Not only can adopting a more optimistic attitude create a happier life, you’ll influence how well your kids respond to life’s daily challenges, too.
“Children watch their parents. They pick up on moods and beliefs. A positive attitude is contagious - as is a negative attitude,” says Dr. Kristen Hensley, psychologist.
Positively rewarding. A positive outlook boosts productivity, energy, and motivation; helps reduce stress; enhances confidence and self-esteem; benefits health; and even improves relationships with others. “A positive attitude can also help us be more flexible in our thinking and make seeing solutions to problems easier,” says Dr. Hensley. “Looking for silver linings in life can help build mental resilience and general optimism.”
Practice self-awareness. Try tracking your moods to get a better sense of what you’ll need to do to better care for yourself each day. Jessica Mostaffa, an early childhood mental health specialist and therapist who works with mothers suffering from depression, says this tactic helps her clients take a more mindful approach to their day-to-day emotional well-being.
Make a happiness list. Brainstorm a list of activities that help you feel better when you’re feeling depleted. Your list might include taking a warm shower or bath, watching a comedy, or taking a walk with a friend. “When parents start working on increasing time for themselves, it not only decreases depressive symptoms, but they also report having a better, more positive relationship and interactions with their children, partner, and others in the home,” says Mostaffa.
Invite your kids to make lists, too. When they’re angry or upset, they can turn to their list to help them manage their emotions in a healthy way. For example, shoot hoops, listen to music, draw, read, or call a trusted friend.
Reframe negative thoughts. Rather than trying to ignore cynical thoughts, work with these thoughts that creep into your head. Mostaffa suggests asking yourself grounding questions like: ‘What’s the evidence the thought is true?’ ‘What’s the evidence the thought is not true?’ ‘What’s the worst thing that could happen?’ ‘What’s the best thing that could happen?’ ‘What’s the most likely thing to happen?’
Watch how you say it. Notice how you describe your obligations to yourself or others. For instance, instead of saying: “It’s my responsibility to make sure the kids have their homework done,” you might say: “It’s my privilege to make sure that my children are doing what’s best for them.”
“It’s those subtle shifts that have profound effects on our lives,” says Carla McClellan, an ACC-certified life coach.
Voice your gratitude. Foster positive thinking at meal time by inviting your family to share three things they feel grateful for and why. Bedtime is also a good time to reflect on the day, too. “Daily affirmations can be powerful,” says Hensley. “These don’t have to be major things either. A five-year-old might say they’re grateful for the cupcake they got at school for a classmate’s birthday celebration because it made them happy. The purpose is to teach this kind of thinking and help it become a more natural part of everyday life.”
Create a vision board. Imagine what you and your family would like to accomplish in the year ahead. Either make a family vision board or individual ones. Grab a stack of old magazines, scissors, glue, and poster board. Cut out inspiring words, quotes, and pictures. Ask each other questions like: “What are our dreams for the coming year?” “What do we want to see happen in our lives?” “What would an ideal vacation look like?”
Set intentions. Alongside your daily to-do list, make a ‘to-be’ list. Every morning, set your intention. Ask yourself, ‘Who am I willing to be today?’ Kind? Loving? Generous? Enthusiastic?
“An intention is a laser focus for our energy. When we claim who we are willing to be, we can be that,” says McClellan.
Encourage quiet time. Quiet, unplugged time helps nurture creative thinking, problem-solving, and stress reduction. As a family, gear down before bedtime. Read together, draw, or watch a show. This time together helps kids decompress and gives them space to express worries, concerns, or stories from the day.
Weigh the positive and negative. If your child is troubled by a situation at school or at home, encourage them to write down a positive thought about it on a card. On the opposite side, have them write the negative thought. “Then you can discuss with your child each side, how each makes them feel, and what the consequences of each side might be,” says Hensley. “Remind children that it’s okay to have negative thoughts and feelings; we just don’t want them to rule our lives.”
Play together. Experts agree, families who play together tend to be happier and more deeply connected. Whether you throw the football, compete in a game of cards, dance to funky music in your living room, or make up games on a car ride, play will strengthen your relationship with each other.
Experiment with what works for your family. “All of these types of activities and rituals are very important because they’re modelling a positive attitude, building a healthy way of thinking and interacting with the world, and helping children understand the link between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors,” says Hensley.
Freelance journalist Christa and her husband are the parents of two boys. Christa’s latest book is Happy, Healthy and Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital World.
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