New Year, New Attitude
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 psychologist Dr. Kristen Hensley.
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.”
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, 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.
Reframe negative thoughts
Rather than trying to ignore them, work with cynical thoughts that creep into your head. Mostaffa suggests asking yourself grounding questions like: “What’s the evidence that thought is true?” “What’s the evidence that thought is not true?” “What’s the worst thing that could happen?" “What’s the best thing that could happen?" “And what’s the most likely thing to happen?”
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 themselves.” “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 and help it become a more natural part of everyday life.”
Create a vision board
Imagine what you and your family would like to accomplish in the year ahead. Either make a family vision board or individual ones. Grab a stack of old magazines, scissors, glue and poster board. Cut out inspiring words, quotes and pictures. Ask each other questions like: “What are our dreams for the coming year?” “What do we want to see happen in our lives?” “What would an ideal vacation look like?”
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.”
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.