won’t be friends with me because I’m a loser.” You remember what it was like being a kid and may even remember having thoughts like these. You might even still have thoughts like these.
On top of these negative inner thoughts, kids of all ages are constantly hearing “no.” There are all kinds of things they are not allowed to do, many for very good reason. When our brain hears the word “no,” all kinds of stress-producing chemicals get released in the brain. The combination of inner negativity and these stress chemicals can lead to poor mental health, so learning how to combat that negative inner voice from a young age is super important.
Positive Attitudes Don’t Erase Problems
All of this is not to say that encouraging a positive attitude means teaching kids to ignore bad things or that they are never going to have negative thoughts or difficult experiences. Bad things are going to happen. If you are being mistreated, for instance, there is not a positive in that situation. Even small everyday types of bad things are going to happen. For instance, kids are going to have rough days, do poorly in a subject in school, or feel excluded from friends groups.
Teaching kids to have positive attitudes does not mean that you are teaching them to look at every single situation through a positive lens. There are situations that cannot be viewed as if the glass is half full. It means that you are teaching them not to get in the habit of looking at every situation through a negative lens, which is a completely different thing.
Sometimes you need to feel sad or angry. Sometimes things are scary or challenging and there is not much of a positive spin that you can put on those kinds of things. There is nothing wrong with seeing things for how they are or having negative feelings about something. The goal in encouraging positive attitudes is not to erase all negative thought (because that is not realistic or healthy) but rather to set them up with the ability to get themselves out of negative thinking patterns for the rest of their lives.
Teaching Positive Attitudes
There are a number of things you can do to encourage positive attitudes in your kids from an early age.
1. Share Your Feelings
Sharing and acknowledging emotions with your kids can help encourage positive attitudes. For kids to be able to think positively, they need to have a good understanding of their emotions and how they are feeling. The first step is to teach them that all types of emotions are okay. It is okay to be upset, angry, sad, depressed, happy, excited, anxious, and anything else they feel. Then they need to understand why they are having those feelings and what to do about the emotions they are feeling. This is the key to getting out of the habit of thinking negatively all the time and getting down on themselves.
It is not just about understanding the emotions they are feeling, but being able to think through and understand what to do about those emotions. If your child is upset about something, let them talk through how they are feeling and why. You can remind them that it is normal to feel upset about things but those negative feelings will not stay around forever. If kids understand that these types of feelings are just temporary, over time they are less likely to dwell on negativity.
Another helpful good way to encourage positive attitudes in kids is to sympathize with them. Let them know that you understand how they are feeling. Simply saying, “I understand how you are feeling. I would be upset if I were you too, but now you have to figure out what to do next.” Together, you can talk through solutions, which helps develop their problem-solving skills. A problem-solving attitude is a positive attitude that keeps them from dwelling on the upset or the problem.
2. Teach Positive Affirmations
It is easy to get stuck in negative thoughts, especially in stressful situations. While it is important for kids to be able to identify and express their emotions, it is not helpful for them to stay stuck in negative emotions for an extended period of time. Positive affirmations can help redirect the brain from those negative thoughts and help get your kids out of the habit of getting down on themselves.
Positive affirmations are simply positive phrases used to challenge negative thoughts. There is actual science to back up the fact that positive affirmations work to promote positive attitudes. The psychological theory called self-affirmation theory is behind this science. Research has been done with this theory in mind and it has shown that there are actual changes in a person’s brain when they practice positive affirmations – the part of the brain that has to do with processing self-related and positive information becomes more active.
Starting when your kids are young (or starting today no matter what their age!) repeat positive affirmations to and with them. The more they practice positive affirmations, the more it will become ingrained in their thoughts and replace that habit of negativity. There are no rules to positive affirmations. Start with things that encourage positive attitudes and then let your kids add affirmations that resonate with them. Things like “I am powerful,” “I am enough,” “I am proud of myself and who I am,” and “I can do hard things” are perfect places to start.
READ MORE: 50 POSITIVE QUOTES TO LIVE BY
3. Fill their Buckets
The concept of filling your bucket is used a lot in preschool and elementary school to teach kids about their feelings and emotions. The idea is that everyone carries an invisible bucket. When that bucket is full, the person feels happy, confident, and secure. However, when that person’s bucket is empty, they feel upset, sad, and unhappy. With this framework, kids learn to identify when their bucket is full or empty as a way to determine their feelings.
Kids also learn that you can be a bucket filler or someone who fills other people’s buckets with empathy and kindness. This helps them understand how their words and actions affect other people. Be kind to people and you fill their bucket. Be cruel and you empty their bucket. Not only does this idea teach kids how their actions affect others, it can help them see how their actions and words have a positive or negative impact on themselves – a negative inner voice empties their bucket while a positive inner voice fills their bucket.
Use this idea to help encourage positive attitudes in your kids. Fill their buckets every chance you get. Tell them when they do a good job at something. Tell them they are kind. Tell them they are smart. Tell them they are a good sister or brother. The more you fill their bucket, the more they will start to fill their own bucket.
4. Look at Failure as a Learning Opportunity
Everyone fails. First and foremost make that very clear from an early age. Then, rather than dwelling on failures or teaching kids that failure is a bad thing, teach them to look at their failures as opportunities to learn and grow. Remind them that it is okay to feel negative emotions when a failure happens. Focus next on the fact that challenges are not things to beat themselves up over. Instead, have them use failures as opportunities to learn and problem solve.
When your child fails at something – they do poorly on an assignment, do not make the team, or are not good at something – talk about it. Have them talk about their mistakes and think of things they could do better or differently next time. At the same time, be sure to acknowledge and praise your kids’ efforts towards whatever it is that resulted in failure. Tell them that you are proud that they tried and that they gave it their best because those are important things for them to keep in mind. All of this will help them look more positively on things and have positive attitudes when things do not go the way they wanted or hoped.
5. Model Positive Thinking
As with most things you want to teach your kids as a parent, it is important to model positive thinking for them. As a parent, you know that they are always watching and paying attention, even when you think they are not. So show your kids how to be positive in the face of challenges. Talk through failures or disappointments of your own out loud for them to hear. Model positive affirmation and positive self-talk so that they can see it in action. Your kids will learn how to express themselves in a healthy way and keep positive attitudes when things don’t always go their way if you show them how it is done.
Positive attitudes can be hard for kids sometimes. They are constantly learning new things and having new experiences, so the opportunity for failure and difficulty is high. They are learning to navigate social situations. Older kids are dealing with social media, friend groups, and puberty all at once. It can be a lot. Plus, their brains are wired for negative self-talk. The good news is that with a little encouragement and the right tools, they can learn to have a positive attitude in life and face challenges with a good attitude, which is a really important lifelong skill to have.
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