It’s not hard to find children who live amazing lives, in safe, comfortable homes with parents devoted to their happiness and well-being. These same children have more toys, more conveniences and more sources of gratification than any generation in history.
Yet, many of these children spend much of their time complaining about their lives. They seem to effortlessly find dissatisfaction, in spite of frequently getting what they want. In fact, many seem to have advanced cognitive capacities to argue for their misery in ways that could redefine the term ‘pessimist.’
Variations on a Theme: Complain and whine. Whine and complain.
Some of you may know this very well. Regardless of how awesome the day has been, with child-focused activities at every turn, the pessimistic child has found reason for complaint at almost every turn. Perhaps it’s the food. Or perhaps the wait in line. Or perhaps it’s a sibling who got there first. The list could be endless.
The complaining and whining can get the best of you, and then you find yourself arguing with the pessimist. And this never goes well. Nope…not ever!
You never convince even the youngest pessimist to give up their view of life. You just never win through battling with words.
You could be making a major mistake without realizing it. There is growing research on positive psychology that suggests that we should do everything that we can to expand the attention and energy that we give to positive moments. Here’s why:
3 Reasons Positive Moments and Emotions Need To Be Nurtured!
First, when children experience positive emotions, their actual way of thinking changes. They become more open, more flexible and their attention is broadened. The opposite occurs with negative states, such as anxiety and sadness. Thinking is narrow, possibilities are not seen and emotional/cognitive skills are more rigid (not good for kids!).
Secondly, positive emotions appear to “undo” negative emotions or memories. For example, the aftermath of a painful event is dramatically improved by having a happy, pleasant experience. No therapy; just a great moment and life improves for kids.
Third, positive emotions allow children to be more resilient. When experiencing lots of positive moments, research shows that children can better cope with change, adversity and struggles. Kids recover from stress faster, and remain more open to healthy, creative and rewarding experiences.
All this adds up to suggest that accumulating positive emotional experiences during the summer can bring great value to children. Of course, it’s not the whole story.
What about reality?
There are many who would argue that all this positive talk suggests that our children live in a world of denial, where negative experiences are avoided and we pretend like they don’t exist.
This is not what I am suggesting. If you regularly read my column, then you certainly understand the priority I give to reality-based parenting, and the essential need to nurture responsibility and maintain structure.
Instead, this lesson is about learning to take a positive moment or emotion, and using skills to nurture the full value of that moment. You must see beyond just the moment in front of you, and realize that you are feeding the seeds of something much bigger and more important for your children.
How does this relate to summertime fun?
With a couple of minor adjustments in your approach, these wonderful fun-filled moments can become more than just a pleasant memory for your children. You can take these moments, and expand those moments into life-shaping attitudes of optimism and happiness. Here’s how you begin.
1. Be attentive to positive emotions…when they are happening.
Don’t give your attentions to moments when your kids are frowning, complaining or bickering with each other. Let it go. In fact, it’s critical to give little to these moments you ‘don’t want’ while patiently waiting for the moments you ‘do want.’
Put your energy into seeing a giggle, a smile or a look of contentment and joy. Give “the good stuff” more of your attention and energy.
By that I mean, smile at your daughter. Put your arm around your son. Nod your head. Acknowledge the positive moment, but not in a melodramatic and absurd fashion. Instead, be subtle, yet authentic with your attention.
2. Become unusually curious about moments of joy and pleasure.
Remember how easy it is to get hooked on the moments that don’t work for your kids, or to engage complaints about camp, siblings or friends? Resist this tendency!
Instead, become obsessed and curious about positive moments. Inquire about things that made them laugh or smile. Be curious about who they helped or what nice things they did today.
When observing a happy moment, be interested in how it feels inside their body to be smiling. Engage in laughter with them, and let their fun energy resonate.
Later, ask them to recall what made them laugh or how it feels to see someone else smile. Be open with them in these moments. Be willing to share what makes you smile, and how it feels on the inside. Share your own stories of good things that happen, and avoid complaints about your day.
3. ‘The Good Stuff Journal’
Too much attention has been given to the idea that we should journal about our painful and difficult experiences. Let’s turn that around now. Research suggests that nurturing and focusing on positive moments has a healthy and beneficial effect. Encourage your children to start a journal focused on only positive stuff and call it ‘The Good Stuff Journal’.
You could help them save pictures in their journal and write stories, and maybe someday turn some of these into stories for school.
Encourage your kids to review and expand upon the memories of “the good stuff.” Explain how wonderful it is to review our best moments and to keep these alive within us.