Please welcome Christine Walker of Personal Parenting to the blog. As a mother of four, Christine knows the pressures and challenges that parents face in trying to raise kids in our busy, media-driven culture. She also knows there’s no “right” way to parent. Christine wants to empower us to be confident and happy parents. I hope you find support and wisdom in her post.
One Skill Imperfect Parents Need if They Want Happy Kids
By Christine Walker
I remember as a child asking my dad what he wanted for Christmas. He replied, “Happy kids.” I thought it was a somewhat insulting request. Didn’t he already have happy kids? Now that I have children of my own though, I know exactly what he was talking about.
As a parent I do the best I can to provide, care for, and love my children. I don’t sleep enough or practice enough self-care. I work, worry, and sacrifice because I want to give my children good lives. I want them to be happy. And sometimes they are; but other times, it seems my efforts are in vain. My children fight, get discouraged, and cry about things that seem insignificant to me. But the worst is when I go somewhere and see the kind of happy, resilient children I used to dream of raising, and I can’t help but wonder what I’m doing wrong.
Is there some magic parenting trick I’m missing?
Actually, there might be.
OPTIMISM IS NOT THE SAME AS POSITIVE THINKING
Optimism, not to be confused with positive thinking which research has shown doesn’t change how people feel at all, describes the way people talk to themselves. Optimistic people bounce back more quickly from their challenges and spend more time feeling happy because they tell themselves their setbacks are temporary and due to specific causes. They don’t believe their problems define them.
Pessimistic people, on the other hand, tell themselves that their setbacks are permanent and due to unchanging patterns that will continue to persist. They define themselves by their problems.
For example, if I get in a car accident for which I am at fault, and I’m a pessimist, I might think to myself, “Oh my gosh, how could I have let this happen? I’m so careless! I don’t have enough money to cover my deductible. This is going to ruin me. I might as well move back in with my parents. What a loser!”
If I’m an optimist, however, I might think to myself, “Oh no, I shouldn’t have taken my eyes off the road to switch the radio station. Shoot! And I don’t have enough money to cover my deductible. I guess I’m going to have to work some extra hours to cover these costs. I’ll have to be more careful in the future.”
It’s easy to see how much more quickly I would recover emotionally from the second scenario, than from the first—even though both scenarios are describing the same situation.
Dr. Martin Seligman has done research which shows children are likely to speak to themselves in much the same way their primary caretakers speaks to themselves. If you have pessimistic ways of responding to your challenges, there’s a good chance your children do too. If you’re not sure, you can try taking this test. Chances are you possess a bit of both—optimism and pessimism.
The good news for those of us who have pessimistic habits is that optimism can be learned. It takes practice, like any skill, but by paying attention to your thoughts when things in your life go wrong, you can begin to change those thoughts. When you notice yourself making universal statements like, “I’m so careless,” you can correct yourself with a more specific thought like, “Next time I will try to be more careful.” When you notice yourself making permanent and catastrophic statements such as, “This is going to ruin me,” you can correct yourself with a more temporary and realistic thought such as,“I guess I’m going to have to put in some extra hours at work.”
Practice these alternative ways of thinking out loud. Model your new skills for your children. Phrase how you respond to them optimistically as well. If your child spills a cup of milk at the dinner table for the third night in a row, instead of saying, “What’s wrong with you?” you might try saying, “Maybe next time you can try to keep your cup above your plate where your elbow can’t bump it.”
Optimistic thinking may not come naturally to you, or you may worry it’s too late for you and your children. But, here is an optimistic statement that will ease your mind (and it’s true!): it’s possible to train our brains to formulate new responses to tough situations. We don’t have to let self-defeating reactions get the best of us, even if they’re habitual. Practicing optimistic self-talk and vocalizing this way of thinking will help you rewire your habits. And the more your children observe your example, the more they will learn themselves; and the more resilient and happy you will all become.
About the author: Christine Walker is a freelance writer, certified teacher and mother of four boys. She uses scientific research and expert strategies to help parents develop parenting styles that complement their unique family circumstances. When she’s not writing or teaching, she can be found cheering on the sidelines of the local baseball field where she lives part-time. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and her website.
Photo: Ronnie Meijer / Flikr