Kids are hardwired to be negative. We all are. Back in our early evolution, there was so much detail and information in our environment that we focused on the negatives. No point focusing on the beauty of a sunset only to be mauled by something lurking behind the trees or bush-line.
This attention to negative details is what psychologists call, the negativity bias. It has helped determine the success of our species, but could it also be what is assisting the continual rise of mental health cases in young adults.
What could be happening to our kids?
As we have further evolved and predators and physical threats aren’t as common, we have still maintained our sixth sense to identify negatives. Our modern threats involve people, our relationships, our emotions and tasks such as exams or work performance reviews.
- When we meet new people we immediately assess whether or not they are a threat. When we think about other people’s actions, we are much more likely to attribute negative motives to people than positive motives. We are naturally suspicious. Many people describe this as being cynical or seeing the worst in others. By default we expend a lot of brain activity processing those negatives and much less attention and brain activity on positive features.
- As humans we experience negative emotions with more intensity and longevity than positive emotions. This means we hold on to betrayal much longer than joy. In short, this wiring is a lose-lose for our young people and us as adults. When positive and negative emotions are combined the overall experience becomes negative. In context, you could have had the most wonderful evening with friends and you come home to your partner grumpy and questioning you about bills or lack of food in the fridge etc. As a result the evening is now bad. Being humans we naturally lack perspective. Unless we have been conditioned to take notice. The big picture is often blurred.
- We hear it, we see it and we speak it. Ever thought about writing down all the positive emotions you can think of and then write the negatives. Its likely that your positives are going to be outweighed by your negatives. To think positively, we need to have positive words. A hard task to do when naturally we only talk about emotions when we are not doing so great.
Unfortunately, there are a large number of the population who have a negative disposition and this is reinforced by the negative version of the world that is constantly fed to us through our environments. It seeps in daily. It becomes part of a subconscious psyche. Fortunately, there are two phenomena that keep us sane.
The elevation effect is the process of being inspired by others or events where we see other people behaving in positive ways. By viewing or hearing about others triumphing over challenge or laying their lives mercilessly for others we are positively influenced to become better morally or physically.
Emotional contagion is the affect you feel when you are around positive people. We have all been in a room when that someone walks in and the world seems a bit better and all seems well. That moment when someone smiles at you and it actually takes effort not to smile back, even if they are a complete stranger. All of those small moments add to an overall wellness but, we have to choose to be in the company of positive people.
Tips to be more positive
Being positive is a life skill that we must teach our kids and what we must role-model. The act of positivity make us more resilient. Positive emotions give us social and intellectual resources that help us through bad times.
If we can help our kids be positive it is a gift that will serve them for a lifetime. So what are some things that parents can do:
- Role model focusing on the positive: Take everyday opportunities to verbally be grateful for what you have and what is going well. Share moments of achievement and talk about small progressions with each other.
- Purposefully performing small acts of kindness:
- Teaching the importance of learning to forgive: When opportunities arise share an event or behaviour that has affected you by another persons actions and explain how to move forward we must learn to forgive to allow ourselves to have better wellness as we will ruminate about the event for longer than we should.
- Reading and sharing stories of wellness: If you read or witness something during the day that excites or inspires you, share it with your children and/or partner.
- Create family rituals where you are consciously ‘savouring’ experiences that give you pleasure
- Seeking out ‘flow’ experiences for you and your family (activities that fully engage your attention and leave you with a sense of accomplishment).
Jason Broderick is a Psychologist and experienced educator currently implementing a bespoke wellbeing initiative throughout an international school (Preschool -KS4), and his local community. Driven by research and current best practice internationally, Jason is changing the way we approach and view wellness systemically and practically within school and community. At the core of his approach Jason is assisting students, staff and community to thrive and discover their optimal wellbeing.