Ensuring Your Childrens' Glasses are Half Full, For Their HealthMeredith Carroll
You’re only as happy as your least happy child. And whether your children are optimists or pessimists can affect their health, according to a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
A study of Australian kids ages 12 to 14 showed that the most optimistic of the bunch reduced their risk of showing signs of depression by half. On the flip side, however, is that kids with bright outlooks were only moderately more likely to steer clear of substance abuse and antisocial behaviors.
But the good news is that whether your child’s glass is half empty or half full isn’t something that’s necessarily determined at birth. While personality traits are inborn, optimism can be learned, shaped and molded, Dr. Leslie Walker, Chief of Adolescent Medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital, told Today’s Mom.
First and foremost, it’s monkey see, monkey do. In other words, parents need to model a positive outlook if they want their children to follow suit.
Other keys to raising an optimistic child include listening to them without judging, and interpreting what they’re really saying, or reading between the lines. Also important? Don’t label your child. Kids can live or die by their parent’s expectations of them, and giving them a negative label (i.e. shy or wild) is effectively perpetuating the behavior that is perceived as negative and could work into their psyche and become part of their self-identity.
Don’t dismiss a teen’s reality. If a child expresses concerns that seem trivial to a parent, don’t say, “Oh, it’ll be fine.” Because that’s no source of comfort and it doesn’t help them solve anything. Instead, ask more questions and see if they can name an upside or anything that’s not so negative about their problem.
Finally, Dr. Walker says to look for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Show kids the good and bad in every situation, and, if necessary help them locate the good when they think its existence is impossible.
As a parent, I do have to remind myself often to put on a happy face — particularly around my daughter —when I start to feel as if things are looking down for one reason or another (i.e. bills, stress, bad news). And although she’s only two, I can see how my daughter’s mood changes with mine.
I also see how at her age labels can affect her. When she gets shy around someone new and covers her eyes, I tickle her and ask if she’s being silly, which usually means she takes her hands away, giggles and looks up. After that, she’ll often cover her eyes and tell me she’s being silly; it’s effectively become a game, and one that I think is healthier than telling her she seems to have a fear of strangers.
Whether it’s reminding her that she’ll get a sticker after each doctor’s visit, or that the world will not end if the TV is turned off, nothing ever feels more important than doing what I can to turn her tears into a smile. I get what my role and my responsibility are in making her a happy kid, and I can’t imagine that too many roles in my life will ever be more important.
What techniques do you use to make sure your kids are happy and hopeful?
Image: Morgue File