The world is full of pessimists. It is full of naysayers who believe nothing is possible. The world is also full of optimists.
After 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela had this to say, “I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”
Although born deaf and blind, Helen Keller is known for her multiple accomplishments and for her famous quote, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.”
Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor, remained optimistic in spite of his tragic experiences.
Optimism is about having a positive mindset and focusing on everything that will go right, rather than on everything that can go wrong.
According to the renowned social psychologist, Martin Seligman, optimism is associated with less depression, greater achievement, and better physical health. Seligman also argues that optimism is a learned skill. In other words, children can be taught to be either pessimistic or optimistic.
How do you turn your child into an optimist?
1 | Don’t shield him from obstacles
It is important to teach your child that there are always obstacles to success. When you shield him from obstacles, you prevent him from learning through failure. According to Seligman, children should be allowed to experience negative emotions (such as anxiety) because they are a normal part of life. These emotions also provide an opportunity to teach your child how to react in a socially acceptable manner.
When we hear about success stories, we rarely hear about the failure and rejection that preceded the success. Examples of people who repeatedly met failure before succeeding abound. Talk to your child about J.K Rowling, Michael Jordan, Thomas Edison, or the Beatles. Show them how failure gets you closer to success.
2 | Nothing succeeds like success
A child’s self-efficacy is reinforced after a successful performance, so give your child opportunities to succeed. Even young children experience success when they are able to do simple tasks such as putting on their clothes by themselves, helping clear the table, or being responsible for tidying up.
Propose age-appropriate tasks but remember that there can be major developmental differences between kids of the same age. Having great expectations can motivate your child to achieve them, but not when those expectations are set too high.
3 | Give your child a vote of confidence
A recent study examining why similar individuals often have drastically different success trajectories found that a “vote of confidence” can have a great impact on outcomes. The study came to the conclusion that when individuals receive a boost in confidence as they’re starting out, they are more likely to encounter success. Let your child know that you have faith in her abilities. Be her greatest cheerleader, but don’t overdo it. False praise can lead her to associate praise with failure.
4 | Avoid scare tactics
Evidence suggests that children are more motivated and achieve greater success when they are encouraged rather than when messages focus on failure. A recent study found that telling children “they would be unable to get good jobs if they failed exams” was less motivating than explaining in a positive way why exams are important.
Instead of scare tactics, focus on the positive – how will reading for 10 minutes each night be beneficial? How will soccer practice help?
5 | Develop an optimistic explanatory style
How do you react when things go wrong? Children will often copy what they hear or see. Developing an optimistic explanatory style, therefore, begins with you. Be attentive to how you explain things to your child. Developing an optimistic explanatory style won’t happen overnight but it will happen if you practice consistently.
6 | Teach your child to view himself as a successful person
According to some researchers, children are rarely taught to view themselves as competent and successful human beings. How do you define success? Is your child aware of what being a successful person means? What skills does a successful person possess?
You can help your child by modeling the skills you would like her to develop. Helping a child develop an optimistic outlook is not easy but it can be achieved with practice.