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Parent conversations: How can I help my child have an optimistic outlook?

I have seen many calls for 2020 to end so that we can start fresh in 2021. Yet let’s be honest. By the time January 1, 2021, ends, we’ll already have messed it up. We live in a sinful world, and we’ll always have reasons to grumble. But Christians have a beautiful hope and one perfect reason to rejoice. Hear more about how we can help our children reflect the reason for the hope we have—and also a beautiful example of an 11-year-old who can already express that hope confidently and eloquently.

— Nicole Balza

I GET IT. No parent wants a depressed, “failure to launch” adult child living in her basement. An optimistic outlook is one of the main things we wish for our children to pack in their suitcases—along with a strong faith in Jesus and financial acuity—when they move out of the house. It would seem, then, that there is only one right way for our kids to answer the question, “Is the glass half full or half empty?” if we want them to be successful, well-adjusted adults.

But what if it’s the wrong question? What if the point is not how we look at the contents of the glass but how we view the Giver of the glass? Taking it a step further, how can we wear “God’s glasses” to view the setbacks and challenges of life? We want to model seeing things from God’s perspective, trusting him for whatever he chooses to pour into our cups.

Just this week, God gave my family an opportunity to wear his glasses. After half a year of driving with his permit and half a lifetime waiting in line at the Motor Vehicle Department, our son was ready to take the road test. I was just as excited as he was as I sat in the waiting room. No more round trips to school and wrestling practice! Another driver in the family to run to the store! But all too soon, the MVD employee came back in and stated flatly, “He failed. He hit a cone during the three-point turn. Go back in line to reschedule.”

On the drive home, we discussed messaging. His friends would ask how he did. What would he tell them?

I said, “You could definitely be the victim in this story. Or God could be the hero. Your choice.” I confessed to my son that I was disappointed in the way the afternoon played out. I don’t want my son to think optimism comes easily to me and he’s the weird one if he struggles with despondency. Then we put on our “God glasses.” In our failures we are still forgiven and God picks us up, dusts us off, and encourages us to do better. We vowed to trust him even if we couldn’t see the good in it.

The following night, we spent over an hour practicing three-point turns in the MVD parking lot with the help of Smiley, a tattooed and weathered biker in a leather vest. Smiley voluntarily goes to the MVD after hours to help kids pass their driving tests. When I asked him why, Smiley lived up to his moniker as he replied, “Because I’m a Christian. It’s what we do.” If my son had passed his test the first time, we never would have met Smiley, and I never would have shared his story.

Later in the week, my son retook the test and passed. No cones were harmed! But the real success was how he learned to process the disappointment of failing. He practiced seeing God as the hero of his story and flexed his faith muscles.

By the grace of God, our kids will leave the house with an optimistic Christian outlook on life. It doesn’t come from avoiding hard things or denying the struggle. It comes from seeing things from God’s perspective, with his glasses. They will be prepared to give an answer for the hope they have: No matter what is in our cups, our God works all things for our good and his glory.

Liz Schroeder

PROVERBS 17:22 TELLS US, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Research (as usual) has echoed the truths of the Bible and has found that optimism is linked to better health, higher levels of resiliency, and longer life. Here are a few thoughts about how we can pass the gift of optimism to our children.

Practice positivity

So much of what children learn is “caught” rather than “taught,” and optimism is no exception. Do you typically utter negative phrases? (“Oh great, it’s going to be rainy again today.” “This is going to be bad.”) They may seem innocuous, but they reflect a pessimistic spirit and make an impression. If you tend toward the negative, make it a point for one week to verbalize only positive thoughts. Enlist the help of a friend or family member to encourage you. If you are still struggling, talk with a counselor to get strategies on how to modify your thoughts and words.

Purposeful gratitude

When my children pray at bedtime, without fail each child starts by thanking God for something that happened that day. Being thankful is a habit we’ve encouraged from little on, and thankfulness has been uttered in our house for everything from macaroni and cheese to successful play in a game to the joy of heaven for a loved one who has been called home. When we are able to consistently find the good by looking back at every day, we are more likely to anticipate and find the good that is to come. Routinely ask your children what they are thankful for and share your thoughts as well. Talk with them about the beauty of God’s creation, the goodness of his nature, and all the ways you have seen him work for good.

Play the positive “What if” game

“Since no one knows the future, who can tell someone else what is to come?” (Ecclesiastes 8:7). Even though Solomon’s words are obviously true, our children can often be tempted to assume the worst about the future. “What if I fail my math test?” “What if no one talks to me at recess?” “What if my game gets rained out?”

When I hear those negative assumptions, I like to play the positive “What if” game. Since we don’t know the future, why don’t we give energy to the opposite thought? “What if you ace your math test?” “What if you make a new friend?” “What if the rain stops just in time?”

If our children are going to write a story about their future, let’s help them write an optimistic one. After all, what we do know about our future is all good (Romans 8:28; John 14:3).

Plan or pray (or both!)

Finally, we can help our children have an optimistic outlook by teaching them how to move toward solutions. When we hear negative statements like the ones mentioned earlier, we can redirect our children toward a plan.

“What are some ways you could prepare for your math test so you can be successful?” “What could you say to someone at recess to start a conversation?” “If it does rain, what is something fun we could do instead?” We can help our children see what they have some control over and assist them in making choices that are more likely to lead to a positive outcome. And we can encourage them to give those aspects of life they can’t control over to God in prayer since he is the one who is in control.

As Christians who know the joy of heaven to come, we have every reason to be optimistic. Let’s encourage that attitude in our children and help them look to the future with hope and confidence.

Sarah Reik

Authors: Multiple authors
Volume 108, Number 1
Issue: January 2021

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This entry is part 31 of 71 in the series parent conversations

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