Research shows that a positive outlook can have a large impact on both mental and physical health, particularly in children and teenagers (Renaud et al., 2019; Rincon et al., 2021). Children that display higher levels of optimism tend to have a greater belief in their own ability to change a situation (Renaud et al., 2019).
While it is true the tendency to view the world optimistically comes more naturally to some than others, it is also a skill that can be taught – and parents can play a significant role.
However, it is important to keep a balanced perspective. Optimism doesn’t mean ignoring all negative emotions. When we are hurt or grieving, pointing out a silver lining can do more harm than good. Appropriate optimism comes from looking at a situation realistically, not blindly.
As parents, you can encourage an optimistic worldview by:
- Emphasising that problems are time-sensitive/temporary— focusing on a bright future can help him feel happier about the present.
- Modelling optimism where possible— letting your child see the way you handle problems can have a big impact.
- Fostering a sense of control— pessimism often results from a belief that there is no way to change a bad situation. When opportunities arise, teach your child that they can make a difference. For example, if they are given the chance to volunteer for a daunting project, you can emphasise that this is a chance to develop new skills. Even if they feel unprepared now, they are able to learn and contribute.
When opportunities arise, teach your child that they can make a difference
School TV has some helpful resources on positive parenting, including a video on instilling optimism:
*The SOW team would like to acknowledge the contribution of Ms Ellie Blackwell, Macquarie University PACE student, in writing this article