How and why building optimism in our children is important

Helping our students focus on the positive.  


Belief that things are going to be ok

The Oxford Dictionary defines optimism as….

“Hopefulness and confidence about the future or the success of something.”

Neuroscience tells us that when we feel optimistic and positive, our bodies produce endorphins and serotonin. These are the same feel good chemicals we get from exercise. People like to be around optimists as they help others focus on the positive. 

Life can be worrying and throw up challenges for all children. At Wairakei Primary School we want our students to believe that problems will pass and that their own actions can help solve challenges. We want them to feel they have some control over the situations they find themselves in. Optimists tend to have these resilient traits. 

I asked our Year 5 students what they worried about. 

  • Mum and Dad being hurt, 
  • My parent’s  having a bad day. 
  • My friends being mean to me.
  • Being left out. 
  • Feeling alone. 
  • Friendship dramas. 
  • Getting in trouble from parents and teachers. 

What do we do at school to help build optimism and what can you do at home?

  • Use the language- talk to children about optimism, use words like resilience, positivity, learning pit, challenges, solutions, gratitude. You will see many examples of this around our classrooms. 


Rm 1 Recognising how to overcome challenges


Rm 7 Positive self talk

  • Support children in turning negative talk into positive talk - towards others and themselves. Lets help them turn a negative statement into a positive one,  for example, “I’m dumb at maths” could become “I could do this if I practice.”

  • Encourage children to set goals and support them in working out how to achieve them. Again, this reinforces the belief that their actions can make a difference. 

  • Make time for exercise- this is the time for children to push and challenge themselves and  learn new skills. Exercise helps them understand that they have control over their bodies including their brain. 


Lunchtime gymnastics practice


Understanding what our bodies can do

  • Expect and provide opportunities for children to take on responsibilities.  

  • Gratitude games or compliment circles encourage students to look for the positives in a day and recognise it in others too. You can do this at home at mealtimes or bedtimes. 

  • Focusing on positive acts. At school we like to work from a positive perspective recognising those students who are helping, encouraging and doing things for others. We know that these acts of kindness reinforce the belief in our students that what they do can affect a situation for the better and make a difference. 


Caught showing power

  • Deep breathing- try to make sure there is some downtime in the day to practice deep breathing because again, this shows children they have control over their minds and bodies. 


Rm 7 melting relaxation


When asked what they do when they are worried or down, our Year 5 students also came up with some great ideas. 

  • Ride my motorbike,
  • reading a book
  • ring my friends to talk to them, soccer practise
  • riding horses
  • taking our dogs for a walk
  • cuddling my dog
  • playing with my dog
  • going to my friends house
  • being by myself for quiet time
  • think about something that I’m looking forward to

Keywords: optimism, resilience, positivity, challenges, control, actions

Curriculum links: Health and Physical Education- Personal growth and Development including personal identity, interpersonal skills and relationships with other people.

Key competencies: Managing Self- students seeing themselves as capable learners, having a ‘can do’ attitude. Students having  strategies for meeting challenges. 

Belief that things are going to be ok