It’s Not Fair, I Hate School, No One Likes Me: Need Optimism?
Have you ever had this scenario? You pick up your kid from school, excited to hear about their day. You smile as they approach the car. Then they throw their backpack in the car, huff and puff, slouch down in the seat and proclaim with great fervor that they hate everything: their friends, their teachers, their school — everything. The spiral begins: the math test was too hard, they lost their homework for English, their best friend didn’t save them a seat, the classroom was too hot, the teacher was grouchy, the lunch was terrible. Your reassurance that everything will be OK doesn’t work. They quickly tell you that you don’t understand, and the ride home is one of sullen silence.
Shawn Achor: Positive Psychology
If you haven’t seen Shawn Achor’s TED talk about the Happiness Advantage, make it the very next thing you do (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXy__kBVq1M).
Not only is it one of the most-watched TED talks of all time, but also it is a TED talk that can change your life. Really. Shawn Achor, Harvard professor and one of the world’s leading experts on positive psychology, explains the connection between happiness and success. You can actually rewire your brain to think positively, which leads to success in every area of life.
Time to rewire your kid’s brain. Rewiring works for everyone. Not just our kids. So feel free to try it.
Happiness Fuels Success
In today’s culture, we subscribe to the idea that success leads to happiness. Accomplishment fuels joy. Achor asserts, however, that we have it all wrong. He explains that happiness fuels success, not the other way around. When we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive. And this isn’t just fluffy psychology. This fact has been proven repeatedly with research in psychology, neuroscience, and management.
7 Key Steps for Increasing Happiness
What can you do as a parent to foster optimism in your child? Select some of the following suggestions to do for the next 21 days.
Help shift your child’s thinking from I “deserve” happiness to recognizing current things they could find happiness in. That doesn’t mean a parental lecture about all the things you do for them and sacrifices you make for their happiness. But it is important for your child to see their privileges as things to be grateful for and not entitled to.
Practice gratitude by encouraging your child to write down or talk about specific things to be grateful for. Keeping a gratitude list has scientific backing for rewiring the brain to think positively. So while it is fine to let your child decompress about the things that went wrong in their day, also encourage them to verbalize what went well (3:1 balance) . . . sometimes you might have to help them see the good.
Model optimism and gratitude. It’s easy to come home from work and talk about all the stressors from the day. We all do that. Home is our safe place. But it is important to couple the complaints with the positives or balance with understanding of why things went wrong.
Bring gratitude to mind. Have your child write down three new things they are grateful for each day. Periodically have your child write thank you notes to a friend, teacher, or parent.
Be sure your child is physically active at least 30 minutes a day — preferably outside.
Encourage your child to meditate with you or alone. Try these apps to help: Mindfulness, Headspace, Calm.
Help your child think of and follow through with random, conscious acts of kindness such as bringing cookies to the nursing staff at a hospital, walking a neighbor’s dog, or cleaning up around the house without being asked.
Wise Words from our College Panel
“This semester I got a grade on an exam that I was not expecting. I thought at first that it was the end of the world. And then I reminded myself how wildly fortunate I am to have the amazing opportunity to be at Smith.” A student from Smith College
Laura Bonzo-Sims, Ed.D. has been an educator for 25 years, working with students in middle school, high school, and graduate school. Laura is the Director of College Placement and an Instructional Leader.
Katherine L. Stone, Ph.D. has practiced psychology in Lexington, Kentucky, in a private practice for almost 20 years. She focuses on needs of children and young adults as well as their families.