Optimism: The Silver Lining in a Chaotic World

When I rock a baby in my arms, the world just seems right.

Will somebody bring me a rocking chair and a baby to borrow so the world rights itself again? Lately, the world seems like a pretty crazy place.

In my (literal) neck of the woods, law enforcement is searching for a survivalist who allegedly shot a state trooper. On television, we see footage of airstrikes against a terrorist group that commits unspeakable acts to innocent people. Wildfires rage in the west, destroying homes.

Some days, it all feels like too much. Some days, I just want to cover my ears and sing: “La, la, la!” Better yet, I want to cover the ears and eyes of children. Oh, how I hope parents are protecting their young children from inappropriate media exposure!

How do we shield our children from news of these horrific events? Is it even possible? I talk to a colleague whose kindergartner has missed several days of school while the manhunt for the shooter in the woods ensues. Her little guy wants to know why he has to stay home. She has no choice but to tell him – because she wants him to hear it in her words, not in the words of other children in the neighborhood and on the bus. But what, exactly, should those words be? Certainly, it’s harder to assure our children they are safe when we are in need of a little reassurance ourselves.

Of course, the well-known message from Mister Rogers is always a good one to share with young children in times of trouble: “Look for the helpers.” It’s a beautiful sentiment – simple and true. Wherever there is pain and strife, there are helpers. I’ve used this quote with my children, and I know that it comforted them. It’s reassuring – and it’s optimistic.

It’s important for kids to feel optimistic. An optimistic kid is a resilient kid, and in today’s increasingly complicated world, our children need resilience.

The good news is that optimism may not be a hard-wired trait, as we tend to think. Some researchers say that our ability to be optimistic is influenced by a combination of our DNA, our personal experiences and how we remember or interpret those experiences. Optimism, it seems, can be learned.

Maybe that’s the silver lining of a chaotic world: the important reminder that we need to teach our children optimism – and work to nurture it on an ongoing basis. Here are some suggestions for doing so:

  • Resolve every day to set a calm, positive tone in your home. Tamp down expressions of negativity and stress. Invite your kids at dinner time to tell you one happy thing that happened to them that day – or name one thing for which they’re grateful.
  • Know that setting a positive tone doesn’t mean censoring conversation. If your child seems to want to discuss the frightening things he or she sees and hears, by all means, do. But lean in and listen, and take your cue from the kids. Don’t assume they want a full download of information. Often, all they really need to hear is that they’re safe and it’s all going to work out.
  • Do monitor your child’s exposure to the news. The younger or more sensitive the child, the more protective you need to be. Talk with older children about what they read and hear.
  • Share good-news stories with your children – stories of people helping people. Kids need to understand that the world is not evil, although there is evil in the world. Volunteer as a family. Practice random acts of kindness. When kids see that they, too, can make a difference, optimism takes root.
  • Have more fun at home. Be silly. Play games. Tell jokes. This will make you feel better, too. My husband and I went to a comedy show recently. I was startled to realize how great I felt after 45 minutes of belly laughs!

And it never hurts to rock a baby.

Christine French Cully

Christine French Cully is the editor in chief of Highlights for Children, Inc., where she is responsible for shaping the editorial direction of all the magazines, online content and products the company develops for children and their families.  She plays a strategic, ongoing role in the development of the Highlights vision and brand across all markets and channels/around the globe. Cully, a mother of two, resides in Honesdale, Pennsylvania.