How to Encourage Optimism in Children

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Disappointment and hopelessness in childhood are frequent. Helping children overcome negative thoughts from an early age can go a long way in making them self-reliant hopeful individuals in the future.

In his book ‘Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life,’ Martin Seligman mentioned three benefits of making children optimistic:

1. It calls for better health.

2. Optimism implies better academic and extracurricular performance.

3. It builds resilience and strength to sail through tough times.

To encourage children to think better of themselves and their lives, here are some strategies parents, teachers, and counselors can use.

Optimistic self-talk

Modeling positive self-talk is a great way to promote optimism in children. For example, parents can talk about their day at work and invite children to share about their day at school.

Exchanging simple thoughts about what they liked about today, what made them feel bad, and discussing how they are planning to make the most of the next day can be a simple yet powerful start to cultivating positive thinking in a child.


Empathy begins with acknowledging the child’s feelings. Children who feel heard and attended at home usually grow up to become conscious and empathetic individuals.

Parents and teachers can use simple statements such as ‘I can understand how you feel,’ or ‘ I would have felt the same if I were you’ to model empathetic behavior.

Learning how to empathize teaches a child to understand and accept, and helps him to reflect the same during stressful times later.

Focus on effort rather than results

Seligman stressed the role of the right attitude in building optimism. Positive thinkers always focus more on the process than the results. For example, encouraging children to participate in activities without worrying about who wins and who loses is a great message for nurturing this faith.

Parents who appreciate children for their efforts are successful in raising children who believe in themselves and never stop trying.

Recalling happier times

Negative thinking may drive a child to believe that bad times never end. As caregivers or counselors, we can motivate them to recall past experiences, which made them sad initially, but they could later overcome it.

Asking questions such as ‘How did you feel when you got a better outcome than you had expected?’ can help them introspect and find hope from within.

Changing perspective

A shift from negative to positive perspective can be both the cause and the consequence of optimism. Helping children understand that it is practically impossible always to have things the way we want is a significant step to make them insightful.

Once they learn to manage their expectations and look into any matter with rational reasoning, they automatically tune in to their optimistic self.

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