Today’s child is a virtual reality child.
Instead of being allowed to climb trees in order to see the sky, we cut down low-hanging branches lest a one fall and hit someone in the head. A private school child may dine on delicacies such as squash fries, yet be banned from cooking in his kitchen on the chance that he hurt himself.
On the other hand, the same child is allowed to dine on a diet of violent or explicit movies, listen to music whose lyrics would make their grandmother swoon, and dresses in clothing designed for a sex-crazed thirty year old.
Such helicopter parenting is becoming the norm, rather than the exception. This is an age where conscientious parents work hard to make sure their child feels great about everything they do – regardless of whether they deserve it or not.
But is this really best for children? Do children actually benefit from a no-fail, no bad-experiences environment?
The answer is no. Extensive research shows that children who are fed a “feel-good” diet, are actually more likely to experience depression, and feelings of helplessness. Instead of being taught that negative feelings like anger, anxiety, and frustration are an indication that change is necessary, they are told that it’s unacceptable to experience “bad” feelings.
It’s no wonder depression medications are the number one prescribed drug in the U.S.
In order to truly feel good about yourself, you need to do good. You must experience a sense of mastery. You need to experience the frustration, the boredom, and the acute distress of trying to make “it” happen, before you can feel good about yourself. No one appreciates success without the heady feeling of having stretched yourself to the limit, and despite the odds, reached success.
That would be a little like swallowing Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Remedy– smells good, tastes great- but made of nothing more than water and alcohol (and a little cocaine or heroin if you got lucky).
Raising children who feel good about themselves is closely tied to being optimistic. Here are 3 tips you can use to help you raise optimistic children:
1) Help your child view setbacks as temporary. Children who are optimistic view setbacks as temporary. When they fail a test, for example, they tell themselves that they’ll do better next time. When your child experiences an unpleasant event, whether it’s a failed test or a friend who rejects them, first empathize with their feelings.
When your child is less upset about the incident, help your child reframe the incident. Instead of telling your child it won’t happen again (which may seem false), use questions to guide your child to understanding how this specific situation is only temporary. Don’t spend a lot of time trying to convince them: you are merely planting a seed for the future.
2) Give credit where credit is due. Children who are pessimistic look at failure as being their fault (“I failed the test because I’m dumb”), and view success as a fluke, unrelated to their own efforts (“I did well on the test because it was an easy test”). This encourages a phenomenon called “learned helplessness,” where the child feels there’s nothing he can do to better his situation.
Optimistic children, on the other hand, see things completely the opposite: failures are a fluke (“I wasn’t feeling well that day”), while success is due to their own efforts (“ I really studied hard”). As a result they are more resilient when failure occurs, and more likely to see themselves as successful, competent people.
Monitor how you react to failure. Do you accuse your child of not trying hard enough, or of not being smart enough? Those are global assumptions that encourage pessimism. Instead, when your child fails, view his failure as a step towards success. When your child breaks a plate while washing dishes, suggest calmly. “Hmm, ceramic plates are pretty slippery when they’re wet.” He’ll understand on his own that he needs to be careful next time, instead of viewing himself as a clumsy loser.
Your child will learn to view failure as an opportunity to learn how to be successful.
3) Keep things in perspective. Help your child understand that not everything they do will affect them for the rest of their lives. Teenagers especially tend to overgeneralize, assuming, for example, that a bad grade on one test will doom their college prospects forever.
Instead, wait until your child is less emotional, and then gently remind them of a time when they despite their failure, they lived to see another day.
Optimism is a learned behavior. However, it will take time for your child or teenager to change their mindset, so consider it like the drip method of watering trees: it takes time, but it eventually does the job.