Have you ever noticed that you (or your children) dwell on criticisms more than compliments? That bad news sticks with you and your students more than good news?
This is how the human brain works, even from a young age. Our well-meaning brains want to protect us and ensure our survival, so they constantly scan the environment for threats. The brain’s tendency to focus on the negative is called “negativity bias.”
So, if you’re worried that your children emphasize the negative, know that it’s normal. And there’s even better news: Thanks to a phenomenon called neuroplasticity, it’s possible to rewire the brain for positivity. If we help our children practice positivity, we train their brains to look on the bright side.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our FREE 5-Day Self Love Challenge for Kids (ages 5-11). These creative, science-based exercises will help your child train their brain to become more self-loving, confident, and capable of dealing with challenges and setbacks.
Accept and Validate All Emotions
Before we’re ready to practice positivity, let’s talk about emotions. Emotions are the navigation system that guides us through life, and we need all of them, both the good and the “bad.”
Although we want to help our children practice positivity, it’s vital to accept all emotions. Striving to be happy all the time creates emotional avoidance, which is at the root of many psychological problems. Plus, it negates feelings like guilt or sadness, which provide a moral compass and help us process difficult circumstances.
When your children are worried, sad, or mad, demonstrate empathy. Use phrases like, “This is hard,” or, “I understand why you feel that way. It makes sense to feel that way in this situation.”
Avoid phrases like:
- You’ll get over it.
- That’s no reason to be so upset.
- Stop whining!
- It’s not a big deal.
- Stop being so negative.
Children need to understand that all emotions are normal and valid. We don’t want to encourage children to hide or bury their feelings. Instead, teach children how to identify, accept, and process their feelings.
Teach strategies for coping with emotions like fear and anger, including deep breathing exercises, talking it out with a family member or friend, and engaging in activities like drawing and journaling.
How to Rewire Your Child’s Brain for Positivity
As you help children embrace all emotions, incorporate these seven strategies to highlight positivity and gratitude.
1. Play the Game “Unfortunately-Fortunately”
Play the game “unfortunately-fortunately” to point out the positive in every situation. This helps train the brain to look on the bright side.
Acknowledge the negative experience or emotion while also finding a positive aspect. For instance, you might say, “Unfortunately, we can’t go to school right now. Fortunately, we get to spend more time together as a family. And we can wear our PJs!”
You may have to supply the “fortunately” or prompt your children the first few times you play the game, but children will pick up on it quickly.
2. Think Aloud to Model Resilience
As always, we can’t expect children to demonstrate skills we haven’t mastered ourselves. Practice “unfortunately-fortunately” with your own difficult situations.
When you make a mistake, think aloud about what you learned from the experience or how you will handle a similar situation differently in the future.
Verbally highlight the moments of joy and beauty that occur throughout your day. Often, small moments of positivity last 10-20 seconds. Unless we take a few minutes to acknowledge and process them, they are easily forgotten.
Model this positive attitude for your children, and they’ll soak it up like sponges.
3. Journal Together
Journaling is an excellent activity that can foster reflection and positivity—and, when done together, connection. The Big Life Journal is full of creative ideas that will help both you and your child focus on the positive. You can also keep a simple gratitude journal together.
At the end of each day, join your children in writing three things you were grateful for that day, including people, experiences, or accomplishments. It can be anything, no matter how small it seems.
If you’re consistent with the gratitude journal, it will teach your child’s brain to scan for positives too. When your children have difficult experiences, their minds will automatically go to a place of “…but I’m grateful for ____________.” They will also learn to recognize all of the wonderful things, people, and moments in their lives that might normally go unacknowledged.
You can expand this practice by having every family member keep a gratitude journal. At the end of the week, have a meeting or meal at which every family member shares their three favorite moments of gratitude that week.
4. Give a Daily Shout-Out
At least once each day, take a moment to let someone know you’ve noticed something positive about them. Like the gratitude journal, this can be a family-wide practice.
For instance, you might tell your daughter, “You picked up your toys so we could have a clean, safe space. That was helpful!” Or you could tell your son, “I saw that you helped your sister tie her shoe so she wouldn’t trip. That was kind!”
Don’t forget to download the 5-Day Self-Love Challenge for Kids (ages 5-11) to help your child become more self-loving and confident!
5. Practice Kindness
Even small acts of kindness boost happiness levels and release “feel-good chemicals” in the brain. In fact, research shows that the effects of kindness on the brain are the same for the person who performs the kind act, the person who receives it, and all witnesses to the act of kindness. So, if you want to promote positivity within your family, simply being kind goes a long way.
Talk to your children about how they can be kind and helpful to your family, friends, the community, and the wider world.
In addition, focus on acts of kindness from others, especially in stressful or uncertain times. As Mr. Rogers says, “Look for the helpers.”
6. Take “Wonder Walks”
Small moments of beauty, wonder, and joy are easily forgotten if we don’t take the time to soak them in. Take “wonder walks” or “wonder wanders” with your children. Point out flowers, animals, the warm sunshine, bird songs, families laughing together, etc.
After the walk, ask children to draw pictures of some of their most awe-inspiring observations.
7. Stay Present
Mindfulness is a focused awareness of the present moment, and it’s perhaps the most powerful way to increase positivity and happiness. Being mindful means observing the moment as it is without judging it.
It can pull our attention away from negativity, anxiety, and rumination. It can help us notice those small moments of positivity, like a smile, a hug, or a caring gesture from a sibling.
Activities that promote mindfulness include:
- Deep belly breaths (breathe in through the nose with the belly going, then out through the mouth with the belly going in)
- Take mindful walks
- Ask children to draw their emotions
- Play the “quiet game,” asking children to be as quiet as possible with both their voices and their bodies. Afterward, ask children what they saw or heard while they were being so quiet. Ask them to try to keep that quiet, peaceful feeling in their bodies as they go on to the next part of their day.
- Try the 5-4-3-2-1 mindfulness/grounding technique (Children note 5 things they see, 4 things they can touch, 3 things they can hear, 2 things they can smell, and 1 thing they can taste)
Like a trusty guard dog, our brains will always try to protect us by staying alert to threats. But with these simple strategies, we can train children’s brains (and our own) to focus on beauty, joy, kindness, gratitude, and positivity too.Looking for more ways to help your child with negative self-talk? We offer an on-demand How to Transform Negative Self-Talk into Self-Love masterclass for parents where you'll learn why your child has negative self-talk and effective practices to help them turn it into self-love."