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This guest post was written by Lisa Coriell, a freelance writer living in Portland, Oregon. She developed the Dirty Boots Project, a program that helps kids and their parents strengthen bonds, improve health, and discover their unique personal power through time spent in nature. While getting muddy and having fun, kids learn critical skills to help them successfully navigate life and cultivate lasting connections to our environment, amidst the ever-growing lure of our electronic world. Follow her on Facebook.
We’ve all been in a place where we’ve gotten caught up in too much negativity. Maybe just a teensy remark like “Ugh! Why is this happening now?” or the seemingly innocuous, “Really?” Making these statements driving alone in the car may not be such a big deal, but what if we express persistent negativity around our kids?
Perceptions Are Learned At Home
How kids see the world in childhood has a lasting impression. As their primary guides, how we explain things through our actions, judgments, and perceptions really does matter. In his book, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, Martin Seligman, Ph.D., explains that “a person’s explanatory style influences the way other people perceive him, disposing them to work against him or with him. And it affects physical health. Explanatory style develops in childhood. The optimism or pessimism then is fundamental.”
Seligman points out that we don’t want to sugarcoat hardships, however. We live in a world where hardship and crisis happen. If we can minimize our judgments and respond to situations with an overall approach of optimism, our children will learn to observe, connect with, and grow from the world and each new situation, rather than view these moments as potential threats.
When we come from a place of optimism, responding to disappointments and problems as opportunities, we see amazing results:
- Increased immune response
- Lower levels of stress
- Positive self-esteem
- Better coping skills
- Longer lifespan
Respond Instead Of React
So, if we’ve been dishing out the negative waves a little too often, how do we turn around our perception?
A simple starting point is to respond instead of react. When we respond to a situation, we observe first, and suspend judgement before taking action. When we react, we take part in emotion-based action, that sometimes can lead to behaviors we later regret.
Here’s an example: Your child comes to you to tell you he’s broken your irreplaceable, prized vase. If you:
- REACT: You become visibly upset. Maybe you cry, fume, glare, or even shout at your child. Your child might feel bad about the vase and bad about himself now. When something like this happens again, he might be too afraid to come to you or tell the truth for fear of displeasing you.
- RESPOND: You pause, take a breath, observe the vase, and review the situation. You aren’t sure how to handle talking about the vase with your child just yet. Perhaps you need time to think it over, so first you just clean it up. You decide to do that together, without blame, judgment, or outward negative emotion. Once you’ve had time to think, you might sit down with your child to discuss what can be learned from the event. Your child can grow from the situation and trust that he can come to you without fear when something goes wrong, and as a result, the bond between you and your child strengthens and deepens.
See the difference? With consistency and practice, by responding, you can model for your child how to treat each situation as it comes, allowing for more optimism, growth, and learning.
Easy Reminders To Maintain Optimism
When you’re faced with a tough situation and aren’t sure what to say or do, consider these easy reminders to stay in an optimistic frame of mind:
- PAUSE: Write “pause” on a Post-It, and put it where you need it to keep your cool.
- VISUAL CUES: Place little smiley stickers or dots anywhere you need to be reminded to lighten up.
- BREATHE: When you’re focused on the breath, you aren’t saying something you’ll regret. Breathe in, hold for 2 seconds, then breathe out. Do it again.
- “OKAY”: Not sure what to say? Just say “OKAY.” It lets the person know they’ve been heard, without your reaction or judgement. It can remind you that no matter what, right now, you can at least recognize that you’re “OKAY.”
Just a few breaths and a pause can give you enough time to model optimism, starting right now.
What helpful techniques do you use to stay optimistic?