July 30, 2013

Optimism Often Leads to Success

You might not want to mention this fact to your kids, but summer is essentially over. On the one hand, that means that they have only a few short weeks of vacation left to enjoy. But on the other hand, they have (we hope) had a wonderful couple of months filled with fun and relaxation, and they will have the happy memories of this summer forever. It’s all about perspective, isn’t it?

In a recent article in the Huffington Post’s Healthy Living section, a number of researchers and contributors touted the benefits of having a positive outlook on life. Researcher Shane Lopez and his team at the University of Kansas found that optimism was not as impacted as anticipated by age, income level, education or gender and that it had positive effects across the board on emotional and physical health.

Of particular note was the fact that optimists were found to handle stress better when it arose, according to researcher Barbara Fredrickson. They had a sort of “silver lining thinking” and were more likely to bounce back when something unexpected or negative did occur. In another study, psychologists found that having a positive opinion of one’s own abilities and prospects, particularly when giving oneself an internal “pep talk,” led to improved problem solving even when the individual subjects of the study were under stress.


As the summer winds down and some children may be expressing anxiety about the upcoming school year, it is the perfect time to start encouraging some upbeat thinking in your household. Keep in mind that it’s a fine line to walk between being encouraging of optimism and being dismissive of your child’s fears, but making your child fully aware of what it is you are trying to do (foster a positive attitude) can help with that. Encourage your child to think about the best possible outcomes and very specific ways he can constructively address the situations about which he is fearful. For example, if he is worried that the teacher will assign too much homework for him to keep up with, help him to see how much a well-maintained calendar and breaking his work down into smaller chunks will lead to a sense of accomplishment and mastery on his part. Help your child put into place a way of psyching himself up when he is anxious and encourage him to develop a positive internal dialogue that will allow him to avoid the kind of negative feedback loop that is so counterproductive. If he needs to practice in a non-threatening situation, have him talk through something with which he is already comfortable and confident, say a softball game with friends or a video game he has already mastered.

By helping your child develop and maintain a positive attitude, and by encouraging him to practice his optimism so that it’s finely honed when he really needs it, you are not only front-loading the benefits of this tactic before the school year begins but you are also encouraging your child to have a mentally and physically healthy approach to life that will last far beyond his academic career.