A Message from the Head of Senior Years

13 October 2017

Martin Seligman defines optimism as reacting to problems with a sense of confidence and high personal ability (1991). Specifically, optimistic people believe that negative events are temporary, limited in scope and manageable. This week I would like to share another article by parenting expert Michael Grose titled Optimism: 10 essential optimism skills to teach your kids so they can achieve. Grose writes:

Children learn optimism or pessimism from their experiences of success and through their interactions with parents, teachers and other significant adults. Adults can help children and young people become optimistic thinkers with the use of modelling and also by directly teaching and drawing kids’ attention to the skills of optimistic thinking. The following are 10 broad skills you can use to develop a sense of optimism in your kids.

1. Change your self-talk.
Get kids to listen to their self-talk and help them work out alternative messages that they can use if they are self-defeating:

  • Pessimistic talk – “This is really hard and I’ll probably stuff it up”
  • Optimistic talk – “This is pretty challenging but I should do okay”

2. Slow down and think through the options.
Teach kids to slow down and think through situations rather than jumping to conclusions:

  • Pessimistic response – “They ditched me”
  • Optimistic response – “They missed their bus. No one has a watch. They’re held up by someone’s mum.”

3. Positively reframe.
Get kids to notice the good in themselves and others. Then encourage them to find something positive in a bad experience, no matter how small:

“You may have been unsuccessful this time but you know what to do next time” or “It may have been a boring party but you did meet a new friend, which is great.”

4. Look for the lesson.
Teach kids to look for the learning in every situation rather than look for blame. When mistakes are made or situations don’t quite go to plan encourage kids to ask themselves - “What can you learn to avoid or turn this situation around?”

5. Apportion blame fairly.
Teach kids to blame accurately based on facts, rather than emotion. Most things, whether good or bad happen due to a mixture of luck, other people and personal actions. Apportioning blame fairly is about getting the mix right between those three areas.

6. Practise perspective-taking.
Make sure you model upbeat, positive thinking as young children take their cues from their parents, particularly the parent they spend most time around. School-aged children need to be encouraged to keep things in perspective. Challenge your child’s propensity to catastrophise - “Does it really matter?” “You may be right, but is it the end of the world as we know it?”

7. Wind back your language.
Teach kids to turn down the catastrophe switch a few notches. Extreme language leads to extreme thinking. Encourage kids to replace “I’m furious” with “I’m annoyed”, “It’s a disaster” with ‘It’s a pain”, “I hate it” with “I don’t like it”. This sounds minor but by changing kids’ language you change how they think about events and, more importantly, how they feel.

8. Set realistic goals.
Teach kids to set realistic goals and make steps to achieve them. Goal-setting is a potent skill as it involves movement and invokes action rather than stagnation or inaction. E.g. Learning 3 spelling words each day is an effective goal as it is achievable, measurable and specific rather than vague ‘I want to be a better speller’.

9. Use the disaster meter.
Help kids get some perspective by encouraging them to give their worry a score out of ten, on how important the issue really is. Establish with children benchmarks for each number from 1 to 10 on a disaster meter. Draw on children’s past experiences. For instance, a score of 1 out of 10 may be losing your sock. A score of 10 out of 10 may be linked to when ‘grandma died’. Use the benchmarks as a reality check when children overreact to negative or bad events.

10. Count your blessings daily.
Encourage kids to look for the good things that happen to them. One way to change the default mechanism from pessimistic to optimistic is to encourage kids to look for and count their blessings on a daily basis. Encourage them to think hard – good things will be there – they just have to look. This activity trains their default thinking mechanism to look for positives rather than always being on the lookout for the negative or worst aspects of any event.

Tonia Gloudemans
Head of Senior Years

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