Inevitably intertwined with grit and self-control is a third learned character trait that is just as valuable: optimism. It is often said that there are two types of people in this world, glass half-full types (those who view the world with optimism), and glass half-empty types (those who view the world with pessimism). Which type are you?
Optimism can simply be defined as “positivity oriented towards the future,” in other words it’s a hopefulness. Optimism is not a natural inclination, but rather a demeanor that can be learned and strengthened.
What are the Mind-Body benefits of optimism? (According to Greater Good)
- Likely to achieve greater academic and athletic success
- Better health outcomes
- Less Anxiety
- Less likely to suffer from depression
- Greater satisfaction in their relationship
As humans we tend to worry often about what the future holds for our lives. Daily life is filled with so many distractions that it’s hard to live in the present moment. Kids don’t have as many worries as adults, but that doesn’t’ mean their life is void of stress or anticipatory anxiety. The stresses children do have are just different than what adults experience. Childhood is the perfect time to learn optimism as a skill precisely because kids aren’t as overwhelmed with obligations as adults, and because their brains and thought patterns are rapidly developing.
How to teach Optimism to Children:
- Tackle all-or-nothing thinking: As humans we tend to see things in extremes. In other words, in a world that is mostly grey, we tend to see things as black or white. All-or-nothing thinking fails to acknowledge the complexity of the world. Teachers and parents must teach their children to avoid all-or-nothing thinking; this will help children realize that despite their circumstances, there is always a reason to be positive!
- Work to see their perspective: Some children tend to be pessimists because they have had bad luck or have experienced a multitude of difficult life experiences. As adults, we must respond with empathy. By doing so, we build trust with the the child, and can help to broaden their perspective, and assist them in seeing the world with a newfound optimism.
- End Complaining No one likes to hear complaining. As a adults who work with children, we are almost immune to responding to it, but we should do our best to notice when children complain and correct the behavior. Complaining perpetuates pessimism. When a child is complaining, seek to broaden their thinking to include additional alternatives. Often times, they are being narrow-minded.
- Model Optimism: When children spend time around optimistic adults, they tend to act more optimistic themselves. Optimism is contagious. Do your best to remain as optimistic in demeanor as possible around children, and they too will respond with being optimistic themselves.
- Focus on solutions: When children are faced with difficulties of any kind, it’s essential that adults in their life help them focus on solutions rather than allowing them to wallow in their despair.
Avoiding “Learned Helplessness”:
- “Learned helplessness” is a psychological theory founded by Martin Seligman, which argues that humans and animals can learn to become helpless when for an extended period of time they don’t see a solution to their problem.
- The basis of learned helplessness is lack of control. When humans feel that they no longer have control over their future, they will inevitably learn to become helpless, and pessimistic. Think about it: would you be optimistic if you you thought you had no control over your future? Probably not.
- To help children avoid learned helplessness, it is the job of adults to focus on helping children regain their sense of control. This can be done by helping them understand what they are in control of, and what they can manipulate to create a more advantageous situation for themselves.
- Learned helplessness untreated can lead to both anxiety and depression, therefore it is essential that adults be on the lookout for the warning signs of creeping learned helplessness: passivity, giving up, limited problem-solving ability, low self-esteem, and increased frustration (source: Very Well Mind)
- Raising Optimistic Kids: Greater Good Magazine
- Learned Optimism: The Cup Half Full: Positive Psychology Program
- Learned Helplessness: Are you Doing Too Much for Your Child?: Empowering Parents
“An optimist is someone who expects all the crayons to be in the box.”- Emily Strawn