- good or useful
- hopeful or optimistic 1
It seems there is much debate about whether positive thinking actually leads to or deters from happiness and success. So positive thinking must be clearly defined. Advocates confirm that it can lead to positive health outcomes, skill development and goal achievement. Challengers raise a red flag citing studies about fantasies of futures that do not come true. They propose that fantasy can work as a mental deterrent compelling the thinker to complacency – and not propelling the thinker to work hard toward his goals. Positive thinking that is balanced, however, seems to respond to these arguments. Balanced positive thinking is hope and optimism tempered with the understanding and acceptance of life’s challenges and obstacles. “Realism” combined with positive thinking seems to be the key combination to both happiness and success.
The Mayo Clinic claims the following health benefits for this kind of balanced positive thinking:
• Increased life span
• Lower rates of depression
• Lower levels of distress
• Greater resistance to the common cold
• Better psychological and physical well-being
• Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
• Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress 2
Balanced positive thinking might align well with the learning mindset. Each
challenge is viewed as an opportunity for growth and development. No challenge is too difficult to overcome with diligence, hard work and time. C. Richard Snyder in The Handbook of Hope confirms this notion by writing that a successful balanced positive thinker can:
– Set specific goals.
– Understand the pathways to reach those goals.
– Maintain a sense of agency believing that he can do it no matter the obstacles. 3
Parents can support kids in feeling in confident by believing in their ability to go after what they want, find the pathways to work toward it and work hard to overcome the obstacles that may impede progress.
Promoting Balanced Positive Thinking:
When you reflect on the day with your child, what kinds of events make the list? Notice how you feel about your list. Have you noted mostly challenges from your day? Have you also noted progress and steps toward a goal? Have you noted when daily activities have gone smoothly? Have you reflected on interactions that enriched your day? Part of promoting balanced positive thinking with yourself and your children is becoming aware of how you perceive your daily life. So begin by noticing at the end of the day the topics on which you reflect. Adjust so that you bring a balanced perspective to your reflections. If you are in the habit of going over challenges or disturbing interactions, it can be helpful to write those down and include actions you might take the next time to address them. In balanced positive thinking, negative thinking is not eliminated but it is examined and options are considered.
Show confidence in your child
There are numerous small ways everyday to reinforce our belief that our children can do anything with their patience and our support. Our own self-critic and self-doubt can unwittingly stand in the way of the support we know we want to provide. Thoughts cross our mind like, “I always had trouble with math so I know you will too.” even though we know it may not be true. Look for moments when your child is expressing doubt. “Will you help us build the train tracks? We don’t know how to do it,” said my son’s friend yesterday as they played on the floor. And though my son had built train tracks more times than I can count, he followed suit and wanted my help too. “I know you can build something with those tracks and I can’t wait to see what you come up with.” was my genuine response. The best kinds of healthy risks are those in which we have to create something from our minds and hearts. That vulnerability creates great discomfort yet can open doors to the greatest rewards – true self-expression. My son and his friend were proud of the extensive train track system they created on their own. So notice those opportunities when children are questioning whether they can do something and be there to tell them they can.
Practice and support goal setting and working toward a goal
One of the best ways to promote balanced positive thinking is through the experience of setting a goal, taking the necessary steps toward it, addressing the challenges and achieving that goal. You can look for ways to go through this process with your child. Pick a small opportunity. For example, your child may be asking for a particular toy. Set the purchase of that toy as a goal. Then look at different options for reaching that goal with the intent that your child will be able to purchase the toy from her own savings. Could she do jobs around the house to earn money? Does she want to wait for holidays to get money from relatives and save it over time? Could she save from a weekly allowance? Through this process, you will be supporting her through the entire balanced positive thinking process of goal setting, believing in her abilities, understanding the pathways to achieving her goal, dealing with obstacles and finally achieving her goal.
Practice positive self-talk
Negative self-talk can become so engrained in how we think about our role in daily activities that it can be difficult to catch ourselves doing it. Become aware of how you are viewing yourself and others. When you catch yourself feeling like you aren’t being enough or doing enough, stop and examine the reality of the situation. There are always options, always choices in your attitude toward a situation – even if the situation itself is not going to change. How can you reframe your thinking so that you find options for yourself and how you are viewing the situation? How can you help your child do the same? Practicing brainstorming options with your child can help her see that there are many ways to do and think about challenges. Read more about practicing brainstorming with your children.
Practice what to do with stress, fear and anger
Practicing how to deal with emotions that threaten to consume your focus and throw you into negative mindset can give you and your children a sense of agency. Parents and children feel like they have greater control over their lives and circumstances when they are able to manage their hottest emotions. Practice how you will handle anger when you are not angry. How will you physically and vocally express yourself in ways that do not harm others? The practice and plan you set in advance will assist you in those moments when you feel you are losing control. Read “A Better Version of Yourself” for more.
Participate in activities that give you joy. Walking through the park, reading a book for pleasure or cooking a special meal are joys in my life. Joy can take little time or expense but can be a source of energy and an extension of patience in parenting. And we all need that extended energy and patience! So take the moment to experience joy when it’s possible.
Although the critics say that fantasies can work against accomplishing goals, dreams of what is possible have always been the seed that established the world’s greatest inventions and innovations. So I tell my son anything is possible if you can dream it. Here’s one of my favorites from Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends,
Listen to the Mustn’ts
Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child,
Listen to the DON’TS
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
The IMPOSSIBLES, the WON’TS
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me -
Anything can happen, child
ANYTHING can be.
1. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved on 3-3-15 at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/positive.
2. Mayo Clinic Staff. Positive Thinking: Stop Negative Self-talk to Reduce Stress. Retrieved at http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/stress-management/in-depth/positive-thinking/art-20043950?pg=1 on 3-3-15.
3. Snyder, C. R. (2000). Handbook of Hope: Theory, Measures, and Applications. Waltham, MA: Academic Press.
4. Silverstein, S. (1974). Where the Sidewalk Ends. NY: Harper and Row Publishers.
Clear, J. (2013). The Science of Positive Thinking: How Positive Thoughts Build Your Skills, Boost Your Health and Improve Your Work. Huffington Post.