How to Generate Positivity for Better Mental Health

How a positive attitude can encourage good mental health, plus tips for practicing positive thinking in your own family.

There’s plenty of negativity in the world — from global unrest to local violence to concerns about the ever-increasing cost of living. As a parent, it’s easy to get bogged down by negative thinking. “Life can be a struggle, it really can,” admits Sakija Rushing, Chief Operating Officer at Journey to Healing, a metro Detroit-based behavioral health center for youth and adults. 

But, she says, there is real value in taking stock of what’s going right and embracing a positive attitude, especially when life gets hard. 

“It’s really important to be grateful, to sit in the moment of how far you have come,” Rushing says. “Life always seems like you are running into obstacles, but if you look at what you have experienced and what you have encountered, it’s easier to be grateful for getting through it. It’s simple, but we don’t often take time to reflect.”

Negativity can be learned — and unlearned

Unfortunately, negative thinking can be a learned behavior. “In some families, when a parent or caregiver is constantly worried or fearful of what might happen, they can project that negative mindset onto others,” Rushing says, adding that a negative mindset can even begin to feel normal. 

But, just as negativity can be learned, it can be unlearned — and this is especially important when it impacts quality of life. “There is where therapy comes in. In therapy, you are challenged to think more positively and to look at things in a different way. It’s helpful to learn how to see from a different perspective and learn other behaviors,” she says.

How to build a positive mindset in your own family

Children — especially very young children — are often full of positivity and can bring a bright ray of sunshine into an otherwise difficult day. “Children come into this world innocent and flexible in their mindset in order to grow and develop,” Rushing says. 

Cultivate and encourage that positive mindset. “Allow your child to experience the world in positive ways and love the fact that their mind is so open and flexible,” she says. “It’s up to us to fill their mindset with positivity and allow them to be exposed to the wonderful things in life.”

This can be as simple as allowing your child to stay rooted in their positivity for as long as possible. “Go outside and experience nature and learn that the simple things in life can help them stay grounded. Encourage them to appreciate who they are and where they are as they go through life,” Rushing says. 

Positivity is contagious

If you have one of these enthusiastic young cheerleaders in your orbit, seek inspiration in their optimism. Whenever possible, remind yourself to adopt their child-like wonder, and don’t be surprised if you begin to generate your own positivity in the process. 

“I tell my kids ‘You are young. Enjoy it,’” says Rushing, who has five kids of her own. “When they are older there are more responsibilities that will pull and tug at their minds, but I want them to remember they have the power to determine where they will be in life. No one else is living their life, and no one else should determine where they will go. They have that power, and that might be as simple as waking up and having gratitude for all 10 fingers and toes.”

When we empower our children to be positive and breathe life into themselves, we set them up with better self-esteem, resilience and self-worth, she says. 

6 practical positive things to try today

It always helps to have some solid tips to keep your positive attitude on track, or help bring you back around when times get tough. Here, Rushing offers some simple things to try with your own family:

  • Lower your expectations to increase your tolerance for the everyday challenges of raising a family. Be the supportive parent your child needs. Do your best.
  • Instead of asking “How was school?” ask your child to tell you one thing they learned today. Then engage and make your child feel heard.
  • Put aside your computer and your phone and embrace your child. 
  • Help your child learn social-emotional intelligence by encouraging them to name their feelings as they happen. It’s OK to be angry or frustrated, and it’s even better to recognize and name these feelings.
  • Be aware of what your child needs and don’t be afraid to reach out for help and support. Give your child a fighting chance if they are struggling and need mental health services.
  • Each morning or evening (or both!), share what you are grateful for and ask your child to do the same.

Content sponsored by the Ethel and James Flinn Foundation. Visit flinnfoundation.org. Find more articles like this at Metro Parent’s A Parent’s Guide to Family Mental Health.

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Metro Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.

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