Last winter, my husband and I took our kids to visit several amusement parks in San Diego. After about our fourth day of kid-sized entertainment, my children were understandably tired. As we left an attraction one of my children came upon the store that is conveniently located where any passing child will definitely want to walk through it. After many days of hearing “no” when asked if we could buy something, my child was having a difficult time accepting the refusal. As I encouraged her to have a good attitude, she said some of the truest words I have ever heard come from her mouth, “But mom – it is hard to have a good attitude when we don’t get what we want.” And she is right.
However, just because something is difficult doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do it. It is important to teach our kids to have good attitudes. Doing so will help them now, and will help them as they develop into a fully functioning adult. After all, no one likes to work with the person who is complaining all the time. Teachers don’t commend students who are most known for the ability to whine. Even other little people prefer to be around those who are joyful and content regardless of the circumstances.
So here are a few tips for helping our children develop (and maintain) good attitudes.
1. Create conditions for success.
Kids are resilient and in the midst of growing and learning about the world, they can contend with a lot. However, sometimes as parents we may set them for failure because we push them to their limits. While being tired and exhausted doesn’t excuse a bad attitude, it may help explain it. We won’t be able to control every circumstance, but if we can limit the amount of times that we are asking young children to deal with challenging circumstances and physical exhaustion. Be the planner for your kids. This doesn’t mean just scheduling play dates and getting them to soccer matches. It also means that you take into account their individual needs and you don’t over-commit or over schedule them more than they are ready to handle.
When creating conditions for success, also consider the following:
- State clear expectations – make sure your kids know how you want them to behave – not just in concepts, but in particularity. If you are going somewhere they can’t run – and they are used to running all day – tell them that. It is better to have the discussion ahead of time than having to correct them after the fact.
- Acknowledge difficult moments – some days are going to be more challenging than others as are some certain circumstances. Talk to your children about these ahead of time. It can help them to know that they are going to have to work harder to have a good attitude so that they can mentally prepare for what lies ahead.
- Discuss the long-term consequences of their behavior – young children don’t know what we mean when we say we want them to grow to become “successful adults” so help paint the picture before them. For example – if someone doesn’t want want to share their toys – ask them what it would be like if no one shared. They are reacting to the moment; help them see the grander picture.
- Help them see beyond themselves – One day I wasn’t able to pick up my daughter at the time I said because there was a bad accident on the freeway. When she began to object to my tardiness, I told her the reason I was late and asked her to consider the other people whose day had been ruined because they were in the accident. Those individuals’ days were a whole lot worse than ours. And even at a young age – she could see that and her complaining was replaced with compassion.
2. Deal with the Behavior.
Although it may be inconvenient, don’t ignore bad behavior. Deal with it. Even when it messes with your schedule; even when it might make you embarrass. If you are around others, have a quiet talk with your child outside of the center of activity. But don’t just let it ride. Your job is to teach your children what is expected of them, not to make excuses on their behalf.
Conversely, celebrate good behavior. A LOT. Especially when your children are really young. They are learning and a great way to help someone learn is through affirmation. Even when it doesn’t seem like a big deal – try to make it a big deal. Does one child willingly share with another – give them a high-five and tell them why. Does your kid maintain a good attitude even when they are disappointed? Tell them that you know it was difficult, and you are so proud of them. We want right attitudes and behaviors to be the norm, so sometimes we don’t acknowledge them. DON’T DO THIS. Everyone likes to be told that they did a good job – even your two-year old who shows kindness to a friend.
3. Model right responses.
As has been said many times, when it comes to parenting, “more is caught than taught.” If we want our kids to have good attitudes even in challenging circumstances, we need to show them what that looks like by our words and behaviors. If they see us get upset at the inconveniences of life then they will too. If we grumble and complain when we don’t get our way, we should expect to experience the same with our kids. Conversely, if they see us giving thanks, being gracious, and maintaining joy even when life throws us unexpected twists and turns, we are more likely to see these characteristics exhibited in our kids. They may only pay attention to some of our words, but they will definitely pay attention to how we live our lives.
Helping our kids learn how to have and maintain good attitudes is not easy. They are going to be tempted and persuaded that it is their prerogative to express their displeasure and we are going to have to teach them to curtail those responses. But engaging in the work is worth it. It means that our kids are more likely to have good attitudes now, and to maintain those right responses as they become adults.
Recently I had the privilege of speaking to a group of moms regarding this subject. This is a summation of that talk. If you would like to listen/watch the whole thing, you can do so here.