How to Raise an Optimist

Optimism isn’t just a desirable trait in and of itself—it can even lead to long life, and stave off mental pathology. And, real talk: if you raise an optimist, it brings the whinging and whining to a minimum. Win-win.

So how do you encourage the bright-side attitude in your kid? Like with everything else in parenting, it starts with you.

Little baby superhero with red cape flies through the night sky.

Stop the complaining.

Avoid offloading all the bad parts of your day at the dinner table. Instead, make an effort to talk about the things that went right, no matter how banal: “I had the friendliest cashier at the store today,” or “I saw the funniest thing on my drive into work.”

Expect more.

A “can-do” attitude can only be cultivated if opportunities to excel are offered.

“Entrusting children to complete tasks makes them feel capable,” explains Tamar Chansky, Ph.D., a child psychologist and the author of Freeing Your Child From Negative Thinking. Age-appropriate chores are a good place to start.

Risks are good. 

Messing up can be embarrassing, and it’s only natural you’d want to protect your child from the negative experience. But this is a sure way to breed pessimism. Says Michael Thompson, Ph.D., author of Homesick and Happy: How Time Away From Parents Can Help a Child Grow, “You don’t want your child to be afraid to try new things. You want him to come home and say, ‘Mum, I did it!’

Think yourself out of it.

The single thing we have under our control is our thought process. Teach your child to reframe challenging situations in a positive light. If they’re struggling at some task, and wants to quit, try out an anecdote, explaining specifically how you’ve struggled with something, and how even though it didn’t come easily, you eventually powered through.

Real talk.

Remember that a pep talk is not the same as being falsely positive. Be honest with your kid that they might not have the skill set (yet) to make the swim team, or probably won’t have a large group of friends at their new school because they’re more introvert (and that’s ok). Kids are savvy at seeing through a shaky self-esteem boost. “Optimism actually requires thinking realistically more than positively,” notes Dr. Chansky. “That way your child is prepared for whatever they face.”