Optimism is a powerful force. People who tend to think positively, rather than negatively, about situations in their lives have been shown to live longer, have fewer serious diseases and to recover more fully from those that occur, to have lower levels of stress and consequently less heart disease, and to live more satisfying lives. In short, optimists are happier and healthier than their pessimistic neighbors.

The power of optimism can also be felt in our relationships with our teenagers and preteens. Much like a positive person is healthier and happier than a negative one, a positive parent is also happier and more able to sustain a healthy relationship with his or her children. It's easy to stay positive if you remember to ask yourself "why" questions in a positive light and if you consciously try to praise your teenager and the choices that he or she makes.

Asking Yourself Positive "Why" Questions

Think back to the last argument to had with your teenager. You most likely asked yourself questions like, "Why doesn't she ever listen to me?" or "Why does he always have to argue?" or any of the other negative "why" questions that our parental brains like to put on endless repeat when we're angry with our teenagers. Take a moment and list a few of the negative "why" questions that repeat in your brain. How many do you have? Seven? Ten? You're not alone--most parents can list at least that many.

When you allow your brain to continue its repeated playback of these negative questions, it's easy to get stuck in a negative cycle with your teenager. These are not questions that you can resolve with a quick answer, so you don't move past them and into happier territory. Instead of trying to answer these questions, one way to improve your relationship with your teenager and to become a more optimistic parent is to change the phrasing of your internal questions. Instead of asking yourself, "Why does he always act like such a jerk," ask yourself, "Why is he so loveable?"

Now rephrase your favorite negative questions, this time with a positive spin. Is your mind reeling? These negative questions are deeply ingrained, and by rephrasing them, you're making your mind rewire its circuitry and rewrite neural pathways. Practice asking yourself these positive questions the next time you argue with your teenager. Every positive "why" question you ask yourself strengthens the new neural pathways you're creating and brings you closer to your goal of positive parenting.

Praise--Don't Criticize

Are you familiar with the concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy? It's an idea that is especially important for the parents of teens and preteens, who are shaping their adult personalities and so are highly impressionable. Self-fulfilling prophecy means that words spoken aloud have the tendency to become the truth. Therefore, if you tell your daughter that she's going to fail her math test because she doesn't ever study, she's going to end up failing her math test because she won't study. You, the parent, have told her that that's how it's going to happen, so that is how the situation will play out.

When they're negative, self-fulfilling prophecies are incredibly dangerous. However, they can also be positive, and can help parents teach their teens how to be optimistic people while encouraging positive outcomes. Imagine telling your daughter, "You'll do very well on your math test, because you'll study and ask questions in class." Are you giving false hope? No, you're acknowledging that she'll need to work at getting the grade, but you're also acknowledging that she knows that she has some work to do and, without a long lecture, you're reminding her exactly what kind of work she has ahead of her.

In order to harness the power of a positive self-fulfilling prophecy, think about the stock criticisms that you tend to express. Do you accuse your son of being too angry and withdrawn? Hassle your preteen about his or her weight gain? Tell your daughter that she looks trashy in the clothes and makeup she wears? Now, try to put a positive spin on each comment. Practice appreciating the comics that your son draws when he's holed up in his room, and admiring his dedication to drawing. Practice waiting until your overweight preteen comes to you with help handling the weight gain and encouraging his or her suggestions for diet and exercise. Practice commending your daughter's personal style, and gently asking her what sort of look she's trying to create.

By learning to use these two skills, praise and positive questioning, you'll improve your relationship with your teenager, and both of you will feel the benefits of optimism. You'll also provide your teenager with an example of optimism at work, giving him or her a role model for living life in a positive way. Optimism is one of the greatest gifts you can give your teenager, as with it, you'll be giving the gift of happiness.

© 2006 Barbara McRae, MCC

Author's Bio: 

Barbara McRae, Master Certified Coach, Parent/Teen Expert, and Founder of www.teenfrontier.com, "A Neon Whispers ™ Company", is the bestselling author of Coach Your Teen to Success . Barbara coaches internationally, facilitates workshops, and has been featured in various media outlets, including radio, TV, national magazines, and newspapers.