Turning Lemons into Lemonade: Encouraging Your Child to See the Bright Side

Tough situations can create opportunities to learn and grow into better people. The trick is seeing the good through the bad. As parents, teaching our kids to see the positive is key to helping them become adults who can work through difficult situations.

For parents who also struggle with finding the bright side, it can be an extra challenge to encourage kids to stay positive when life seems kind of glum. No one says you can’t be teacher and student at the same time! Here are some ways to get started.

Start making it a habit

Find a routine to follow that will find the good before the bad. One idea is to say at least one good thing about a situation out loud, such as, “This is a tough situation because of (XYZ), but one good thing about it is (ABC).” Guess what? Your child will probably start mimicking your behavior (at least in his head!)

Lemon: We’ve all been in that moment when something bad has happened and we respond in a less-than-perfect way. A person or situation may make us upset and then the negative words start pouring out. The same often happens with our kids.

Lemonade: A good way to begin to see the positive in bigger situations is to start small. “This is a tough situation because their words made me feel bad, but one good thing about it is that it made me think about how I could be a better friend.”

Give it time

It may be a few minutes, hours, or even days until you have the ability or time to look back at a situation and figure out what you and your child might learn from it. Don’t be afraid to revisit a hard moment when the “goodness” can be explored.

Lemon: If your child had a disagreement with a friend, take time to acknowledge the pain and give your child some distance from the incident. When you are both calm, talk about how it can be handled better next time and what you can learn from it.

Lemonade: Take the focus away from what you can’t change (that it happened or the other person’s behavior) and instead focus on what you can change (for instance, how you respond to it). This is a great life lesson that can help a child be a change maker as an adult.

Teach with kindness

The last thing you want to do is make your child feel as though she can’t express her true feelings about a situation. It is important to recognize and validate a child’s feelings when it comes to challenges or changes that are hard.

If your child tends to sulk, it can be helpful to guide her toward finding a positive aspect. No one, especially kids, wants to be forced to be happy, but you can kindly suggest different viewpoints about the situation. Just acknowledging the effort it takes a reluctant child to express her feelings can go a long way toward encouraging more sharing in the future.       

Lemon: If you have moved and a child is struggling to find friends or adjust to new routines, talk about all of the great things in your new area that you can do together.

Lemonade: A new attitude plus a chance to meet other kids may help with the problem that was causing the angst in the first place. Look at ways to get involved in your community. And offer opportunities to see the good things about the place you now live.

Share your own stories

It can feel very lonely when bad stuff happens. Sharing your own story can help your child understand that bad stuff can happen to everyone. You may even have experienced a similar situation to what your own child is going through. What did you learn that you can share with him?

Lemon: Your child is worried about something difficult that is going on in your family—a divorce, conflict with a sibling, or a family member’s health issue. You may also be struggling with dealing with your own feelings.

Lemonade: Talk about how you can help and support each other. Share some child-appropriate feelings about what is going on and how you are working through them. For example, maybe exercise is helping you deal with stress. Ask your child to join you on a run or in a workout to relieve some of the stress he may also be working through. The challenges you face as an adult and how you handle them can serve to inspire a child who is struggling.

No one likes to constantly hear “Stay positive!” or “Don’t be so negative” to every challenge. So make sure you strike a balance with your kids when it comes to finding the good in the bad. The benefits of helping your child find the bright side will hopefully begin growing the seeds of doing the same as an adult. And maybe you can learn a few new habits that will benefit your outlook, too.

Janine Boldrin

Janine Boldrin is the creative director at Chameleon Kids, publishers of Military Kids’ Life, an award-winning print magazine for children of U.S. service members. For more information, visit www.chameleonkids.com.