Through the eyes of a child, one small incident or hurtful word from another can seem monumental. A minor argument with a classmate or an ego bruised may well become a young person’s focus and negate any recollection of joy experienced over the course of the day. As a parent, this can be both heartbreaking, and frustrating. How does one cultivate a positive attitude and encourage optimism through all of the ups and downs of childhood? One effective method is helping children to keep things in perspective by instilling a sense of genuine gratitude and awareness of joy. This can be accomplished, systematically and daily, by any loving parent.
Begin by consciously engaging in conversation with your child. If they have been separated from you (due to school, camp, family visit etc.) make it a habit to strike up casual, unforced conversation. Ask how their day went (or is going). Use open-ended questions to get a better sense of how your child is feeling. Don’t be afraid of the silences that will inevitably occur. Keep the atmosphere laid back, especially if your child needs the time to open up. Kids will almost always fill quiet space with words if given the opportunity
See if you can glean any information as to the small things or moments that had your child feeling loved, nurtured, having fun or enjoying their time. Even the smallest instances, such as a good chuckle or the smell of fresh grass on the way to school can be very significant and evoke strong emotions. Conversely, it is also appropriate to ask if there is anything your child would change about their day if given the chance. This can allow for great insight into what (if anything) may be troubling or concerning them, and, more importantly, provide an opening to discuss a possible course of action, or allow some therapeutic venting.
Before your child goes to bed, install a new step in their routine: ask them to tell you what the three best things about their day were. They can be anything, large or small. Even in a so-called “terrible” day, it is unlikely there was nothing enjoyable. Younger children may need some prompting, which you can provide by leading them into whatever small pleasures you learned of earlier. Did they get a right answer at school? What made them laugh today? What was the best thing they ate? Or saw? Did they get to go someplace special, or enjoy the sunshine? Again, resist the urge to fill the silence of a young person’s thought process. Allow them the time it takes to think of three things on their own. Let them carefully, objectively, filter their day through a positive lens. As they share their ‘best things’ or moments, ask questions and encourage them to keep telling you their stories. “Re-living” these moments will not only make them (and you!) smile, but also get them into the wonderful habit of recognizing, and being grateful, for all the good in their lives. You may be surprised (and delighted!) to know that one of the highlights was having a conversation with you.