Learning From Adversity: The Power of Optimism

The-Power-of-OptimismHave you ever noticed that the characters in fairy tales usually start the story with a big problem? Cinderella’s father leaves her with that awful step-family, Ariel’s father won’t let her out of his sight, and Mulan, well, she can’t even focus on being herself because she’s under pressure to get married. And she’s only 16!

But, each of these characters finds a way to move through their respective struggles and come out stronger and wiser in the end. That is to say, there is power in adversity.

As it turns out, research has shown that adversity does make us stronger. Scientists believe that it is through challenging situations that we learn who we are, and how to best cope with unpleasant events. This skill, known as optimistic thinking, is like a muscle that can be strengthened with practice. Just some of the ways to build optimism include:

  • building a positive support system
  • recognizing change as a constant part of life
  • using hardship as an opportunity for introspection
  • keeping things in perspective
  • set our own goals
  • taking care of yourself
  • maintaining a positive outlook
  • challenge negative explanations
  • embracing failure without dwelling on it
  • staying away from toxic people
  • learning to say no
  • recognizing that fear of failure is worse than failure itself

However, it’s not only important that we keep things positive for ourselves. We also have a responsibility to teach optimism to our children. We can do that by using the skills above to set a positive example for our kids, and by teaching them to use some of those techniques on their own. Let’s look at an example of how this may play out.

Say your ten-year old daughter didn’t get picked for the starring role in the school play. Instead, she got chosen as a “back-up dancer.” She might come home saying negative things about herself and questioning whether she should even keep going to rehearsals. Anita Cleare, founder of “The Positive Parenting Project,” would encourage you to ask your child six reasons why she didn’t get the part. She proposes that it would be hard for any child to think of six reasons using negative thought patterns, and that thinking around the issue helps children to realize that there are other, non-personal factors, at play (pardon the pun). So, in this example, we might help your child recognize that out of the 80 kids who tried out for the starring role, only one could be chosen, meaning that she, and 78 others, were not. We could also focus on the fact that your child did, in fact, get a part, which gives her the opportunity to see what it’s like to be in a play. Plus, we could remind her that this is the first play she’s ever tried out for, and that there will be many more chances to get bigger roles.

Teaching children to think this way is a skill that will help them throughout their lifetime. Using optimism to handle adverse situations builds self-esteem, confidence, and resiliency. And, who knows, it might just make them feel like the star of their own fairy tale.

If you’d like more information on how to teach optimism to your children, contact us. We are here to help.