By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Jun 30, 2008 at 5:23 AM

As parents, we think about what we want to teach our kids, hoping that what we pass down will affect the type of adult they'll become. Like many parents, I want my sons to be happy, healthy, respectful, curious, kind, successful –- whatever the latter means to them -- and it would be awesome if they appreciate books, art and music.

Recently, however, I realized that I left something off the short list of family values: optimism.

A few months ago, a friend asked me if I thought it was possible to teach optimism to children. Her child is generally a happy kid, but does a fair share of complaining. I can relate to this.

My son can go from laughing to pouting in a heartbeat, and uses hyperbolic statements like "You NEVER let me do that!" Sometimes he claims to be bored ("Only boring people get bored," I tell him), and once he slammed his bedroom door like a petulant teenager because I wouldn’t let him wear his swimming trunks to the children’s museum. (In retrospect, that was a mistake on my part. I should have given him that one.)

I know this behavior is probably just a phase because my husband and I aren’t big complainers. However, hearing my son's negativity makes me realize the significance of optimism and how exactly I can teach him to be in the half-full club.

There’s a fine line, of course, because I certainly don’t want to raise a "yes man" or an annoying person with posters in their dorm room reading "If you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on." (You know what I mean.) I want my kids to see the injustices of the world, understand them -- even get angry about them  -- but in the end, choose to focus on the positive.

But how do you teach this to a kid?

Like everything else, modeling is the best -- and most difficult -- way to teach something to a kid. It can be a tough one, but on most days I find the strength to soldier through their whining and negative comments and tirelessly remind them of everything that’s great about their little lives. When I can’t do this -- after all, I occasionally get sucked to the dark side --  I tell them I’m frustrated, or that I'm in a bad mood, but I’m trying to find my way back into the sunshine.

Practice and affirmation guide kids toward optimism, too. This might sound New Age scary, but I taught my kids to look in the mirror and say positive things to themselves. Optimism and self esteem are linked and, in my opinion, create personalities that attract others, both personally and professionally.

Sometimes I wonder if optimism is still alive, but something always suggests that it is. Whether it’s a U.S. Cellular commercial or a blog post by an writer, I’m reminded that optimism is an achievable art form, an intangible elixir and a value worth making an effort to pass down.

Plus, call me "grasshopper," but to completely understand optimism it has to be juxtaposed with negativity. I think true optimists pick to be that way because they've been deep in the dumps but prefer the light side. I've come to the conclusion it's good that my kid is going through his negative stage, because he will learn that life is more fun and rewarding when you're able to stop complaining long enough to notice.

In the mean time, I'm going to need an aluminum jumpsuit to ding off his bad vibes or start drinking my invisible breakfast martinis again.


Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.