HOW TO ENCOURAGE POSITIVE THINKING WHEN YOU’VE SET A POOR EXAMPLE
A book was published in 1993 with the title Getting Your Kids to Say “No” in the ’90s When You Said “Yes” in the ’60s. A generation later, whether your greatest fear for your children involves socially destructive behavior or low self-esteem, the basic dilemma remains: Kids do as you do, not as you say. Even if you stopped doing it long ago, they may use your past record against you when you try to keep them from doing it. So how do you influence your children toward the good when you’re ashamed of your own record?
Let’s say you’ve been a lifelong grumbler, always fretting over what the world’s coming to, moaning about how nothing ever goes right for you. Now, you’re seeing your children exhibiting the same habits—expecting the worst, putting themselves down, rarely trying anything new for fear of failure—and it hurts to see them making themselves so unhappy. You want them to believe in their own potential and have hope for the future, but how can you encourage them in the right direction after telling them by example that pessimistic is the way to be?
First, stop setting that example. If you continue in your own pessimistic ways, it will do little good to tell your children verbally that they can expect good things, even if you criticize only yourself and not the larger world. If by your own admission you’re rarely right about anything, why should they trust your opinion of their potential?
That’s not to say changing the negativity habit is easy—plus, if you start off by vowing, “I’ll never complain again in my life,” you’re likely to slide back into even firmer pessimism when “never again” proves impossible. There are better ways to ease from pessimism into optimism:
- Keep a daily list of things you’re thankful for (including your children). Phrase those things positively; beware of “at least it could be worse” syndrome, which will mostly reinforce the idea that life tosses you the crumbs. “Could be worse” talk will probably also lead you into the habit of worrying that things will get worse.
- Take care of your physical health. If your body feels lousy from poor sleep or poor nutrition, your brain will find it all the harder to feel good.
- Smile and stand tall, whether you feel like it or not. Eventually, your inner feelings will catch up with your outer expression.
- Say positive things. When you slip into negativity, quickly correct it by stating two or three positive things that counter your complaint.
- Don’t dwell on lost opportunities. Instead, make good use of lessons learned.
- Above all else, don’t beat yourself up with more negativity when you relapse into a bad mood. Pick yourself up and go on. Instead of, “I’ve failed again; I’m just a hopeless grumbler,” say, “I’m a growing, developing human like everyone else, and learning better habits is both possible and worth the work.”
Ultimately, your children will be more influenced toward positive thinking if they witness your own process of changing for the better. Your example is now telling them that no one is hopeless and that perseverance pays off. What could better model optimism?