Teaching Tweens Optimism


“Real optimism is aware of problems but recognizes solutions; knows about difficulties but believes they can be overcome; sees the negatives, but accentuates the positives; is exposed to the worst but expects the best; has reason to complain but chooses to smile.”  I have this quote hanging on my cube wall at work.

I have always been told that I am an optimist. I look on the bright side of things. I look for the positive in every negative. My glass is always half full.

Until recently I thought that was a good thing. Then I saw the movie Inside Out.

It made me wonder.

Have I spent so much time focusing on the good that I have not taught my children how to cope with the bad?

7658298768_e4c2c2635e_nLife is not always happy and joyful, no matter how hard you try to see it that way.

By swooping in and always trying to make them feel better have I robbed my children of the opportunity to learn how to deal with sorrow?

I have a teen and a tween now and there are many times when I am not there to help them through a difficult time. My oldest seems to be able to cope, but she has had a lot of help along the way learning those skills.

She was diagnosed with autism in grade school. We are lucky enough to live in one of the best school districts in the country (at least as far as I am concerned) for autistic students. She was immediately matched with specialists, therapists and in-class assistants. Over the course of 6 years in grade school she was carefully taught how to deal with the many frustrations in her life.

Through middle school she made friends with others who don’t quite fit in and managed to maintain a strong sense of self. She is awesome and she knows it.

As a high school teen she now has a part time job, has her drivers license and is planning on attending college.

Then there is the other daughter.

She does not have autism or any other ‘special education’ needs as far as the school is concerned. The only people she has had to teach her how to cope are her parents.

That brings me back to my optimism. Whenever she has something go wrong in her life she shares it with us, usually with a lot of weeping. My natural inclination is to say,

“Well, yes that happened, but look at this positive aspect of the situation.”

Generally that is followed by eye rolls from her and one of the following statements,

  • “You just don’t understand.”
  • “Well, yes I guess, but I still don’t like…..”
  • “I don’t care about that.”

It is exhausting.

I started to wonder if there wasn’t a way to help her learn to be more optimistic.

Apparently there are studies out there that show if you are constantly thinking negatively, then your brain is trained to look at the world that way, but you can train yourself to look at the positive.

Last year I read an article that advocated listing 3 good things about the day, every day, for 30 days. The idea is to find the positive in each day, rather than just think about the negative. After 30 days the brain is supposed to think more positively.

So I decided to try it with my daughter.September

Every day I asked her 3 good things about the day and every day I get the same answers,

Lunch, recess and gym class.

HMMM, not really what I am looking for. I am glad she likes gym and being active, but I want her to find more positives. Sadly I gave up the practice of asking her that question each day, but she starts middle school next week. Time to start asking again.

Now that she is starting middle school I am pretty sure the answers are going to change – I am just hoping that by asking her she can learn to look for the joy in her day.

Is this teaching her optimism?  I don’t know, but I would like to think so. If nothing else it is a way to make her speak to me in more than one word sentences.

Wish us luck.