Help Children Face Challenges in a Positive Way
Positive thinking: the ability to face adversity with a hoped-filled frame of mind, to “look on the bright side” or see the “silver lining” despite challenges or feelings of disappointment or frustration.
Many adults have developed effective ways to cope with some of the trials and tribulations that are a natural part of life. If only it were so simple when it comes to helping children develop their own ways to cope with the more challenging moments in life. What can parents do to help their children grow into adults who can confront life’s frustrations and limitations without becoming overwhelmed?
The ability to maintain a positive outlook comes easier for some than it does for others. Is it innate or inherent, or is there something in one’s upbringing that fosters a positive way of looking at things? The answer likely lies somewhere in between, but there are strategies parents can try to help their children learn how to tackle challenges with strength and confidence.
Positive thinking stems in part from an ability to cope with a range of feelings without becoming overwhelmed. In infancy and toddlerhood, children depend on their parents for help with managing these emotions. Gradually, children develop their own ways to cope with emotional struggles and push through tasks, taking in the loving support and guidance of their parents along the way.
Let’s consider some of the aspects of development that play a role in a child’s emerging ability to approach tasks in a positive way.
Over time, children become more independent and parents gradually pull back on their help, replacing the act of stepping in with words of support, praise and encouragement. Take, for example, the task of getting dressed. The transition from parents dressing a child to a child happily dressing himself doesn’t occur overnight. In the process, there are periods of growth and moving forward as well as the inevitable backslides and moments of frustration. The manner in which a parent offers help can provide important lessons for a young child — lessons that are less about the specific task and more about how to understand feelings that have surfaced.
At 4 or 5 years old, meaningful support involves identifying feelings for the child in the context of the task, saying, for instance, “My, what a lovely job you did today! You must be feeling strong and proud — you didn’t give up on that button!” Or, on harder days, “Oh, those sleeves are so tricky! I can see that it is upsetting you and that makes it feel even harder. I can help if you’d like.”
In cases in which coping with challenges seems to be more difficult than what is developmentally appropriate, seeking the help of a professional may be beneficial.
Ask for Help
Keeping in mind that “staying positive” means one does not become overwhelmed when faced with challenges, an important lesson for children is to recognize the moments when it is okay — even admirable — to ask for help. There are always going to be limitations in what anyone can achieve on his own. By identifying feelings, recognizing strengths and assisting with struggles, parents can help their children know themselves in a way that leads them to understand and see both the upside and the downside to any given challenge. This type of self-knowledge can only be helpful to children as they learn how to assess situations and approach life’s challenges with a positive outlook.
The Lucy Daniels Center is a nonprofit agency in Cary that promotes the emotional health and well-being of children and families.