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Raising an Optimistic Child
As a parent, you want to try to raise your child so that they have the best chance to live a purposeful life full of happiness. However, since life has its ups and downs, how do you do that - especially if your child happens to have the "pessimistic gene"?
First, we need to define what it is to be an optimistic child, discuss whether optimism is genetic or not, and how the world looks through the lens of optimism versus pessimism for a child. Then we'll look at how you can teach optimism even if the genetics aren’t on the side of optimism, using your examples and love.
=> The Definition of an Optimistic Child
There is a meme going around the internet regarding optimistic versus pessimistic children. It involves a room full of poop versus a room full of every single imaginable toy possible.
The optimistic child spends a couple hours in the poop room and leaves happy, covered in poop. The pessimist child goes in the toy room that has every imaginable toy and has a horrible time. The pessimistic child leaves the room negative and unimpressed.
This is a very extreme example and not even a true story, but it does clearly show the differences in how most people view optimism versus pessimism. The optimist child can look on the bright side even for a room full of poop, while a pessimist cannot even see the value in a room full of fun toys.
This is kind of a problem in the way we teach children the value of optimism over pessimism. You really don’t have to teach children unrealistic ideals in order to help them become more optimistic and therefore happier.
The truth is, the definition of optimism is basically "the feeling or belief that good things will happen even if it’s not likely." (Dictonary.com) So, in some ways, the ability to be optimistic seems almost unrealistic. However, studies show that the ability to look on the bright side serves people well because they tend to be happier even when things don’t go the way they had hoped. Because of this, there is a lot of value in intentionally raising optimistic children.
=> Is Optimism Genetic?
One of the biggest questions that scientists and parents are asking is whether optimism (and pessimism) is genetic or not. When it comes to childrearing, the age-old question of nature versus nurture often comes up - not in order to dissuade parents from trying to change a negative trait in their child, but more to help with an understanding of how to best teach and guide a child.
Living one’s best life is the goal, and more and more we are discovering that happiness is tied to the ability of the child to be optimistic and thus happy, more so than what is going on in a child’s life.
This is not to say that a child can't become pessimistic when they were not previously, due to what is going on in their life. They can. That’s where the age-old argument of nature versus nurture comes in. Yes, optimism is partially genetic, but it’s also partly nurture. It’s both.
There is a genetic component which has been discovered, and this can affect some people more than others. However, this does not mean that through your example and hard work, you cannot guide your pessimistic child toward more positive thought and actions. Plus, unless you’re going to do genetic testing, you really won’t know if it’s something they have been born with or something they’ve learned. This is especially true if you (or someone the child is around a lot of the time) lean toward a more pessimistic personality.
The best way to approach this as a parent is to understand that if your child is currently behaving in a pessimistic way, it could be genetic. It’s not that they’re trying to be negative or misbehave. They can’t help it until they learn ways to turn their thoughts around and see things in a new way.
Pessimism does not have to be a permanent feature of a child’s personality, whether they have the gene or not. However, if it is genetic, it might be the chief characteristic of their personality until they learn how to be more optimistic. Even then, it might be something they struggle with, but having the tools will make a big difference in their life. Children can learn to be more positive, and you can lead the way. It’ll be a good lesson for them and will help them throughout their life, allowing them to live a happier life overall.