Does anyone else’s child whine or complain about stuff? Like how their friend has a better bike, or how other kids always win prizes or come first in competitions? Maybe they get upset easily when things don’t go their way. While it’s normal sometimes to focus on the things we don’t have or how things haven’t gone to plan, there’s something to be said for learning how to be more optimistic and look on the bright side.
Being optimistic is an attitude of hope, confidence in being able to succeed, and being able to imagine or visualize a positive future. An optimistic person sees challenges as temporary or opportunities for learning and growth rather than unmanageable or negative situations. Optimism is linked with better coping skills, a better capacity to persist when things get tough, less stress, and better physical and mental health.1,2
13 Ways to Teach Your Kids to Be More Optimistic
So how can we instill a sense of optimism in our kids? How do we get them thinking about the positives and what they DO have rather than what is missing, lacking, or challenging?
Here are 13 ways you can teach your child how to be more optimistic.3,4,5,6
1. Model Optimistic Behavior
Our kids watch us for cues on how to respond to things, including optimism. How do you manage setbacks? What kind of self-talk do you display? Our kids note all these things and shape how they respond.
2. Reframe Situations to be Optimistic
If you catch them focusing on the negative, try to get them to consider other things. For example, if they lost a race, can you get them thinking about how hard they worked to finish it? Or did they do better than last year? Get them reframing and looking for neutral or even positive things to come out of a challenging situation.
3. Challenge Negative Thoughts
If you catch them having a negative or unrealistic thought about something, challenge it! Saying things like “I never win” or “I’m no good at making friends” can be challenged with examples from the past where this thought just doesn’t hold.
4. Remain Calm
If your child is pessimistic, they might be taking cues from how you respond to things. So, watch how you respond when they lose or are challenged somehow, and try to reduce some of your emotions about these situations. If you are optimistic, your child will likely follow suit.
5. Encourage Daily Affirmations
When you practice something often enough, it becomes a habit. So, have them make an affirmation or a statement daily about what they want to get out of the day or how they will tackle it. It can be something like, “I can manage tough things” or “I am capable of dealing with XYZ.” This will get them to think about what they want or can do rather than focusing on what they want to avoid.
6. Practice a Gratitude Attitude
Much like affirmations, daily gratitude has the potential to change the way their brain automatically thinks about things. If they practice often enough, they will become good at automatically seeing the good rather than the challenges. So set a family challenge to reflect on one thing you are grateful for daily. It doesn’t have to be big; sometimes, being grateful for the small stuff is even better.
7. Connect with Their Feelings
Identify the feeling that underpins their pessimism. When you know the feeling, you can offer effective strategies to help them cope. They will also feel seen, heard, and acknowledged when you try to learn about how they feel. This makes them feel connected and safe and gives them a good space to feel optimistic about things.
8. Use Coping Statements
Share your belief that your child can and will cope with things. When you say, “I believe in you” or “You’ve got this,” your child feels empowered and will start to internalize these phrases. If you can do it often enough, they can recall these statements (and how it makes them feel) in challenging times.
9. Give Them Space
Don’t rush in to fix things for your child. This can come from a wonderful place of wanting to protect your child, but it can accidentally undermine them or show that you don’t believe they can manage things. So, give them space and an opportunity to address issues or challenges for themselves. You can still support and care for them, give them a chance to do it themselves first. It fills them with confidence when they can navigate stuff and work through it, proving they are capable.
10. Practice Problem-Solving to Promote an Optimistic Outlook
Help them to problem solve. Instead of just seeing an issue, can they consider what they need to navigate their way through? Did they fail a test? What could they do next time? What stopped them from being able to study? How could they reduce these barriers that stopped them?
11. Write About Positive, Optimistic Feelings
Some research tells us that writing down when we experience positive feelings and thoughts helps improve optimism, decrease feelings of distress, and increases general well-being.5
12. Remind Them That Setbacks are Temporary
In the middle of a crisis or challenge, it can feel like things are overwhelming, and they will never get better. Remind them of times when things got better and that the same thing will happen this time. They will be okay, and things will work out.
13. Teach Them Self-Care
Even temporary things can be challenging. Teach your child to manage their discomfort with self-care. What makes them feel happy or calm? Encourage this and build their skills to look after themselves when they feel down or stuck.
Learning how to be more optimistic doesn’t happen overnight, but it will happen. Try to change how you and your family look at challenges in life, praise your child’s efforts when they are resilient and capable and ensure that you focus on your child’s efforts rather than the outcome. Thinking positively can help your child pay more attention to the good things in life; it helps them feel happier and puts life’s challenges into perspective.
1. Carver CS, Scheier MF, Segerstrom SC. Optimism. Clin Psychol Rev. 2010;30(7):879-889. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2010.01.006
2. Harvard Medical School (2019). Positive psychology: Harnessing the power of happiness, mindfulness, and inner strength. Harvard Medical Publishing.
3. Hecht D. The neural basis of optimism and pessimism. Exp Neurobiol. 2013;22(3):173-199. doi:10.5607/en.2013.22.3.173
4. Wells T, Albright L, Keown K, et al. Expressive writing: Improving optimism, purpose, and resilience writing and gratitude. Innov Aging. 2018;2(Suppl 1):241. doi:10.1093/geroni/igy023.900
5. Smyth JM, Johnson JA, Auer BJ, Lehman E, Talamo G, Sciamanna CN. Online positive affect journaling in the improvement of mental distress and well-being in general medical patients with elevated anxiety symptoms: A preliminary randomized controlled trial. JMIR Ment Health. 2018;5(4):e11290. doi:10.2196/11290
6. Conversano C, Rotondo A, Lensi E, Della vista O, Arpone F, Reda MA. Optimism and its impact on mental and physical well-being. Clin Pract Epidemiol Ment Health. 2010;6:25-9. doi:10.2174%2F1745017901006010025