Have you ever been to a parent conference where the teacher told you that your son could be a fine student if he would just change his attitude? If so, you may not have been surprised. Often children with poor attitudes exhibit a similar demeanor in all settings.
When parents or teachers ask children to change their attitudes, they assume their request is understood. It may not be. Attitude is a somewhat nebulous word. Nonetheless, the children agree that, of course, they will change. Rarely does that happen. If someone suggests that an attitude is chosen, they may receive a blank look from both children and adults.
Many adults believe that attitude is not within their choice. They think their feelings are controlled by life circumstances. Their contentment or misery is based on what is happening at the moment. A positive job change results in joy while a snub by a coworker turns a pleasant day upside down. These adults ride a roller coaster of feelings and assume that they have no control. If this is what they believe, it is virtually impossible for them to help their children learn how to shift an attitude.
A wise person once said, "Pain is a given. Suffering is optional." She went on to explain that we cannot avoid unpleasantness in our lives, but we can choose what to do with it. All of us know of people who have lived with physical and emotional pain and maintained a positive attitude. Children learn the stories of Helen Keller and others who rose above their disabilities to become heroic figures. Few families escape some form of pain among family members and friends. Some sink under the pressures and others rise above the adversity to not only survive but thrive.
There is some evidence that people are either born with the ability to see the cup as half full or half empty. Those who naturally tend to see the world as fraught with adversity must learn the skills of choosing and changing their attitude. Those born with a more positive outlook can expand and refine their skills. Wise parents use life's challenges to both model and teach their children positive ways of handling them.
Helping children better understand themselves and where they have control takes time. It takes a desire to set aside moments to talk about feelings. It requires a willingness to discuss whether a situation can be changed or whether the changes need to come from within. In his book Goals! How to Get Everything You Want--Faster Than You Ever Thought Possible, Brian Tracy talks about the 80 - 20 rule. He believes we have control over 80 percent of what happens to us. The other 20 percent we cannot do anything about. What we have is 100 percent control over how we respond to what happens to us.
Learning to choose a positive attitude is not easy. All of us occasionally catch ourselves in a bad attitude trap. It is a lifelong task to be aware of our feelings, to express them appropriately, and to use them constructively. Guiding children in learning these skills assists them in both their social and academic life.