Frank Schofield, superintendent, Logan City School District

ONE OF THE great lessons of the film Inside Out is that our emotions can be complicated. For most people, adults and children, each day includes a mix of negative and positive experiences. How we manage the ups and downs of the day, including how we manage the emotions those experiences create, influences both our success and our personal happiness. As the character of Joy learns through the movie, negative emotions are not necessarily bad, but they do tend to have a significant impact on our memories and the decisions we make. The ability to effectively manage those emotions and maintain a positive attitude in the face of negative experiences is essential to our longterm happiness.

So, what can parents do to help their children develop this ability? Neurobiologist Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin explains that the brain is “plastic” and can be trained to be more emotionally resilient and to respond to certain emotions in a healthier manner through engaging in mental exercises that help “rewire” the brain. These exercises help students encourage positive thinking and positive affirmations.

Here are three actions that families can take to help their children develop these positive habits:

Helping Others:

Giving service to others provides us with a heightened sense of well-being and happiness and can be accomplished by something as simple as performing an unexpected act of kindness, helping a sibling with homework, doing another family member’s chores, or donating time at a soup kitchen or other community organization.

Setting and Achieving Goals:

 A sense of achievement is reinforcing. When children set goals and recognize their progress toward achieving those goals, it strengthens their sense of self-efficacy, which contributes to their emotional well-being. A number of strategies can be used to support children with effective goal setting, including the WOOP approach: Wish, Outcome, Obstacles, and Plan. Approaches such as this make it more likely that children will achieve their goals, leading to greater confidence and a more positive attitude.

Sharing Positivity

In the 1913 novel Pollyanna, the title character introduced her community to the “Glad Game,” a game she would play by responding to negativity with an expression of gratitude. For example, if somebody were complaining about the rain, Pollyanna might share that she was glad to be indoors or to have an umbrella. Her positive attitude began to spread, increasing the happiness of many individuals in the town. As parents share positive experiences with their children (i.e., hugs, laughter, and positive attention), and encourage children to find things to be positive about, just as Pollyanna did, children become more resilient and better able to manage the negative experiences they face throughout their lives.

Negative experiences and emotions are a natural part of being human. How we manage those emotions is key to our lifelong health and success. The actions mentioned here are just a few tools parents and caregivers can use in their efforts to ensure the long-term happiness and success of their children.