How to Teach Your Kids Positive Thinking & Inner Motivation

"Dear Aspire, I'm in the middle of watching your latest podcast and there's really great information here! I had a thought while watching. As a parent, I struggle with two things currently: a) How can I encourage / inspire the kiddos to think positively and create inner motivation, and b) What resources would be beneficial for them to use that would be intelligible to them considering their reading / thought level?"

Thank you for your question and your kind words! I'll be happy to provide my thoughts, although just to be clear, I do not have any kids as of yet so my responses will a bit theoretical. To those parents out there who would like to contribute to this discussion and share their experiences, please submit them here or post them in our discussion group. I'm going to organize my thoughts here into three categories: positive thinking, inner motivation, and age-appropriate resources.

Positive Thinking

Positive thinking is about maintaining a certain default optimism and about learning how to deal with frustration / anger so they can calm themselves down and get back into positivity quickly. 

For defaulting to optimism, the first step is the same for everyone: they need to be taking care of themselves physically. Are they getting enough sleep? Are they eating healthy foods? Are they overly preoccupied with certain stressors? Are they getting sufficient exercise? Do they feel like they are getting quality time with you where they have your full attention? Perhaps you could schedule a quick, five to ten minute weekly meeting each week, maybe on Sunday afternoons, so you are getting consistent feedback from them about how they are feeling relating to each of these key areas. I think it also subtly conveys to them that you take their opinion seriously when making decisions about their lives. 

You also want to be laying the psychological foundation for them to have a healthy relationship with themselves as adults. The most direct way to do this is to set a good example yourself as someone who consistently demonstrates mental stability and quality self-care. This will put you in a position to provide a high quality example. You will also be more skilled in these particular areas if you are also applying them to your own life so that when you give advice you will be speaking from direct experience.

Returning to tactics, the #1 best way to build a great relationship with yourself is doing affirmations. This is a topic we will be covering at Aspire in depth over the coming months. You can't really order the kids to do affirmations, but you can do them yourself, explain to the kids what affirmations are, and encourage any interest on their part. Remember, if you can help kindle a deeply held love for the self in your children, you are going to be saving them from decades or possibly a lifetime of dating people who aren't going to treat them well. So that's one of the best gifts you could possibly give them. 

Related to anger and lashing out, they need to be learning how to calm themselves down. For younger children, I would say to hold them while you do meditational breathing. If they will let you when they get older, try holding them close to you in a big hug until they calm down. This is circumstance dependent because you don't want them feeling confined, so if they want to remove themselves then you want to allow that as well. 

Since your kids are older but still young enough to listen to you (both children are 10 right now), I would suggest taking an approach oriented around talking through difficult emotions when they arise. A great tool for this on our website is the Magic Mirror, which is a series of questions to help someone understand and work through rage. You can work through the exercise together, discussing various issues as the arise. This is most likely to work if the anger is not directed at you, i.e. she's mad at one of her friends and you work through the exercise with her to help her learn the process of evaluating her own emotions. Ideally you could also get both kids to agree to use our suggested conflict resolution process with you and amongst each other as ya'll enter the tricky teenage years.

One of the most effective ways for kids, especially teenagers, to calm down is music. Consider encouraging each child to make a playlist full of songs that make them feel a specific emotion. One good playlist would be songs that make her happy (it's individual to each child). Another great one is songs encouraging relaxation. Maybe she could make a high energy one for working out or getting motivated. When appropriate, perhaps also a playlist of breakup songs since romantic loss is such a difficult emotion to feel. 

Returning to teaching them to calm down, I've also discovered a helpful product called the Mind Machine. I use this as an emergency reset on my brain if I find myself in a situation where I just cannot calm down because I'm so angry. What it does is use light and sound to essentially force your brain to calm down. It is not possible to mentally resist calming down as long as you lay there for the fifteen minutes with the glasses and the headphones on. Try it for yourself and then potentially suggest your kids use it when they get in one of those mental spaces where they aren't calming down. I really cannot say enough good things about this device and I'm shocked that nobody seems to know about it. If you want to do some Google'ing about it, search for "binaural beats" and then imagine a more intense sensation because the sound is also sychronized to light pulses in this case. 

I would also encourage any interest the kids express in any sort of mindfulness practice: yoga, tai chi, meditation, etc. You can subtly try to spark interest in one or more of these by doing them yourself and then inviting them to join you. Any of the striking based martial arts, such as Karate or Tai Kwon Do, would also be helpful in providing a safe avenue for releasing aggression. 

Inner Motivation

This is so key and I'm glad you have honed in on it. It's easy to accidentally give our kids the message that they get more love if they achieve. It's so human to get excited when they accomplish something. But what they really need from you is an understanding that they will be loved no matter what. They do not have to do anything at all or avoid any one particular thing to get your love. You will still love them no matter what they do and no matter what they achieve or don't achieve. Try to verbally express this sentiment weekly, if not daily. Say things like "I love you no matter what." You want them feeling emotionally secure now and in the future that they don't have to do any particular action to get love. They get love no matter what. Think about how much potential mental pressure / stress / anxiety that relieves for them. 

Motivation is really about what gets encouraged. I would try to take an unschooling-type of approach to their interests, in which you try to say yes to whatever they become curious about. What excites your kids right now? Whatever it is, lean into it. If one of them likes taking pictures of nature, do everything you can to encourage that. If she changes her mind and gets into soccer instead, become a soccer aficionado. Add encouragement to whatever directions their inner person takes them. Remember from your own life that your path was really a series of experiments, many of them very different sorts of activities, in which you learned and eventually honed in on what you wanted out of life. The key is to have them choosing the experiments for themselves (within reason), rather than having it inflicted onto them. They have to choose the experiments if we want the result to be their own self learning.

So many parents accidentally make the mistake of dictating to kids what activities they have to do or what areas they need to be interested in. They mean well because they are trying to equip their children with tools for success in the world, but they are accidentally mentally crippling their children by not allowing the kids to develop a sense of authority and choice over their own lives. A stable adult is someone capable of making their own choices and you need to help them practice this skill while you are still there to protect them.

Age Appropriate Resources

Since every child is different, the ultimate age-appropriate resource is you being mentally present and able to talk through difficult emotions with them as they arise in that moment. Think of your own path as building a mental muscle which is going to allow you to in turn teach your children how to build up their own mental capacities. 

Because the mind has a tendency to think in and remember stories, simple fictional tales told verbally (ie. fables / fairy tales / bedtime stories) are a great way to impart significant life lessons. We are in the process of compiling a series of stories which have been specifically curated to convey important values to the next generation. These will later be categorized by appropriate age level. 

By the way, dear reader, if you hear a story / fable / parable which you think would make a good addition to our collection, please send it to us

Anyway, I would consider actually reading these stories to the kids out loud as bedtime stories. You want repeated exposure so they remember the stories. I'll have to think through the details further, but ideally as they get older they would start telling you the stories and ya'll could discuss the lessons contained in each of them. Maybe start with one or two stories which are significant to you, tell those, and go from there if that seems to be working for you. You want these stories to simply appear in your kid's minds, when needed, years from now. 

Hopefully this has provided some helpful information related to your question! All of our readers are encouraged to submit their questions here or in our discussion group

This article is about having positive thoughts. We evaluate positive thinking and how to have a positive attitude. We also examine how to teach our kids how to think positive, which includes various self esteem activities. Having a positive mind is a great first step in having a happy life. We provide simple positive thinking exercises so that you and your children will have a positive mindset.