Don't Worry, Be Happy

Children learn optimism hope and the benefits of positivity from parents

(RxWiki News) From work conferences to self-help books, the benefits of positive thinking are apparent, and recent research shows that even young children can make sense of the advantage of light on the bright side.

A study performed at Jacksonville University and the University of California - Davis found that kindergartners understand that thinking positively leads to better feelings. These thoughts more readily came from children whose parents promote optimism at home.

"Teach children optimistic thinking by embracing hope and optimism yourself."

According to lead author on the study, Christi Bamford, Ph.D., of Jacksonville University, “The strongest predictor of children’s knowledge about the benefits of positive thinking—besides age—was not the child’s own level of hope and optimism, but their parents’.”

Dr. Bamford and her team worked with ninety children from five to ten years of age. The study gauged optimism through storytelling. Using six picture book stories with one optimistic and one pessimistic protagonist in each, researchers asked children to report their judgments on each character’s response in order to determine whether they could understand a difference.

Additionally, analysts had parents and children complete surveys judging levels of hope and optimism.

Even the youngest children understood that positive thinking made people feel better than negative thinking, which only became more conceptualized with age.

However, it was the five-year-old children that provided the strongest insight on the overall impact of polar thinking in everyday situations.

The stories involved positive, negative, and generally ambiguous situations such as getting a puppy, spilling a glass of milk, and meeting a teacher for the first time.

The two voices of the story provided a figurative angel and devil on the shoulder of the kindergarteners, and the students explained their thoughts on both.

Children struggled mostly in conceptualizing the benefits of positive thinking in negative circumstances, such as scraping a knee. In attempts to explain this to students, researchers found that the child’s ideas of hope and positivity gauged their ability to make sense of the benefit, and their parents’ views mattered most.

Findings suggest that parents need to make sure they are promoting healthy thought patterns at home, and Dr. Bamford explains, “In short, parents should consider modeling how to look on the bright side.”

The study is available through the journal Child Development.  

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Review Date: 
December 22, 2011