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"What's the point of trying?" How to Turn Pessimistic Kids Into Optimistic Thinkers


By Michele Borba

"Why should I bother? You know they won't choose me." "What's the point? I'll never make the team." "Why are you making me go? You know I won't have fun."

Kids with pessimistic attitudes are among the most frustrating breeds. They give up easily, believe anything they do won't make a difference, and assume they won't succeed. Sadly, they rarely see the good, wonderful things of life. They dwell instead on the negative, bad parts, and often find only the inadequacies in themselves: "I'm so dumb, why study?" "Nobody's going to like me, why bother?" Beware: the trend is increasing: a child today is ten times more likely to be seriously depressed compared to a child born in the first third of this century. So what's a parent to do?

First, do know I empathize if you have one of these little critters. I know this is troubling stuff, and at times even heartbreaking. After all, one of the hardest parts of being a parent is when your child isn't happy. But there is one point you must keep in mind: Kids are not born pessimistic. Research shows a large part of this attitude is learned along the way. So take heart: research at Penn State University concludes that parents can help their kids become more optimistic. Doing so will dramatically increases the likelihood of your son or daughter's long-term happiness. So roll up your sleeves, and let's get started.

Here are tips from my book, Don't Give Me That Attitude! to help you succeed.

1. Eliminate the negatives you can.

Start by doing what you can do: cut the sources that might be exacerbating your kid's pessimism. Possibilities? Why not reduce the terrifying news on CNN; stop talking about the bad stuff on the front page; listen to your own negative talk and curb it; monitor the cynical musical lyrics your kid is hearing? Where once those tragic and terrifying world events seemed so far, far away or only printed words in the newspaper, they are now 24/7 on our TVs and Internet screens. So be more vigilante and turn off what you can control. Enough!

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2. Look for the positive.

Next, consciously stress a more optimistic outlook in your home so your child sees the good parts of life instead of just the downside. Here are a few things you can do to accentuate the positive:

3. Confront pessimistic thinking.

Don't let your child get trapped into "Stinkin' Thinkin'. Help him tune into his pessimistic thoughts and learn to confront them. Here are a few tips:

4. Balance pessimistic talk.

One way to thwart your kid's pessimistic thinking is by providing a more balanced perspective. If you use the strategy enough, your child will use it to help counter pessimistic talk. Here's a few possibilities:

5. Deal with mistakes optimistically.

Pessimists often give up at the first sign of difficulty, not recognizing that mistakes are a fact of life. Tips to help kids keep a more optimistic outlook to setbacks are:

6. Encourage positive speculation.

Help your child think through possible outcomes of any situation so he'll be more likely to have a realistic appraisal before making any decision and less likely to utter a pessimistic one.

7. Acknowledge a positive attitude.

Do be on the alert for those times your child does utter optimism. If you're not looking for the behavior, you may well miss those moments when your child is trying a new approach. "Kara, I know how difficult your spelling tests have been. But saying you think you'll do better was being so optimistic. I'm sure you'll do better because you've been studying so hard."

Face it, this is a troubling time to be growing up, and cynical kids tune into the bad times often seeing only the downward side of any situation. The world really is a wonderful and hopeful place. We just need to take the time and point out all the goodness in it to our kids. After all, this is their world, and the habits they learn now will last them a lifetime. Let's make sure that one of those habits is the optimistic thinking and recognizing the wonder and beauty in life.

© Michele Borba, Ed.D.
Michele Borba, Ed.D., is an internationally renowned educator, motivational speaker, and award-winning author. She is the recipient of the National Educator award and serves on the honorary advisor board of Parents magazine and appears frequent guest on talk shows such as the Today show, The View, Fox & Friends, MSNBC, and NPR and in print including: Newsweek, Redbook, U.S. News & World Report. Michele is the author of "Parents Do Make a Difference, Building Moral Intelligence and No More Misbehavin'" (Jossey-Bass). Her proposal to end school violence was passed in California law in 2003:SB1667). Visit Michele at behaviormakeovers.com. Author of "Don't Give Me That Attitude! 24 Rude, Selfish, Insensitive Things Kids Do and How to Stop Them".

 

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