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 lists 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 them.”
“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. 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?”
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 okay 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. Says Henley, “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.”
The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler
Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen
Simple Fun for Busy People: 333 Free Ways to Enjoy Your Loved Ones More in the Time You Have by Gary Krane, Ph.D.
Positivity and grief
Seeking silver linings isn’t always possible, especially if you’re grieving the loss of a loved one or dealing with personal crisis. Be gentle with yourself, give yourself time, and seek support.
Mental Health Resources:
The Counseling Place, 469.283.0242, counselingplace.org
Grant Halliburton Foundation, granthalliburton.org
Here For Texas, HereForTexas.com
Teen Talk Youth Health Education, teentalk.ca
Jed Foundation, jedfoundation.org
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, afps.org
National Institute for Mental Health, nimh.nih.gov