This article first appeared in the September-October 2003 issue of Smart Parenting magazine
Every parent dreams of having children who are secure, well adjusted, and generally happy and positive in life. But what gives children a happy disposition? Are they born optimistic or is this dependent on their environment?
Bella A. Villarin, guidance counselor at the Ateneo de Manila High School, describes the optimistic child as someone who is “bubbly, always smiling, laughs with gusto, has excitement coming from within, sociable, assertive and confident.”
According to her, optimism is more than just being happy or looking at the brighter side of things. “It is likewise recognizing that there are little rocks along the way of life and that through hard work these challenges may be overcome. Optimism is synonymous to wellness,” she says.
Optimism: Inborn or acquired? Villarin says that a child’s optimism may both be inborn and acquired. “There is the heredity factor. Genes that make up outgoing and assertive people may produce an optimistic child,” she says.
Another factor is the mother’s disposition when pregnant with her child. “While in the womb, a baby usually imbibes the nature of the mother,” Villarin adds.
But for those mothers who may have had difficult or emotionally stressful pregnancies, all is not lost. Villarin adds that a child’s optimism may also be acquired through a conscious effort from the people who are raising the child, and his child’s environment. “When a child is in a nurturing environment and is allowed to express herself and her feelings, then this contributes to a happy well-being,” she adds.
Happy parents, happy children Have you noticed that when you’re in a bad mood, your child also becomes a bit agitated or somewhat reserved? A parent’s frame of mind, attitude and character can affect and even shape the personality of a child.
Villarin advises parents to reevaluate the goals, values and principles they’d like to impart to their kids. “Parents should sit down as a couple and share their views in life. From these, they should check how they can blend their priorities and raise their children to how they want them to be,” she advises.
It is important for a child to be in a setting that lives out the life that you want your child to eventually lead. Villarin adds, “Children model according to what they see. They learn from parents how problems are tackled, decisions are made and values are put to use. How you handle your life will definitely reflect on your children.”
Kathy M. Santos, mother of two, says, “Before I couldn’t help but be moody and tired when I’d come home from work especially when I had to deal with a difficult customer or I couldn’t resolve a problem at work. I noticed that my children would be reserved and would keep to themselves.”
A talk with the school’s counselor revealed that Kathy’s children saw her as unapproachable and one who easily blows a fuse when irked. “I knew then that I shouldn’t let my work’s stresses be carried over to my home,” Kathy says. Kathy then made an effort to leave concerns that are related to work at the office, and this has helped lighten the atmosphere at home.
Happiness and optimism in children stem from a healthy self-esteem. This is the basis of a child’s well-being and a key to his success as an adult. Parents are the main source of a child’s self-worth. Nurture your child’s positive self-image to help him sail through life’s challenges and appreciate its many joys.
Building self-esteem According to Villarin, here are a few ways to build your child's self-esteem:
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1. Express your feelings “As a parent, you have to have a paradigm shift and be able to express yourself to your children both verbally and physically. Learning to do so teaches your children to express themselves too and they become more loving and sure of themselves.”
2. Communicate. Listen actively to your child. Share insights and experiences. Villarin suggests swapping stories of the days’ events during mealtimes, and having a one-on-one “date” with your child to allow him to feel that this time is his. You can also engage in sports together or talk in the car while you’re caught in traffic. “Sometimes parents take the presence of their children for granted. They may be physically there but not really communicating with their children. Avoid saying ‘hmmm’ or ‘yes’ to pretend that you are listening. Children can perceive this. This is actually an insult to them,” Villarin says.
3. Teach kids to accept their strengths and limitations. Kids who know what they can and cannot do are often more sure of themselves. They display more confidence in their capabilities and are more assured of what they want to achieve in life.
4. Avoid comparisons. Be aware of your children’s different personalities. Enhance their strengths. Make sure that each child believes that you value him for who he is and not for what he can do. Avoid comments like, “Why can’t you be as neat as your sister?” or “Look, your brother can play basketball really well. You should try to shoot more baskets next time.”
5. Be mindful of your choice of words. The words that we use when talking to our children can make a big difference in their lives. Words can break their spirit more than spanking or beating can. Villarin says, “Instead of saying that an action is ‘bad,’ say it's ‘not good’.”
6. Affirm verbally and physically. Children need to be constantly affirmed especially if they have done something wrong and have been corrected or punished for it. Villarin says that when correcting, be sure that you distinguish the action from the person. “Verbalize that you love him, but you do not like what he did. Make sure you make eye contact and if need be, sit down so that you can be at eye level. Assure the child of your love.”