by Christa Melnyk Hines
Want to bring more joy into your home this year? Try shifting your mindset. Not only can adopting a more optimistic attitude create a happier life, you’ll influence how well your kids respond to life’s daily challenges too.
“Children watch their parents. They pick up on moods and beliefs. A positive attitude is contagious–as is a negative attitude,” says Dr. Kristen Hensley, a family psychologist specializing in positive psychology.
Positively rewarding. A positive outlook boosts productivity, energy and motivation; helps reduce stress; enhances confidence and self-esteem; benefits health and even improves relationships with others.
“A positive attitude can also help us be more flexible in our thinking and make seeing solutions to problems easier,” Hensley says. “Looking for silver linings in life can help build mental resilience and general optimism.”
Practice self-awareness. Try tracking your moods to get a better sense of what you’ll need to do to better care for yourself each day.
Jessica Mostaffa, a early childhood mental health specialist and therapist who works with mothers suffering from depression, says this tactic helps her clients take a more mindful approach to their day-to-day emotional well being.
Make a happiness list. Brainstorm a list of activities that help you feel better when you’re feeling depleted. Your list might include taking a warm shower, watching a comedy, gardening or taking a walk with a friend.
“When moms start working on increasing time for themselves, it not only decreases depressive symptoms, but they also report having a better, more positive relationship and interactions with their children, partners and others in the home,” Mostaffa says.
Invite your kids to make lists, too. When they’re angry or upset, they can turn to their list to help them manage their emotions in a healthy way. For example, shoot hoops, listen to music, draw, read or call a trusted friend.
Watch how you say it. Notice how you describe your obligations to yourself or others. For instance instead of saying “It’s my responsibility to make sure the kids have their homework done,” you might say “It’s my privilege to make sure that my children are doing what’s best for them.”
“It’s those subtle shifts that have profound effects on our lives,” says Carla McClellan, an ACC-certified life coach.
Voice your gratitude. Foster positive thinking at meal time by inviting your family to share three things for which they feel grateful and why. Bedtime is a good time to reflect on the day too.
“Daily affirmations can be powerful,” Hensley says. “These don’t have to be major things either. A five-year-old might say she’s grateful for the cupcake she got at school for a classmate’s birthday celebration because it made her happy. The purpose is to teach this kind of thinking. ”
Set intentions. Alongside your daily to-do list, make a “to-be” list. Every morning set your intention. Ask yourself “who am I willing to be today?” Kind? Loving? Generous? Enthusiastic?
“An intention is a laser focus for our energy. When we claim who we are willing to be, we can be that,” McClellan says.
Encourage quiet time. Quiet, unplugged time helps nurture creative thinking, problem-solving and stress reduction. Gear down before bedtime as a family. Read together, draw or watch a show. This time together helps kids decompress and gives them space to express worries, concerns or stories from the day.
Weigh the positive and negative. If your child is troubled by a situation at school or at home, encourage him to write down a positive thought about it on a card. On the opposite side, have him write the negative thought.
“Then you can discuss with your child each side, how each makes him or her feel, and what the consequences of each side might be,” Hensley says. “Remind children that it’s OK to have negative thoughts and feelings. We just don’t want them to rule our lives.”
Play together. Experts agree, families who play together tend to be happier and more deeply connected. Whether you throw the football, compete in a game of cards, dance to funky music in your living room, or make up games on a car ride, play will strengthen your relationship with each other.
Experiment with what works for your family. “All of these types of activities and rituals are very important because they’re modeling a positive attitude, building a healthy way of thinking and interacting with the world, and helping children understand the link between thoughts, feelings and behaviors,” Hensley says.
Freelance journalist Christa Melnyk Hines and her husband are the parents of two boys. Christa’s latest book is Happy, Healthy and Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital World.