During these stressful times, it is difficult to keep our own selves together. The scenes of violence unfolding on the news, toxic coworkers and neighbors, lockdowns, crazy conspiracy theories flying around, families fracturing… It’s enough to test the resolve of any adult. Can you imagine how our kids must feel? How tempting is it to avoid the whole discussion? How tempting is it to “just” try some positive thinking?
At HAPPÈ, we encourage positive thinking. Our programs are designed to help kids be aware of their thoughts and feelings, to be aware of their “inner landscape,” so to speak. However, positive thinking does not mean just avoiding negativity. We’re reminded of a particular sitcom episode where one of the characters “accidentally” becomes the town’s spiritual guru. “Let it go… Live in the moment… Try smiling…” is his advice for any and all problems. Very quickly, the entire town is unemployed, homeless, and in utter chaos!
The Positive Thinking Platitudes Trap
So what went wrong? Aren’t smiling, letting go of grudges, and living in the moment good things? What’s wrong with being positive? The answer is, of course, being positive is a good thing. However, we can’t allow ourselves to become positivity robots! We need to realize that being positive at our cores does not mean that difficult and challenging things cease to exist. If we have a death in the family, we don’t want to hear: “Let it go… Live in the moment… Try smiling…”
Why? Because these are platitudes. A platitude, on the surface, is a worn out cliché. However, when a platitude is offered instead of words of comfort and understanding, they can actually be harmful. What they do is dismiss our fear or anxiety. If you spout words of positivity and encouragement when your child really needs sympathy and compassion, you may come off as insincere or uncaring. In the long run, you can lose a true, meaningful relationship with your child as he/she might not feel comfortable confiding in you.
Here are Some Great Ways to Help Your Child Develop a Positive Outlook
Having a positive outlook or a positive attitude is a way of looking at things. It is the lens through which we view the world, both the good and the bad. At the risk of sounding a little cliché-ish ourselves, what we’re really talking about is acceptance. We can be positive in our acceptance of challenging circumstances, or we can be negative about them. Being a healthy person requires being aware of ourselves and how we present to the world. It requires aiming for balance and the acceptance of both good and bad emotions rather than all-or-nothing thinking.
What this means, most importantly, is that we have the power to choose our outlook. This is a powerful thing to realize and a difficult thing to teach. It is especially difficult to “unlearn” seeing things as “Eeyore,” the unfortunate donkey in the Winnie the Pooh stories. Below is a list adapted from an article from Medium, by Kayt Molina.
Model a positive outlook.
It’s okay to be disappointed or frustrated when things don’t go our way. Your kids are going to have many ups and downs over the years. The way they react will be greatly influenced by how they see you react to events. A friend relates a memory of when his parents were not invited to a dinner party. His mother went into a tail-spin, railing and venting. His father shrugged his shoulders and said, “People have the right to NOT invite me to a party. Hopefully, we’ll be invited next time.” Our friend says he calls upon that memory frequently to help him navigate similar situations.
Offer your kids words of affirmation.
Praise your child and help them recognize their accomplishments. “Great job cleaning up your room!” When they are down on themselves, flip the narrative. Don’t allow, “I didn’t win,” to stand; instead say, “You competed, you did your best, and I am so proud of you!” Point out when you see them being kind to their siblings, neighbors, or classmates.
It’s also good to teach your child to reflect a bit more on their experiences beyond the initial disappointment. For example , asking questions like, “Even though you didn’t win, did you have fun? Did you like being able to see your teammates?” Try to tease out a more rich reflection on the experience, nothing is either all good or all bad even though at first it might seem all bad (especially if they worked hard and lost the game!)
Turn lemons into lemonade.
We must be careful with this one, lest it become a platitude. As long as we don’t accidentally dismiss our kids’ feelings, exploring ways to turn a bad situation into a positive one helps them learn how to be problem solvers. Also, be on the lookout for “lemonade-fatigue.” During these stressful and challenging times, one can easily burn out on seeing the silver lining in everything!
Make your home a positive place.
Laughter cannot be overrated! Turn off the news, don’t gripe about coworkers or neighbors, and have lots of pillow/tickle fights. Encourage your child’s sense of humor, especially if they are “making lemons into lemonade.”
Stop saying NO!
There’s a reason why many two-year-olds’ favorite word is “NO!” We say it often, whether we’re aware of it or not. This ties in with making your home a positive place, above. Of course, when they’re reaching for the pot of boiling water or about to jump off the roof with an umbrella, “NO!” is still appropriate! However, take this challenge: Try to go a day without saying “no.” Especially pay attention to how often you begin a sentence with “no.” We bet you’ll be stunned!
Help your kids navigate their feelings.
“You make me so mad!” Nobody MAKES us feel a certain way. We can acknowledge a difficult or sad situation and choose our feelings without falling into the platitude trap. Remember, platitudes dismiss feelings. Saying, “You just need to get over it,” doesn’t help. Instead, try saying, “Wow, that’s very painful, how do you feel about it?” Only then will guiding them to see a situation from another’s point of view be helpful.
Make gratitude a habit.
Creating the habit of gratitude is something that serves us our whole lives. Those who are grateful have less resentment and are usually happier people. Teaching children gratitude is helping them look at different situations from a positive point of view instead of a negative one. Make it a habit every day to ask the kids to name something good that happened today.
Teach your kids to seek solutions.
Often, when things don’t go our way, it’s tempting to be resentful, frustrated, or anxious. But if we make it our habit to seek solutions, we foster positive thinking. We can teach this to our kids. This often overlaps with lemons-into-lemonade and we need to be sure we’re not dismissing that things aren’t going our way. However, in that acknowledgement, we can model solution seeking.
Focus on strengths.
We’re all different and are good at some things and not-so-good at others. The double-edged sword of the internet offers many opportunities for kids to make negative judgements of themselves. Kids tend to look outward for validation and when they see others being better at a skill, it’s easy to forget what they are actually good at. It’s also challenging for younger kids not to compare themselves to their older siblings.
Own your stumbles.
This could have been included in the “Model a positive outlook” section above, however, we wanted to make a special point about it. Positive DOES NOT mean perfect! Sometimes you are going to gripe. Sometimes you are going to dismiss. Sometimes you are going to be negative! And that’s okay! Catch yourself, let yourself off the hook, and make it a teaching moment.
Acknowledge that some things just can’t be made pretty.
Commit this phrase to memory and remember it when you’re stuck for a way to make lemonade, seek solutions, or be positive about a situation. Like we said earlier, sometimes we can’t just “Let it go… Live in the moment… or Try smiling…” We need to have discernment and know that some situations are just sad, frustrating, or maddening. There’s not always a life lesson to be had.
Examples of Non-Toxic & Accepting Statements
Below is a list inspired by an article in The Psychology Group about Toxic Positivity:
|Don’t think about it, stay positive!”||“Describe what you’re feeling, I’m listening.”|
|“Don’t worry, be happy!”||“You seem stressed, anything I can do?”|
|“Failure is not an option.”||“Failure is a part of growth and success.”|
|“Everything will work out in the end.”||“This is really hard, I’m here for you.”|
|“Positive vibes only!”||“I’m here for you through both good and bad.”|
|“If I can do it, so can you!”||“Everyone’s abilities are different, and that’s okay!”|
|“Look for the silver lining.”||“I see you. I’m here for you.”|
|“Everything happens for a reason.”||“Sometimes we can draw the short straw in life. How can I support you during this hard time?”|
|“It could be worse.”||“That stinks. I’m so sorry you’re going through this.”|
It’s Okay Not to Like It!
Having a positive outlook, or having acceptance, does not mean we have to like it. We can be sad that we can’t go visit Grandma without it consuming us. We can be disappointed that a cherished event is cancelled without ranting about it. We can fail to see a solution or get tired of making lemonade. It’s okay. Having acceptance does not mean having to like it.
HAPPÈ is a state-of-the-art program that creates a healthy and positive outlook on life and teaches children to manage their emotions. The HAPPÈ program aims to teach children to take control of life’s unscripted side and their emotions independently, as well as live positively. Fun micro-lessons and challenges are sent to your phone or email weekly.
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