I have a nine-year-old boy who is very pessimistic and has developed a real talent for spotting problems. Even though we are very fortunate in our lives, he will usually find a reason to feel hard done by, complain and be unhappy. I try to be upbeat and positive but in truth I can be little pessimistic too. Is pessimism in our genes or can we learn to look on the bright side more easily? How can I help my children be more positive?
Thanks for your question Amanda,
The way we look at the world is influenced not only by what we see but how that information is interpreted.
When I ask children in my coaching practice what parts of their bodies they use to see the world, they will correctly tell me that they use their eyes to see. But we don’t use our eyes alone – we also use our brain.
Our brain directs our attention and interprets the visual information we receive, acting very much like a pair of binoculars that zooms in and highlights certain pieces of information.
There is scientific evidence that some people’s brains are genetically wired towards a more pessimistic outlook making it more natural for them to hone in on problems and unpleasant or negative aspects of a situation.
For our ancient ancestors, having a keen eye for danger and the ability to spot problems quickly had a very real survival value; enabling them to stay alive and pass on this tendency to their offspring. Over time humans developed what is called a Negativity Bias, which is the tendency to pay more attention to negatives than positives and to experience bad things more intensely than good.
While this bias definitely helped to keep our ancestors alive in harsh and hostile environments, it can often be maladaptive in the modern world and in situations where we are in fact well, safe and fortunate.
Luckily, even if this is a natural tendency for us, we can actively retrain our brains to accentuate the positives and overwrite our Negativity Bias with Positivity Bias that hones in on all the good things in our lives.
One way to do this is to use a Gratitude Journal and take a few minutes each evening to focus in on the following three things
- Something good that happened to you today that you are grateful for
- Something you did well and are proud of
- Something that you are looking forward to tomorrow
This can be done around the dinner table each evening and recorded in a Family Gratitude Journal or can be done at bedtime just before sleep.
By practicing this on a consistent basis, you will find it becomes easier and easier to identify the positives and that you begin to carry that habit into your daily life in real time making it easier and more natural to look on the bright side.
Give it a go with an open mind and see how this technique works for you and your son. I’d love to hear how you get on!
For more expert advice on developing positivity in your child, check out our Learning with your child section.