Monday, September 24, 2012

6 Ways to Teach Your Kids to be an Optimist

I used to be an eternal optimist, nothing could get me down.  Then I became an adult.  I started to experience real adult problems, like pregnancy hormones, sleep deprivation, financial worries, and worst of all, watching episodes of Mickey Mouse day after day.  Over the course of the last four years, my sunny nature has slightly decreased.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm still an optimist and I have a great life, but once I get in a bad mood, it's harder to shake than it used to be.

So, after a recent vacation, I came home in a funk.  I got used to not having to cook, clean, or be anywhere at a certain time so when I got home and started preparing my grocery list for the week and thinking about everything I needed to do, I burst into tears.  I truly felt like I couldn't face my life and drastic measures needed to be taken.  How could I turn my life more into vacation?  My poor husband stood by, ringing his hands.  This was very unusual behavior for me and he was at a loss.  The poor guy finally said, "I didn't realize your life was so bad.  What can I do to help you?"

I realized what I really needed was a trip to my parents' house.  My Mom always knows how to cheer me up.  She hugged me, laughed at my tears, and reminded me of what a great life I truly have.  Three hours later, I started to drive home feeling much better.  My daughter, however, was still in a funk.  As always, the kids came home feeling a little tired and also out of sorts from our vacation, and I found my good mood starting to vanish as she whined for me to get her something to drink.  Then she dropped her book and couldn't reach it.  Then she realized she left something at my parents' house.  I started to get impatient with her and I thought about lecturing her on how she needed to learn to do some these things by herself, but then it hit me: I needed to teach my daughter how to look on the bright side.  This is a learned skill.  My Mom had to teach me to be an optimist so why would I expect my daughter to just know it already?

I began brainstorming about how my Mom taught me to be an optimist.  It took me several weeks to think of everything and make sure my list was complete (I did ask my Mom but she couldn't remember.  Then she said, "I may be losing my long-term memory but on the bright side I'm still funny."  Case in point, don't you think?.)

So, here is how my Mom taught me to be an optimist:
  1. She Helped me Develop a Sense of humor:  We always found something to laugh about, and as quickly as possible.  This helped me realize not to take myself too seriously, which came in very handy during my early parenting years with severe sleep deprivation.
  2. She Taught Me to Play the Happy Game: Sometimes people just find themselves in a crummy mood.  That's why they say someone "woke up on the wrong side of the bed."  You have to consciously think about things that make you feel happy so you can stop feeling so down.  Make a list of everything you appreciate in life, or simply things that make you happy.  The good will quickly outweigh the bad.  Keep it simple with things like, "Finding a good book to read, Waking up to see sunshine, getting to sleep in 30 minutes later than usual, when a stranger smiles at you, etc."
  3. She Taught Me the Importance of Getting Plenty of sleep.  Help your kids understand that they really should go to bed because they will happier and healthier for it.  It may take 15 years for this to sink in, but I was one of the few college students in bed by 10:00 every night and that was the peak of my optimistic years.  It's hard to be upbeat if you don't get enough sleep.
  4. What's the worst-case scenario?  I remember when I would get a B when I thought I deserved an A.  For some reason, I thought it was literally the end of the world and I remember being so angry.  But then my Mom made me realize that it wasn't going to prevent me from getting into a good college or getting a good job one day.  The worst-case scenario is a slightly lower overall GPA so when you look at it like that, it's easier to stomach disappointment and move on.
  5. This too shall pass.  This was my grandpa's favorite saying and it's very true.  No matter how many friends are mad at you or how upset you are that you missed the last shot to win the game, within a few weeks, all will be forgotten and there will be a new drama.  This too shall pass.  I said it constantly to myself when my kids were waking up every 15 minutes.  At age 9 months.  And it did pass, Thank God!
  6. Appreciate good moments when you find them.  When you do find yourself sitting outside on a beautiful day, take a moment to breathe deeply and appreciate the moment.  If someone does something nice for you, take the time to realize how lucky you are to have someone in your life who cares about you.  These are the moments that will carry you through when you're sad.
So, that day, I began teaching my daughter to be an Optimist.  We played The Happy Game.  It took my daughter almost 15 minutes to grasp it and I had to work hard not to get frustrated with her.  The game went like this:

Me:  "Let's play the happy game!  I'll go first.  It makes me happy when I wake up and see the sun shining.  Your turn!"
Munchkin Girl: "Nothing makes me happy.  I just want Lily!"  (This is the doll she left at her grandparents)
Me:  "I'm sure you'll think of something.  I'll go again.  It makes me happy when I get to see my kiddos laughing about something.  Your turn!"
Munchkin Girl: "I still want Lily!"
Me: "Okay, I'll go again.  It makes me happy when I get to hang out with my brothers.  Your turn!"

It went on like this for awhile until she finally caved and started playing.  By the end of the drive we were laughing and she had forgotten to whine.  Of course, this one game didn't cure her for life, and I fully realize that this will be a life-long process, but she already she has started asking to play the Happy Game when we get in the car or when she's sad.  And that alone makes me a very happy Mommy.

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    1. It's been far too long since I visited your blog. Life has been a bit hectic lately and I took a bit of a respite from blogging. Sort of.

      Anyway, this is an excellent post. I love it. I, unlike you, am quite the pessimist and so are most of my children (hmmm...can't imagine why?). I love your suggestions. Perhaps the "happy game" should become a regular at our house.

      1. Welcome back, friend!! I have thought about you and wondered how your move went and how you were. Glad to hear from you again and hope yu are well!!!

    2. Love this post! What a great idea - The Happy Game. Great ideas from great moms.

    3. This is a great post! It's so helpful for me to remember that lots of kids are naturally optimists and how important it is to teach them this important life skill!

    4. Great post! I am an optimist as well and truly hope my children will be. I love your ideas and will try the Happy Game with them!

    5. Thank you for sharing this! I hope you don't mind but I shared this link on my Cuegly blog post titled 30 Ways To Raise Confident Kids!

    6. This is so awesome! I come from a family of complainers and I so want to break this generational curse! Thank u vor giving me some ideas how

    7. This is so awesome! I come from a family of complainers and I so want to break this generational curse! Thank u vor giving me some ideas how

    8. Thanks for sharing this with us....we get so busy with our lives raising our kids that we forget to teach them these simple but so imp aspects of life like looking at the bright things in so doing this with my kids.thanks a lot

    9. Thanks for sharing this with us....we get so busy with our lives raising our kids that we forget to teach them these simple but so imp aspects of life like looking at the bright things in so doing this with my kids.thanks a lot

    10. Thank you for this post. I am really trying to be optamistic. Any ideas on how to get your spouse to be optimistic... maybe i'll try the happy game with him...

    11. Great post! It reminds me of the ways my Mom has taught me to be optimistic.
      Two things she has often said:
      "Well, if that's the worst thing that happens today, then it's been a pretty good day."
      And something her aunt used to say:
      "These things happen - even in the vest of families." (that one makes me laugh).
      She also recounts the story of a plate breaking (accidentally) when she was young and her mom picked up a piece and said "Well, if you're going to break it, you might as well *really* break it!" and she smashed it on the floor!

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    16. Thanks for sharing this with us....we get so busy with our lives raising our kids that we forget to teach them these simple but so imp aspects of life like looking at the bright things in so doing this with my kids.thanks a lot
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