kid reading a book about why kids are stressed

Imagine you are having a great day. You wake up naturally, and fully refreshed; your morning coffee/beverage of choice is delicious; you are super productive all day and still have time for some socializing with people you like at lunch; you get positive feedback on the work you are doing from your boss/clients/family…

Then, at the end of your workday, a colleague says something petty and hurtful. When you are lying in bed at night, are you more likely to think or even re-play all the good things, or that one bad thing?

When I give my students a similar scenario, almost all of them immediately put their hand up for ‘focus on the bad thing’. Why is this? What’s wrong with us? Are we trying to make our own lives more difficult?

Actually, there are some pretty good and logical reasons for this. Being able to quickly identify problems is the first step in solving them. It also lays the groundwork for being prepared for the future, and it drives a lot of innovation. We are trained from an early age to be aware of what isn’t ‘just right’ for our own safety (did you make sure you looked for cars before crossing the street?) In school, kids are constantly encouraged to consider their ‘next step’–areas for improvement.

The potential problem with this, is that it becomes all too easy to gloss over what is already good in order to root out what isn’t. Over time, our brains learn ‘shortcuts’ for this process. We actually are less inclined to notice small good things, because they are not threats and do not require our attention in order to plan for the future. The cumulative effect of this is a predisposition to give far more weight to negative thoughts/events that to positive ones, which can have a profound impact on our sense of wellbeing.

Now, balance is everything; imagine walking towards a cliff, and focussing on nothing but the lovely view…

For kids–and adults who feel that the balance has tipped in favour of too much focus on the negative, there is some good news. We trained our brains to do this; we can train them to tone it down too. This is not a quick fix. It requires practice and consistency. I give my students a journal and ask them to set aside time each day to make a quick list of small positive things that happened that day. Often it’s really hard in the beginning, but like any exercise, it does become easier the more you do it. We start each session with them adding to their lists and sharing one thing with the group.

Some of the small good things may be:

  • Nice weather
  • Someone I like asked me how my day was
  • I had a slice of pizza for lunch
  • I pet my neighbour’s dog and felt an instant warm fuzzy
  • Make a regular practice of asking your kids what small good thing did they notice today?
  • Model taking a moment and acknowledging some small good things yourself.
  • Make your own good thing by committing a random act of kindness.
  • Try keeping your own list.

What Can You Do?

  • Make a regular practice of asking your kids what small good thing did they notice today?
  • Model taking a moment and acknowledging some small good things yourself.
  • Make your own good thing by committing a random act of kindness.
  • Try keeping your own list.