Nurturing optimism in young people is one of the best ways to help them lead happy and healthy lives full of anticipation for the future.
Optimistic people view circumstances as opportunities to achieve—rather than as challenges approached with dread and an expectation of failure. Tweet this
The degree to which students feel optimistic can determine the choices they make and their level of persistence when encountering obstacles. Optimism leads to confidence and success, combating negative beliefs and uncomfortable feelings such as anxiety, fear, and neglect.
School leaders can coach teachers to nurture an optimistic style in students. There are several ways to address pessimistic beliefs. When children are pessimistic about an event, understanding these strategies can help lead them toward a more optimistic expectancy of the future.
• Self-distract negative thoughts. It really can be quite simple to redeploy attention by thinking of actions that will lead to a better future. We can choose to ruminate over a negative event or elect not to let it dominate our thoughts. Teaching children to envision a better future is the first step toward realizing it.
• Distance themselves from negative beliefs. It is important to understand that a child’s beliefs are just that: beliefs. By explaining that bad events can happen to anyone, we accept that sometimes bad things happen, but it does not mean that we are bad or destined to suffer from bad luck.
• Find the evidence. The most convincing way to change a negative belief is to show that it is factually incorrect. Oftentimes a pessimist clings to attitudes or facts that are overreactions. Point to the distortions in children’s thinking and help them find the evidence that inevitably demonstrates a more balanced perspective.
• Generate alternative beliefs. Almost nothing happens for just one reason; most events have many causes. Pessimists have a way of latching onto the worst of all possible causes. Help children generate alternative beliefs by scanning for all possible contributing causes. Focus on the changeable, specific, and non-personal causes of an adverse event.
• Decatastrophize events. Pessimists have a tendency to make even small setbacks seem huge. Teach students to lower the stakes of an event and keep it in perspective. Help them see the event not as the end of the world, but merely a small detour that can lead to a greater level of understanding and insight.
• Understand the destructive force of negative beliefs. Sometimes the consequences of holding onto a negative belief can be more toxic than the original adverse experience. Teach students to separate their emotions from the event. If their thoughts about the event are hurting them, it is better to let go than to continue the damage by revisiting the negative experience.
Optimism can empower students by giving them the tools to control their beliefs and move forward with grace and confidence. When school leaders coach teachers to pass along an optimistic way of thinking, everyone wins. The positive emotional impact of this support system can nurture a safe and healthy emotional bond of lifelong trust and mutual respect between teachers and students in your school.