Optimism is often a hard one to teach. Young children like to generalize optimism to mean, “I will be happy all the time otherwise it’s bad.” Well . . . that thought process is only erasing every single emotional awareness lesson I ever taught.
This year I was trying to think of a way to make optimism an internal feeling and not an outward display of happiness. How do we feel hopeful about things even in our darkest days? Positive self-talk! And then the Shield of Optimism was born . . .
Positive self-talk is the amazing ability to tell ourselves just how special and important and good and wonderful we are so that we have the resilience to approach difficult situations with confidence. I took this approach when teaching my K-4 students about optimism. We should talk to ourselves like we would a great friend . . . and if that’s not happening, then let’s look at how we fix it.
I gave them this role play to reenact:
Your friend just got their math test grade and received an F, even though he tried really hard! I want you to look at your friend and tell him he is stupid and is bad at math.
Insert: a shake of a head and the response, “I can’t say that to my friend!” Out of every single class, not a single child would look at their friend and tell them this.
I asked the boys why we wouldn’t say these sorts of things to friends. They gave reasons like, “It isn’t nice,” “If we said that, they would give up,” “I wouldn’t want someone to say that to me,” “It would hurt their feelings,” etc. Next, I had them raise their hand if they have ever said something like this to themselves after becoming frustrated with their work. “I’m not good at reading, ” “I can’t spell words yet,” “Tommy is good at math. I am not.” Almost everyone raised their hands. Why would we ever talk to ourselves this way if we wouldn’t say it out loud and to our friends knowing it would upset them?! The answer is unknown, but I have a good feeling we could consider this harsh self-talk as one heck of a bad habit!
Optimism is the ability to look at struggles with the confidence to overcome them. We do this by encouraging ourselves inside our minds. I passed out the sheet below and had the boys read through and mark all the ones they liked, or made them smile, or found encouraging.
I apologize for not remembering where I picked up this PERFECT worksheet. If it is yours, please comment below or e-mail me. I NEED to and WANT to give you all the amazing credit!!!!
After they marked their favorites, I have them narrow it down to their top 6 statements. The 6 they thought they could actually use during a difficult time. Once the statements were chosen, they shared their choices with a friend so they could compare or explain their thinking.
We added these statement to a Shield of Optimism. We discussed how our positive thoughts would block hateful words we say to ourselves that make us feel like giving up. We pretended putting up our shield and having negative thoughts bounce right off.
I displayed our completed shields in the hallway as a reminder of our monthly character skill.
I find this concept a good reminder for all of us. These boys are lucky enough to get this lesson early, before they have gotten into the habit of cutting themselves down. It’s a concept I work on almost daily.
Change your thoughts. Change your mindset.