A book was published in 1993 with the title Getting Your Kids to Say “No” in the ’90s When You Said “Yes” in the ’60s. A generation later, whether your greatest fear for your children involves socially destructive behavior or low self-esteem, the basic dilemma remains: Kids do as you do, not as you say. Even if you stopped doing it long ago, they may use your past record against you when you try to keep them from doing it. So how do you influence your children toward the good when you’re ashamed of your own record?
Let’s say you’ve been a lifelong grumbler, always fretting over what the world’s coming to, moaning about how nothing ever goes right for you. Now, you’re seeing your children exhibiting the same habits—expecting the worst, putting themselves down, rarely trying anything new for fear of failure—and it hurts to see them making themselves so unhappy. You want them to believe in their own potential and have hope for the future, but how can you encourage them in the right direction after telling them by example that pessimistic is the way to be?
First, stop setting that example. If you continue in your own pessimistic ways, it will do little good to tell your children verbally that they can expect good things, even if you criticize only yourself and not the larger world. If by your own admission you’re rarely right about anything, why should they trust your opinion of their potential?
That’s not to say changing the negativity habit is easy—plus, if you start off by vowing, “I’ll never complain again in my life,” you’re likely to slide back into even firmer pessimism when “never again” proves impossible. There are better ways to ease from pessimism into optimism:
Ultimately, your children will be more influenced toward positive thinking if they witness your own process of changing for the better. Your example is now telling them that no one is hopeless and that perseverance pays off. What could better model optimism?