5 Steps to Raising Optimistic Children
by Dr. Tony FioreI had just completed a session with 17-year old Julie who suffered from severe depression. Julie believed she was a total failure and would never be able to change anything in her life. Julie also felt all her shortcomings were her own fault. Where, I ask myself, did such a young person acquire this negative and fatalistic thinking?
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The answer soon became apparent when I invited her parents into the session. They began discussing numerous life events and explaining them in ways that their children were learning. The car, for example, got dented because you can’t trust anybody these days; Mom yelled at brother because she was in a bad mood; you can’t get ahead in this world unless you know somebody, etc.
As a parent, your own thinking style is always on display and your children are listening intently!
The Importance of Optimism
Why should you want your child to be an optimist?
Because, as Dr. Martin Seligman explains:
“Pessimism (the opposite of optimism) is an entrenched habit of mind that has sweeping and disastrous consequences: depressed mood, resignation, underachievement and even unexpectedly poor physical health.”
Children with optimistic thinking skills are better able to interpret failure, have a stronger sense of personal mastery and are better able to bounce back when things go wrong in their lives.
Because parents are a major contributors to the thinking styles of their children’s developing minds, it is important to adhere to the following five steps to ensure healthy mental habits in your children.
How Parents Can Help
Step 1: Learn to think optimistically yourself. What children see and hear indirectly from you as you lead your life and interact with others influences them much more than what you try to ‘teach’ them.
You can model optimism for your child by incorporating optimistic mental skills into your own way of thinking. This is not easy and does not occur over night. But with practice, almost everyone can learn to think differently about life’s events – even parents!
Step 2: Teach your child that there is a connection between how they think and how they feel. You can do this most easily by saying aloud how your own thoughts about adversity create negative feelings in you.
For example, if you are driving your child to school and a driver cuts you off, verbalize the link between your thoughts and feelings by saying something like “I wonder why I’m feeling so angry; I guess I was saying to myself: ‘Now I’m going to be late because the guy in front of me is going so darn slow. If he is going to drive like that he shouldn’t drive during rush hour. How rude.’”
Step 3: Create a game called ‘thought catching.’ This helps your child learn to identify the thoughts that flit across his or her mind at the times they feel worst. These thoughts, although barely noticeable, greatly affect mood and behavior.
For instance, if your child received a poor grade, ask:
“When you got your grade, what did you say to yourself?”
Step 4: Teach your child how to evaluate automatic thoughts. This means acknowledging that they things you say to yourself are not necessarily accurate.
For instance, after receiving the poor grade your child may be telling himself he is a failure, he is not as smart as other kids; he will never be able to succeed in school, etc. Many of these self-statements may not be accurate, but they are ‘automatic’ in that situation.
Step 5: Instruct your child on how to generate more accurate explanations (to themselves) when bad things happen and use them to challenge your child’s automatic but inaccurate thoughts. Part of this process involves looking for evidence to the contrary (good grades in the past, success in other life areas, etc).
Another skill to teach your child to help him or her think optimistically is to ‘decatastrophize’ the situation – that is – help your child see that the bad event may not be as bad or will not have the adverse consequences imagined. Few things in life are as devastating as we fear, yet we blow them up in our minds.
Parents can influence the thinking styles of their children by modeling the principals of optimistic thinking.
About the Author: Dr. Tony Fiore (http://www.angercoach.com) is a So. California licensed psychologist, and anger management trainer. His company, The Anger Coach, provides anger and stress management programs, training and products to individuals, couples, and the workplace.
A new study from researchers at Oregon State University showed that parenting plays a major role in how active young children are. Parenting was found to be a bigger factor than high-tech gadgets or TV. In general, the researchers discovered that kids age 2 to 4 spent four to five hours a day doing sedentary activity — not including naps and meal times.
The researchers found that kids with parents who tended to spend less time with them and who weren’t home often, ended up spending 30 more minutes each day on screen time than kids with more engaged parents.
In a separate study, the researchers also found that parents could increase activity through encouragement. Parents who actively played with their kids had the largest impact, but the study showed parents who watched their children play or who offered transportation to an activity also contributed to increased activity.
Ron Responds: Ouch, guilt time! How much time do you spend with your children every day?
Along with legions of fans and friends and family, Nora Ephron leaves behind her two sons: Jacob and Max. In her 2006 essay collection “I Feel Bad About My Neck,” she wrote about the experience of being their mother. The piece was called “Parenting in Three Stages.” Like everything Nora wrote, it was personal, but it was a statement that resonated with all of us. She recounted what it was like to raise children from babies to adulthood, but she also pointed out that the notion of “parenting” as a thing was entirely new. She said:“Suddenly, one day, there was this thing called parenting. Parenting was serious. Parenting was fierce. Parenting was solemn. Parenting was a participle, like going and doing and crusading and worrying; it was active, it was energetic, it was unrelenting. Parenting meant playing Mozart CDs while you were pregnant, doing without the epidural, and breast-feeding your child until it was old enough to unbutton your blouse.”
If we could republish the whole of the essay here we would, but we can’t and you should go read it. Instead, in honor of a mother who did it all and more, here are several of our favorite quotes, both from that particular piece and from other wise things Nora has said about this thing we all do every day — whether you like calling it “parenting” or not.If pregnancy were a book, they would cut the last two chapters. The beginning is glorious, especially if you’re lucky enough not to have morning sickness and if, like me, you’ve had small breasts all your life. Suddenly they begin to grow, and you’ve got them, you’ve really got them, breasts, darling breasts, and when you walk down the street they bounce, truly they do, they bounce bounce bounce.
– Nora Ephron, “Heartburn”
We’d say we were so lucky we have this wonderful relationship. … We can fly off to Rome on a moment’s notice. And then one day I was taking Alice’s little girl for the afternoon … and we were in the cab playing “I Spy” … and she looked out the window and she saw this man and this woman with these two little kids. And the man had one of the little kids on his shoulders, and she said, “I spy a family.” And I started to cry … And I went home, and I said, “The thing is, Joe, we never do fly off to Rome on a moment’s notice.”
– Sally Albright, “When Harry Met Sally…”We have lived through the era when happiness was a warm puppy, and the era when happiness was a dry martini, and now we have come to the era when happiness is “knowing what your uterus looks like.”– Nora Ephron, “Crazy Salad”Parenting was not simply about raising a child, it was about transforming a child, force-feeding it like a foie gras goose, altering, modifying, modulating, manipulating, smoothing out, improving.– Nora Ephron, “I Feel Bad About My Neck”
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FRIDAY, June 15 (HealthDay News) — Children learn persistence from their fathers, according to a new study, and this skill can lead to better performance at school and a reduced risk of criminal behavior.
The study included adolescents aged 11 to 14 in 325 two-parent families; they were followed for several years by researchers from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
About 52 percent of the fathers in the study exhibited above-average levels of authoritative parenting. The children of these fathers were significantly more likely to develop persistence, which led to better outcomes at school and lower levels of delinquency.
The findings were published June 15 in the Journal of Early Adolescence.
“There are relatively few studies that highlight the unique role of fathers,” study co-author Laura Padilla-Walker, a professor in BYU’s School of Family Life, said in a university news release. “This research also helps to establish that traits such as persistence — which can be taught — are key to a child’s life success.”
The researchers emphasized that authoritative parenting is different from authoritarian parenting and has three basic features: children feel warmth and love from their father; children are granted an appropriate level of autonomy; and fathers emphasize accountability and the reasons behind rules.
Although this study included two-parent families, the researchers suggested that single parents may still be able to help teach their children about persistence.
“Fathers should continue to be involved in their children’s lives and engage in high-quality interactions, even if the quantity of those interactions might be lower than is desirable,” Padilla-Walker said.
Are parents happier than their childless peers?
For the last five years or so, I’ve answered that question with a resounding “no.” Statistics (not to mention anecdotal evidence) led me to believe that parents tend to be more stressed and less happy.
In some ways, this seems understandable, even obvious. Folks without kids can go to yoga or hang out with friends without having to find a babysitter (or negotiate with a spouse). Childless people don’t panic over stranding their kids at school when a meeting runs late, or lay awake at night worrying about how to keep the kids’ health insurance, or feel overwhelmed by mountains of laundry and plastic toys and permission slips.
But now three new studies throw a wrench in the previous research. The studies, to be published in the journal Psychological Science, find that parents report higher levels of happiness and positive emotion and have more “thoughts about meaning in life.”
Some parents, that is.
Young parents and single parents don’t fare as well: Unmarried parents are unhappier than people without kids, as are parents under 26 years old. (Parents over age 63 don’t differ from their childless peers.)
Then there’s the gender gap. While it’s true that parents on average report greater happiness and satisfaction with their lives than their childless peers, this is actually because fathers are driving the averages up. Mothers don’t show a big uptick in happiness by having kids. It’s really the dads that are happier.
Parenthood, it turns out, is only associated with greater life satisfaction and happiness among fathers.
As a feminist mother, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a tad resentful about this.
Anyone who has looked at the statistics on household division of labor knows that moms typically bear the brunt of the unfun housework that comes with child-rearing, not to mention the logistical backflips of the highly-scheduled childhood.
I’m not saying that men don’t do housework, because they do. And, on average, they are doing more than they have in past generations. But every day, mothers are doing housework and caring for family members for nearly four hours, compared to dads’ three hours.
What’s more, housework in the U.S. is still very gendered: Women do more laundry and dishes and cleaning; men do more yardwork. I know I find gardening on the weekends more fun than battling the dishes in my sink morning, noon and night. So perhaps that extra hour of work, and the different type of work, makes moms less happy than dads.
But my resentment will buy me nothing in the happiness department. Focusing on happiness as a zero-sum game gets us nowhere in our fight for equality.
Here’s why. First, we all presumably have the same goals; namely, to raise happy and healthy kids, and to find happiness ourselves. And a happy father is, generally speaking, a good father. We know that positive emotions make us better parents — when we are feeling good, we are more likely to be better listeners, warmer caregivers and to be more consistent in our discipline.
Second, it is better for our own well-being and the well-being of our children if we are cultivating (and modeling) what Buddhists call mudita rather than cultivating and modeling resentment. Meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg describes mudita as “vicarious joy,” or “the pleasure that comes from delighting in other people’s well-being rather than begrudging it.” Experiencing another person’s happiness vicariously really can bring us great happiness; happiness is very contagious. In fact, happiness generally spreads three degrees, affecting not just our friends, but our friend’s friend’s friend’s.
For example, my own dad is about the happiest father imaginable. He takes my daughters to the dentist, volunteers at their swim meets and takes them out for ice cream once a week. The pride, pleasure and great meaning that he gets from his fathering activities is obvious, contagious and moving. When I watch him with my children, I feel a deep contentment that is hard to come by in other ways.
I’m not suggesting that structural and cultural changes aren’t in order to correct the happiness gender gap among parents, or that it is okay if dads’ happiness comes at the expense of moms’. I am suggesting that this Father’s Day, we should celebrate the fact that fathers tend to be happier than their childless peers, as this bodes well for everyone, not the least of whom are mothers and children.
Maybe your happiness on Father’s Day will come from a moment of reflection, as a dad, about the ways parenting is satisfying. Or, maybe your happiness on Sunday will come vicariously, through the fathers in your life. Either way, Happy Father’s Day.
Fathers: What is it about being a dad brings you the most happiness and life satisfaction?
Mothers and others: How do you derive vicarious joy from watching the happy dads in your life?
© 2012 Christine Carter, Ph.D.
Follow Christine Carter, PhD on Twitter: www.twitter.com/raisinghappines
Father’s Day is coming up quickly, but you still have time to craft a perfect card for the dads in your life to cherish (er, stash in a drawer somewhere…) forever. If words aren’t your strong suit, never fear: here are some of the best quotes about fatherhood that are sure to make even the most stoic of fathers crack a smile or shed a tear. Print them, pin them, frame them, or stash notes around the house — whatever you choose, just make sure to let dad know how much you care.Loading Slideshow
“Having a staring contest with a newborn is one of the weirdest things you will ever do. And it is highly recommended.” -Ross McCammon
“Above all, children need our unconditional love, whether they succeed or make mistakes; when life is easy and when life is tough.” -President Obama
“Blessed indeed is the man who hears many gentle voices call him father!” -Lydia M. Child
“You fathers will understand. You have a little girl. She looks up to you. You’re her oracle. You’re her hero.” -Stanley T. Banks, Father of the Bride
“Do I want to be a hero to my son? No. I would like to be a very real human being. That’s hard enough.” -Robert Downey Jr.
“A new father quickly learns that his child invariably comes to the bathroom at precisely the times when he’s in there, as if he needed company.” - Bill Cosby
“I thought I would be more inspired to have all these new feelings to talk about, but I really just want to hang out with my daughter.” Jay-Z
“The reward of child rearing is spending the rest of your life proudly knowing this person you helped guide. Let him be himself.” -Mike Sager
“I want my son to wear a helmet 24 hours a day.” -Will Arnett
“This is my most important role. If I fail at this, I fail at everything.” -Mark Wahlberg
“It is admirable for a man to take his son fishing, but there is a special place in heaven for the father who takes his daughter shopping.”-John Sinor
“It is much easier to become a father than to be one.” -Kent Nerburn, Letters to My Son: Reflections on Becoming a Man
“Lately all my friends are worried that they’re turning into their fathers. I’m worried that I’m not.” -Dan Zevin
“By the time a man realizes that maybe his father was right, he usually has a son who thinks he’s wrong.” -Charles Wadsworth
“Few sons are like their fathers - many are worse, few better.” -Homer, The Odyssey
“It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived. “-Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
“Father! - To God himself we cannot give a holier name.” -William Wordsworth
Father’s Day Quotes
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The Secret Meaning of Loving Feelings
June 3, 2012 by Mark Brady
Decades ago the Righteous Brothers pined forlornly about the sorry state of affairs that come calling when you’ve lost that lovin’ feeling, especially after you’ve had a love, a love you don’t find every day. What the Righteous Brothers never really offered listeners though, is a hypothesis about where that lovin’ feeling actually went … and how we might investigate ways to bring it back. Me and my brain are here at this late date to offer one possible explanation … and a plan of action.
Essentially, every time I’ve lost that lovin’ feeling it became buried under one or more of the Dirty Dozen Defense Mechanisms. Those mechanisms invariably fired up limbic structures in my brain, structures like the amygdala, hippocampus and hypothalamus. Once triggered, the parts that make up the HPA axis (Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis) began secreting stress hormones into my blood stream. Those hormones produce the exact opposite feelings that oxytocin and endorphins produce, leaving me sad and forlorn and singing along with Don and Phil, the Everly Brothers … Bye-Bye Love.
Feeling love means I’m running soft, safe, undefended, expansive energy, as opposed to loss or fear, which most often show up as hard, constrictive, defensive, protective energy attempting to safeguard my body and brain. One of the reasons I can so often unconditionally love babies and pets is that they rarely trigger defensive reactions in me. On the other hand, one big life challenge is to be able to continue running, soft, safe, undefended expansive energy in the face of someone I’ve become disenchanted with, or around someone who has become disenchanted with me. But I can tell you from personal experience, that while it’s not necessarily easy, it’s not impossible.
Given this state of affairs, it’s useful for me to think of emotional reactions as early warning signals surfacing from down below the neck and also from the depths of the right brain primarily (in actuality, thoughts and feelings are probably widely distributed across many neurophysiological nodal points). Emotions are early warning signals because almost all of the (only) 40 conscious pieces of the 11 million data bits we take in at any moment are often apprehended by the Bully Interpreter brain. And the Interpreter is constantly distorting things conservatively, i.e. negatively and apprehensively.
Why I Write Listening Books
David Augsburger, a professor of pastoral care at Fuller Theological Seminary and the author of Caring Enough to Confront, has noticed that “being listened to is so close to being loved, that most people don’t know the difference.” It’s also a great way to combat my Bully Interpreter’s distortions. Turns out I’ve never lost that loving feeling in response to someone earnestly and undistractedly attempting to hear and deeply understand me. So, I think David’s right. One partial reason is that being listened to helps us discharge the increased levels of neurotoxic glucocorticoids that Big Emotion often generates in the wake of a grand HPA axis activation. We begin to feel less fear. Which means we generate fewer stress response neurotoxins. Which means our brains are freed up to process more energy and information as a result of make increasing connections (even with our heart, perhaps).. It promotes the cultivation of radicalness and rebellion, fearlessness and defenselessness. Both listening and love live to go beyond themselves. Not only does our safety lie in fearless defenselessness, but therein also lies a pathway back to Rumi’s field out beyond rightdoing and wrongdoing. It’s in that field that we can each begin to breathe out and tell tender truths that permit Defense Mechanisms to dissolve. When we are able to do this successfully, we come back face to face with Rumi’s other great awareness: love is the default condition, the primary, subtle, driving creative energy of the universe. It’s the energy that grows flowers and trees and baby’s brains and children’s hearts.
But also, deep listening, much like love, is radically seditious. It goes toe to toe with our culture of distraction
Learning to listen skillfully is however, a VERY difficult practice. There’s rarely a day that goes by that I don’t find Bully Interpreter trying to convince me and others about the rightness and righteousness of what it believes. And not only is it adamant in its beliefs, it’s often inflexible in its ability to consider alternative possibilities. Not a great way to invoke and sustain loving feelings, unfortunately.
The Benefits of Reclaiming Love
Using listening skills as a contemplative spiritual practice invariably seems to work to soften mental and physical structures inside me. Tensions I’m holding in body, mind and brain begin to ease, allowing the Bully Interpreter to relax. With such release I often find myself opening to the possibility of increasingly creative responses. As Neil Gaiman offers in this inspiring commencement address given recently to the graduating class at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, listening practice begins to foment not only a deep desire to “make good art,” but a conviction that I really can. And in my experience much of the good art in the world springs from … love. People who love who they are and what they do rarely lose that lovin’ feeling.