Thinking clearly, effectively, and positively is essential for success in all areas of life, and it is important for parents and carers to help young people develop positive thinking patterns. Positive thinking is a way of finding the good in both specific situations and life in general. Positive thinking doesn’t mean you bury your head in the sand and ignore problems that arise. It means you choose to approach life’s hurdles in a productive and solution-focused manner. Positive thinking not only helps people feel better and builds emotional resilience, it also improves decision-making, problem solving, communication and relationships. Teens struggling with positive thinking may compare themselves to others and believe that they aren’t as worthwhile as others. They may lack self-control, may blame others for circumstances, can be impulsive or reckless in their behaviour, may have low self-esteem and struggle to build supportive relationships with others.
Our top tips for encouraging positive thinking are:
- Set a positive example. Modelling a positive attitude is one of the most effective ways to influence your family, so start presenting your thoughts in a positive way, for even the most trivial of situations. Also, try to limit self-criticism whilst in the presence of your teenager.
- Encourage your teen to celebrate their achievements and acknowledge success. For example, if your child says “I got 80%, but I stuffed up an entire section”, encourage your child with a constructive response such as “That’s a good mark. There’s no need to be too hard on your-self! If that one section was a bit tough, maybe you can talk to the teacher about it.” Paying attention to your child’s small achievements will increase their confidence and improve chances of future success.
- Encourage your child to avoid “catastrophizing” and look for the positives. Teenagers who experience additional life stress or heightened anxiety may often think of the worst-case scenario and underestimate their ability to cope. If you notice this behaviour in your teen, an effective way to address this is to firstly, listen nonjudgmentally, acknowledge their feelings, and resist the urge to lecture. Once you sense that your child feels understood, help them develop an alternative, more realistic way of thinking. For example, if a teenager is assuming she will fail her maths exam, gently provide evidence as to why this might not be a realistic assumption by saying something like “Well, I can see you’ve been working really hard and you’ve never failed in the past”.
- Model solution-focused thinking. Try statements that both acknowledge the problem, but also frame a potential positive solution: “I can’t believe I forgot to thaw the roast for dinner — guess we get to order pizza instead!”
- Model gratitude. Being grateful helps you appreciate the way life is right now. It helps you see the beauty in the small things and the great things in life we often take for granted. Have each member of the household list three things they are grateful for whilst sitting around the dinner table.
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- Provide positivity through affirmation. Surround your family with a positive environment, where people are treated with respect, their concerns listened to, and their good qualities are acknowledged. Find ways to meaningfully affirm, compliment, or thank your teen on a regular basis. Compliments might relate to a specific situation such as “You’ve worked really hard to pull the assignment together as best you can, even though your partner was sick — it’s been a lot of extra work for you”. Compliments may also be given even if they don’t relate to a specific behaviour, for example: “I really love being your mum”.
- Avoid “all or nothing” definitions of success. Instead, gently encourage your teen to break big goals or tasks into smaller steps. This not only makes large projects more manageable (and therefore achievable), it also creates several success markers along the way — each one of which can be acknowledged and celebrated.
- Avoid comparisons. Not everyone can make the team, top the class, and win a scholarship — instead, each person has their own unique abilities and qualities that make them special. Instead of focusing on how others perform, focus on your child’s special attributes and help your child recognise them too.
Remember, additional help is always available. If your teen is struggling to maintain a positive outlook, feel free to touch base with our professional counsellors on (02) 9416 0900, chat with your school welfare staff, or check with organisations such as HeadSpace or Youth BeyondBlue for further resources.