The Expert Parent's Guide to Childhood Anxiety

Nurturing optimism in children: The path to positivity

A sense of hope is one of the most wonderful feelings you can wish for your child to have. When your child makes a mistake, a positive attitude will help them realise they are one step closer to figuring out a solution to their problem. If a worry comes into their mind, an optimistic outlook will allow them to regain control.  

As a parent, you need to help your child work through problems, whilst empowering them to change situations for the better. Here are our top 3 tips to help your child choose the positive path in life. 

1. Learn techniques to minimise when you verbalise your own negative thought patterns 

First of all, if you're a parent suffering from anxiety - this does not mean you will have an anxious child. However, it's true that children acquire language and behavior by modeling their parents. 'Practice what you preach' may be cliched, but this nugget of advice is integral when it comes to helping your child the best way to act if they are worried or anxious.

If you encourage your child not to seek reassurance or avoid situations that could make their anxieties worse, make sure you keep those pesky "what ifs" to a minimum when your kids are around. Of course, it's perfectly natural for your thought patterns to be negative at some point or another - you just have to be aware of how you verbalise solving the problems in your own head in front of your children. 

If you're tempted to ask your partner for reassurance, take a deep breath, and think about your own anxious thoughts. If you'd normally say something like, "I'm worried I'm going to get a pile of work tomorrow, it won't be that bad, will it?" Take a deep breath before you speak and say "I'm nervous about work, but last week I managed to get through 5 different tasks, so I know I can do it this week too."  

You're trying to discourage your child from seeking reassurance or avoiding situations relating to their worries, so you really need to show you're able to work through your worries in the same way too. By eliminating your own negative self-talk, and adjusting your vocabulary to focus on building your own positive self-talk, your child will be empowered to do the same. 

For example, if you say β€œI’m just a bad cook,” after burning some food, stop or adjust these statements. You can say instead, β€œIt's not as burnt as last time, I think I'm learning how to use the oven better!”

2. Teach the importance of gratitude 

Humans are hardwired with certain survival instincts that aren't necessarily all that beneficial for 21st-century life. We have a tendency to notice and recall negative situations over positive ones - and unfortunately, children are no exception.

However, hope is not lost! Psychology experts are discovering more and more ways that people can balance these hardwired tendencies with good old-fashioned gratitude and positive thoughts.

Why not plan a part of your evening to include a "what made me smile and laugh today" session, to bring your family closer and promote positive mental attitudes? The chances are, whatever has made you smile, will likely make all your family smile too. If your child has experienced anxiety that day, this kind of activity will allow them to focus on positive experiences.  This could be particularly beneficial before bedtime when children have a tendency to go over worrying thoughts from the day in their head.  

Begin writing a smile journal, where you write down all of these events as a family. Referring back to this on a later date will give you all something to smile and laugh about again, and reaffirm the wonderful aspects of all your lives and humanity as a whole.  

When you think your child is old enough, encourage them to begin writing a gratitude journal of their own. 

3. Challenge all-or-nothing thinking

If your child has a natural inclination to think that everything's going wrong after one small set back - introduce positives into the scenario. Focus on the facts - what has gone right, and what you were able to learn from the situation. 

Empathise at the same time, acknowledging how they are feeling. This will vary based on the situation, you could say something like; "You're sad because you wish school had gone better, but you wrote a wonderful story, made a new friend and tried a brand new sandwich!"  

Moving beyond pessimism is hard for us all, but with the right techniques, we can realign our focus to see the good in situations that prompted uncomfortable feelings. 

Always communicate trust in your child. Instead of telling your child how to feel or move beyond negative emotions,  search for solutions together, focusing on all the valuable points your child puts forward. Empowering your child to know that you trust their capabilities and judgment will allow them to pave the way to optimism in their own way, so they're able to naturally turn to positive thoughts. 

Up next: Go-to anxiety relief tools for children: Expert approved 

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