Monday, October 15, 2018


by Leah Grace Goodwin

“What day is it?” asked Pooh.
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.”
― A.A. Milne

In previous columns, I’ve written about the crucial formative role you, as a senior adult, can play in the lives of children and teens—whether they are your own grandchildren or other kin, or a neighborhood youngster in need of a caring role model. Your senior status, and your accrued wisdom and knowledge, can change the course of a young person’s life.

This month, as autumn approaches and kids return to school, I want to focus on a game-changing gift you can give: optimism. Some fortunate folks are more innately inclined to be upbeat than others, but optimism is also a learned skill. How you, as a grown-up, engage life’s vicissitudes rubs off on the young people you spend time with—and even if you aren’t the chirpiest person, you can also consciously teach optimistic thinking and action techniques. It’s never too late to start, either, so (no surprise here!) don’t despair if a youngster in your charge seems hardwired toward the Eeyore end of the spectrum. With your help, time can yield positive change!

As it turns out, the glass-half-full mentality isn’t just pleasant for others to be around. Optimism offers long-term benefits for physical and mental quality of life. “Pooh-bear” optimists are far more likely to live into the triple digits!

All that said, you are in a unique position to open up the world of optimism for your young charge(s). Your relationship with a young person is most likely not that of a parent, even if you happen to be fulfilling some of the roles a parent might typically take. When it comes to instilling optimism—and resilience, that inimitable quality of emotional “bounceability”—you, the grandparent, great-aunt or great-uncle, or neighborhood elder, have the advantage of being just enough outside the daily round to make a startling impact. These six techniques can make a big difference in a kid’s outlook on life. Put these into practice as a mentor and watch a child’s soul light up. (Psst: you might find yours lighting up too!).

Ditch the complaining. Accentuate the positive and mitigate the negative. Find yourself worrying out loud or catastrophizing? Hear yourself complaining about inconveniences? Quit it. Your focus on negative things will teach the youngster in your life to do the same. Instead, try talking instead about what’s going right on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. One caregiver suggests playing a game called “Roses and Thorns”: take a few minutes each time you’re with a youngster and reveal the best and worst things that have happened lately—with a focus on the positive. Bonus round: share a hope for tomorrow!

Show faith in your young friend by having lofty expectations for them. Give the person(s) in your life a chance to shine by asking things of them. Of course, the key is to be clear about your expectations, and flexible and appreciative about the way in which they seek to fulfill them. Kids take pride in a job well done.

Encourage sensible risk-taking. No need to encourage a young person’s penchant for impulsivity, if that’s an issue (and it can be for kids, especially when they lack guidance in the rest of their lives). It’s totally natural to want to protect kids and teens from hurts and consequences—but discouraging adventurousness saps confidence and can even encourage pessimism. Letting the reins a bit loose (or even letting go, in appropriate ways relative to your caregiving situation) encourages hopefulness and pride.

Temper the temptation to react when something hurtful happens or a challenge pops up. Optimism flourishes when you teach kids to be their own advocate. Giving kids a chance to problem solve on their own imparts a sense of accomplishment, which feeds an upbeat sense of empowerment. Yes, it takes self-control to curb the protective instinct—but offering support for your youngster’s independence gives a gift that lasts a lot longer than a quick fix.

Embrace the struggle. When we grown-ups, and in particular worldly-wise seniors, get frustrated and walk away from a challenge, claiming inability, kids learn to draw quick conclusions about their own skills, too. “I’m bad at writing!” “Math isn’t for me!” “Basketball is too hard.” All these sorts of responses to challenge suggest that your youngster is developing a permanent sense of his or her shortcomings. You can counter that by helping the young person reframe the challenge positively: “It’s hard now, but you’ll learn!” And let them know they’re not alone: “That was hard for me, too, when I was your age” or “Lots of kids struggle with this at first, and that’s okay.” Help your charge stay hopeful by bringing up another skill that took time to master and noting how great they are at that thing now.

Stay realistic and honest. True optimism involves the ability to assess a situation frankly and power through the challenge anyway. Trying to pretend a tough situation is easy, or offering shallow reassurances, doesn’t convince kids of anything. Kids are smart, and they can see through disingenuity quick as a flash. Actually, reassuring your young friend that everything will be fine without acknowledging the difficulties they face can have the opposite effect. “Optimism actually requires thinking realistically more than positively,” notes one expert. “That way, your child is prepared for whatever he faces.”

Add these tactics to your time with a young person, and you will find that the brighter side of things starts emerging from the messiness of life. As Pooh opined, today will indeed be their—and your—favorite day, more and more often.

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1 comment:

StandUp said...

This is especially true as a person ages. We humans tend to be negative and it's an effort to be positive so reminders like this are really appreciated.