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5 Steps To Raising Optimistic Children

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5 Steps To Raising Optimistic Children

I had just completed a session with 17-year old Julie who suffered from severe depression. Julie believed she was a total failure and would never be able to change anything in her life. Julie also felt all her shortcomings were her own fault.
Where, I ask myself, did such a young person acquire this negative and fatalistic thinking?

The answer soon became apparent when I invited her parents into the session. They began discussing numerous life events and explaining them in ways that their children were learning. The car, for example, got dented because you can’t trust anybody these days; Mom yelled at brother because she was in a bad mood; you can’t get ahead in this world unless you know somebody, etc.

As a parent, your own thinking style is always on display and your children are listening intently!

The Importance of Optimism

Why should you want your child to be an optimist? Because, as Dr. Martin Seligman explains: “Pessimism (the opposite of optimism) is an entrenched habit of mind that has sweeping and disastrous consequences: depressed mood, resignation, underachievement and even unexpectedly poor physical health.”

Children with optimistic thinking skills are better able to interpret failure, have a stronger sense of personal mastery and are better able to bounce back when things go wrong in their lives.

Because parents are a major contributor to the thinking styles of their children’s developing minds, it is important to adhere to the following five steps to ensure healthy mental habits in your children.

How Parents Can Help

Step 1: Learn to think optimistically yourself. What children see and hear indirectly from you as you lead your life and interact with others influences them much more than what you try to ‘teach’ them.

You can model optimism for your child by incorporating optimistic mental skills into your own way of thinking. This is not easy and does not occur over night. But with practice, almost everyone can learn to think differently about life’s events – even parents!

Step 2: Teach your child that there is a connection between how they think and how they feel. You can do this most easily by saying aloud how your own thoughts about adversity create negative feelings in you.

For example, if you are driving your child to school and a driver cuts you off, verbalize the link between your thoughts and feelings by saying something like “I wonder why I’m feeling so angry; I guess I was saying to myself: ‘Now I’m going to be late because the guy in front of me is going so darn slow. If he is going to drive like that he shouldn’t drive during rush hour. How rude.’”

Step 3: Create a game called ‘thought catching.’ This helps your child learn to identify the thoughts that flit across his or her mind at the times they feel worst. These thoughts, although barely noticeable, greatly affect mood and behavior.

For instance, if your child received a poor grade, ask: “When you got your grade, what did you say to yourself?”

Step 4: Teach your child how to evaluate automatic thoughts. This means acknowledging that they things you say to yourself are not necessarily accurate.

For instance, after receiving the poor grade your child may be telling himself he is a failure, he is not as smart as other kids; he will never be able to succeed in school, etc. Many of these self-statements may not be accurate, but they are ‘automatic’ in that situation.

Step 5: Instruct your child on how to generate more accurate explanations (to themselves) when bad things happen and use them to challenge your child’s automatic but inaccurate thoughts. Part of this process involves looking for evidence to the contrary (good grades in the past, success in other life areas, etc).

Another skill to teach your child to help him or her think optimistically is to ‘decatastrophize’ the situation – that is – help your child see that the bad event may not be as bad or will not have the adverse consequences imagined. Few things in life are as devastating as we fear, yet we blow them up in our minds.

Parents can influence the thinking styles of their children by modeling the principals of optimistic thinking.

2005 © Dr. Tony Fiore All rights reserved.
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BONUS : 5 Steps You Can Take To Ensure Your Kids Are Ready For College

College may be many years away… or it may be just around the corner. Whether your kids are 6 or 16, it is important that you prepare them for college long before the time comes for them to attend.

For many children going to college is a rite of passage. For others it is an unknown, a world of mystery.

You never know, your child may not even be sure if they want to attend college to begin with.

You’ll never know if you don’t take the time to sit down and talk with your kids about college. While you are doing this, you should also consider participating in 5 steps that will help prepare your kids for college long before that first monumental day.

Step 1: Communicate with your child about their goals and dreams. You have to keep the lines of communication open at all times. If you never talk to your child about what they want to do later in life, you won’t have a sense of what their goals, dreams and aspirations are. If on the other hand you regularly engage your children in conversations about education and their future, you’ll learn early on the types of studies that might interest them and can help them make important decisions about their college career when the time comes.

Step 2: Stay involved in education. You have to be involved in your child’s education from day one. It’s not enough to take an active interest their first day of college. Ask them how they are doing in school regularly, talk with them about the classes they like and the ones they are struggling with. They will be more likely to lean on you for support during their college years.

Step 3: Encourage your children to explore new things and subjects early. Don’t wait until they are about to head off to college to encourage them to try new things. Start when they are young. Expose them to different subjects, music, sports and other creative activities so they have a chance to experience as much of the world as possible before they make the giant leap to college.

Step 4: Don’t push. You should be available for your children when they have questions about college or pursuing a career, but you shouldn’t be overly aggressive about pushing them toward attending or even going to a particularly school. Why? Your efforts may actually backfire and you may find that your teenager decides to forgo an education all together, not because they aren’t interested, but because they want to defy your strict orders.

Step 5: Teach your child to start saving early. College is expensive. As time goes on your child may find themselves spinning a wheel of deeper and deeper debt. Teach them to be financially responsible early on by helping them set up a savings account. It doesn’t have to be for school or college only, but it will help teach them the value of saving a dollar. While you are at it, save some money too.

Preparing your children for college is a big step, but a worthy one. You’re children will thank you one day for taking time out of your schedule to help them through their college years.
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