How to Raise an Optimistic Child in the 21st Century

An optimistic child wearing a backpack busting through a yellow paper wall.

How will some children see a glass as half full while others see it half empty? As a special needs parent, you want to raise your child to be optimistic about their future in this world, so they have the best chance to live their life happy and full of purpose.

However, they are up against so many different obstacles. So how do you teach them optimism, especially if you are more on the pessimistic side yourself?

I have to admit I was a pessimistic person for years. I had so many struggles and obstacles growing up that I felt like the world was against me.

It was not until I went through Cancer treatment with four children at home that I started to see how my own pessimism had affected how my children saw the world. Luckily it was reversible.


Raising An Optimistic Child

First, let’s dive into what optimism vs. pessimism looks like in a child and whether or not it is genetic. Then how we can be an example to our children to overcome adversity and strive for the best future. 

What is Optimism?

Optimism is the automatic habit of seeing the possibilities even when it seems impossible. As a result, you have confidence in achieving your goals and living a happy life. And you will foster a growth mindset.

If you are optimistic, you will embrace challenges and take every opportunity to learn from them. This correlates with a growth mindset. You will also acknowledge that there is a purposeful reason for everything in your life. Sometimes that may just be that you need to train harder and not give up!  

Want One-On-One Expert Help?!


Find A Tutor TODAY!

However, studies show that looking on the bright side serves people well because they tend to be happier even when things do not go the way they had hoped. This is why there is so much value in intentionally raising children with a positive attitude.

However, studies show that being able to look on the bright side benefits people in many ways. They are even happier when things do not go as planned, according to studies. As a result, intentionally cultivating optimistic youngsters has a lot of worth.

What is Pessimism?

Pessimism is the internal belief that if something can go wrong, it will. So you can live your life waiting for the “other shoe” to drop and wondering why you ever tried at all. 

Pessimists tend to have a fixed mindset (as opposed to a growth mindset) and therefore think their abilities are unchangeable, like a special needs child who does not understand that they might do something someday with the proper training and practice.

This causes you to walk around with a negative feeling about the future. You won’t even set goals since you believe it isn’t possible to achieve them.

Is Optimism or Pessimism Genetic? 

One of the most significant issues that researchers and parents are concerned about is whether optimism or pessimism is hereditary. 

Nature vs. nurture is a common debate in raising children, not to discourage parents from attempting to modify a negative quality in their kid but rather to assist them in understanding how to educate and guide their child correctly.

Living your best life is the goal. And it is tied to how optimistic that child is. It does not matter as much what goes on in their life.

This is not to suggest that a child can’t become pessimistic if something terrible happens in their life. It’s always possible.

That’s where the age-old debate of nature vs. nurture comes in. Yes, optimism is partly hereditary, but it’s also partially nurtured. 

They have discovered a genetic component, and it may influence some children more severely than others. However, this does not imply that you can’t help your pessimistic child change her thinking and behavior with a bit of work and setting a positive example.

Not only that, but unless you do genetic testing, you won’t know whether it’s hereditary or acquired. This is especially true if you (or someone your child spends a lot of time with) are a pessimist. 


Will My Child Always Be Pessimistic? 

The best approach to dealing with this as a parent is recognizing that your child’s negativity may be hereditary. It’s not that they’re deliberately trying to be negative. But, unfortunately, they can’t help themselves until they learn how to reverse their negative thoughts and look at things differently.

Indeed, pessimism is not always a permanent part of a child’s personality, regardless of whether they have the gene or not. It might be their most prevalent characteristic if it is genetic, though, until they learn how to be more hopeful.

Even so, it might be something your child constantly struggles with, but providing them with the tools will make a huge difference in their life. Children can learn to be more optimistic, especially when you set an excellent example for them.


Your Child’s Future 

Even though pessimism is a hereditary trait, you have more control over your child’s mindset than you might realize. You can teach and model the correct way to deal with negative thoughts and circumstances to make them more positive.

For example, your child may frequently express an attitude of “I can’t do this, so why should I even bother trying” when it comes to certain things.

Examples of Things They are Frustrated By

  • Math
  • Making friends
  • Tying their shoes
  • Riding a bike
  • Handwriting
  • Spelling
  • Reading
  • Being able to concentrate

It’s up to you to show your child how to change those negative thoughts into a positive experience. That experience will encourage her to try again even if she fails the first time.

For example, does your child refuse to do her math homework because she thinks it’s too hard and she will ultimately fail anyway? Here are a few things you could try: 

  • Get her a math tutor
  • Set aside specific times to do math homework (set a timer and let her stop when it goes off) so they don’t think they will have to do it forever. 
  • Find additional math resources to teach concepts she doesn’t understand

Pessimism has long-term consequences. It will have a more significant impact on her as an adult when she cannot create and manage a budget, stay married, or raise her own children.

Even if they achieve personal success, a pessimistic mentality takes the pleasure away. It’s challenging to find the good in life when all you can see are the flaws.

A pessimistic attitude will prevent your child from trying new things. The more she tries and experiences life, the more potential for success. 

It’s not just about trying and succeeding. It is about being grateful for the opportunity. It is better to try and fail than to fail because you didn’t try. Because even when you lose, there’s always something to be learned that will help you win next time.

How to Recognize Your Child’s Pessimism 

Before changing your child’s pessimism to optimism, you first have to recognize the negative talk. Here are some key phrases to look out for:

  • It’s my fault.
  • I couldn’t help it.
  • Nothing works.
  • I will never be able to __________. (ride a bike, make friends, play basketball)
  • I’m bad at _________________. (math, science, making friends, sports, etc.) 
  • Everyone is mean.
  • Everyone hates me.
  • It’s not impossible.
  • That’s just how things are.

Your child may also get frustrated easily when they are trying something new. For example, if they are learning to read, they may get upset during reading time and burst out in tears, saying they will never get it. This is a telling sign of a pessimistic child. They believe they will never be able to do it. 

Many times special needs kids feel powerless over themselves due to their disability. But, unfortunately, pessimism will take over all aspects of their lives unless you intervene to help guide your child to view the world through a more positive lens. And you don’t have to teach your child unrealistic ideals to help her become more optimistic. 

13 Tips to Raise an Optimistic Child 

Your advantage as a parent is that your child looks up to you. Of course, they don’t enjoy being told what to do, but children like doing what you do.  

#1 Listen to Your Child Without Judging

Always take what your child has to say seriously when they speak with you about their difficulties. However, don’t minimize your child’s feelings to teach them optimism. Children, like everyone else, suffer disappointments in life. Therefore, their emotions are just as valid as yours.

#2 Don’t Hide Feelings

Optimism is not about hiding your disappointment. It’s all about acknowledging the bad news yet still having a positive outlook on life. For example, if you have plans to go to the beach, but it starts to rain, it’s OK to be annoyed that this is happening.

But you don’t want to stay there wallowing in negativity. The fact that the rain is delaying or canceling your plans is disappointing, but it isn’t the end of the world. 

You can show optimism by finding something fun to do instead while still being a little bummed about the rain messing up your plans.

#3 Hug it Out

Up to a certain age, children love affection and attention from their parents and tend to be more optimistic and happier. However, be ready when they are disappointed or overwhelmed with the world with one or more of the following.

  • Hugs
  • Back rubs
  • Smile
  • Kiss
  • Pat on their head
  • Holding their hand
  • Most importantly, a listening ear

#4 Role Modeling Positive Behavior 

Unfortunately, life has its ups and downs. When bad things happen, show your child how to react with positivity. This isn’t to suggest that you should always respond cheerfully when something terrible happens. It’s OK to be upset. 

But if it’s raining and you want to go to the beach, that isn’t a good enough reason to have a meltdown. So instead, be thankful for the rain and find something else exciting to do that day.

#5 Cheer Your Child’s Successes 

When your child tries but doesn’t necessarily get the desired outcome they were going for, show her how proud you are that she tried. 

Celebrate those small wins! Maybe they didn’t make the basketball team, but it’s still worth praising them for attempting.

#6 Don’t Punish Failures 

A “C” or “D” on a test that they studied for is better than a “D” or “F” for not trying. Never punish a failure. Punishing failures doesn’t do anyone any good. 

When someone fails, it’s not the end of the world, and feeling like they are letting you down isn’t helping matters either.

#7 Be Patient When They Are Learning Life Skills

Remember to be very patient when teaching your child basic everyday life skills. For example, children don’t know how to do the following…until they learn.

  • Potty train
  • Tie their shoes
  • Clean their room
  • Brush their teeth
  • Drive a car

Allow the learning process to happen. Teach your child one thing at a time and remember that they are still developing and trying.

#8 Give Your Child the Freedom to Play

Don’t plan every single moment of your child’s day. It’s critical for your child’s brain development to be bored. Being bored leads to creativity.

Playing is also enjoyable, releases those feel-good hormones, and promotes positivity.

#9 Be Happy

It is important to show your child that you are happy. If you are always sad or mad, how will your child learn to be happy? 

But it isn’t about everything being perfect. Instead, it is about showing your child that you can still be happy and optimistic about the future even when life doesn’t go as planned.

#10 Even An Optimistic Child Has Problems

Just because your child is optimistic doesn’t mean they have it easy and have no problems. It isn’t easy being a child sometimes. Sometimes they are just too young to grasp the overwhelming feelings and are confused with life. 

When your kid shows emotions, don’t squash them or act as if children’s feelings don’t matter. They do. Demonstrate to them that it’s OK.

#11 Keep All World Problems Age Appropriate 

While you don’t want to hide everything from your child, you don’t have to discuss things they don’t need to know or understand yet. 

For example, your preschool-age child doesn’t need to know about bombs, school shootings, and gang violence. Wait for this kind of discussion until your child is older and comes to ask you questions.

#12 Don’t Use Food as Comfort 

It’s all too easy to reward your kids with candy or treats for going potty or doing their chores, but it fosters an unhealthy relationship with food. So instead of teaching them to rely on food for comfort or rewards, teach them alternative techniques and rewards.


Other Ways to Comfort or Reward Your Child

  • High five
  • Choosing the game to play on family game night
  • Picking the next family movie
  • Yoga, meditation, or positive affirmations for comfort
  • Choosing the bedtime story to read
  • Set up a treat box with small things they enjoy

#13 Pointing Out the Good in All Situations 

Take the time to highlight all of the good things about a situation when something isn’t going well. For example, when rain cancels your plans to go to the beach, you can point out all the other fun places you can go that are indoors.

Next Steps

Parenting is hard work. And if you are a parent of a child with special needs, you know how much harder the job can be. So, first, don’t beat yourself up! Second, do the best you can. 

Every part of your day, there is a chance to demonstrate optimistic behavior in front of your child. That’s how you teach them without any extra “work”. You show them the example, and they will soak it up like a sponge! 

I hope these practical steps help you raise an optimistic child! What are some tips or tricks you’ve found success with your kids? Let us know in the comments below.


Check Out These Additional Articles About Raising Kids


If you enjoyed this article about a better bedtime routine for kids, please consider sharing it on Pinterest and Facebook. Join our Special Ed Parenting Facebook Community to connect with other parents of special needs children. 


Do you have a child that needs one on one assistance?  

We offer one-on-one special education tutoring that can be done from anywhere the student is! Why? Because our special education experts conduct their sessions online!

Get started with a free consultation today!



An optimistic child wearing a backpack busting through a yellow paper wall.
Are you raising an optimistic child? Discover these parenting tips to help your special needs child be more resilient and overcome adversity.

Picture of Shannah Holt

Shannah Holt

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

blog form headline-2 special ed resources