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4 Powerful Ways to "Set the Vision" for Your Family's Day

"Setting the vision" is a powerful way to influence kids' moods and behaviors.

Back when I led wilderness trips, the director was the king of “setting the day’s vision” for the 24 teenagers we guided through the backcountry. “First, we’re gonna raft down this river with amazing class 4 whitewater where we’ll paddle our way through crazy rapids and get to swim through the troughs of some of the biggest incredible waves you’ve seen,” he’d start quietly. Then he’d build, “Next, we’ll have the some delicious savory backcountry hot dogs over an open fire on the edge of the river. After that, we’re going cliff jumping off a perfect spot I scouted where we can fly 20 feet into some of the purest crystal clear water you’ve ever seen.”

It wasn’t just the good stuff that he could make sound good.

He could set up teenagers to appreciate the sloggiest, muddiest, buggiest backpacking trips too. “We’re gonna be wild-westing it today, doing some bushwhacking through Alaska’s famous rugged backcountry where few people have ever been. Along the way, we might see eagles, black bears, or even a moose. It might be buggy, but when we get to camp, we’re going to have a killer pancake bake-off contest to see who can make the most creative and delicious pancakes this world has ever seen.”

“Oh,” the kids would think, “I’m so lucky I get to carry a 30 pound backpack wearing soggy shoes along barely-there trails with mosquitoes so thick that they dive into your mouth every time you take a deep breath.”

The guy was brilliant.

He knew just how to frame the day — a challenge just waiting to be overcome, an awesome adventure, or an opportunity for awe. He tuned kids’ frequencies and set them up to be alert to and scanning for the day's most positive aspects. He also helped them envision the sensory delights they might encounter – a cool rush of water, a savory hot dog, or seeing an eagle. In the subtlest of ways, he also propelled them to create a great day with the momentum of a positive attitude.

Setting a vision works for young children too. Here are 4 ways to set the vision for a great day with your own kids:

The Guessing Game Vision

“Today we’re going to do something special. You want to guess what it is? I’ll give you some hints. When we get there, there will be banana bread waiting for us! We might play hide and seek in the living room, and I know you’ll find the sneakiest spot ever. Later we’ll play in the yard on the swings and go in the kiddie pool. We might even go in the basement and look at someone’s favorite shell collection. Did you guess? That’s right, we’re going to Grandma and Grandpas!”


Get your shoes on, we’re going to Grandma and Grandpa’s.

The “Bright Spot" or "I’m Looking Forward to XYZ” Vision

“Today we’re going to drive to the cabin in Wisconsin. It’s gonna be a long trip, but car rides are so fun. Do you think we’ll see that real jail on the side of the road like we did last year? That was pretty cool how we could see the lookout towers and fences from the highway. Also, we’re gonna listen to the coolest music – everyone can take turns, but I’m listening to the oldies when it’s my turn. What will you choose? Plus we’re getting Subway for lunch and I’m getting my favorite cheese sandwich!” Remember when we played the license plate game last year and you saw Rhode Island? That was so rare. I wonder what states we will see this year.”


“Ugh, it’s gonna take forever to get to Wisconsin.”

The Setting-Up-For-Good-Behavior Vision

“We’re going to your soccer game tonight. Remember how much hustle you had last time? You were running so fast you were a blur. All your team members were such good sports too – remember when your forward helped that guy up after he fell down, then you all said 'good game' at the end? I bet the other team will love playing against you guys, because you’re tough, but friendly too.”


“Soccer tonight.”

The Sensory Vision

"We’re going hiking and we can all look for smooth walking sticks. We might even see a manatee or an osprey along this trail, so we’ve got to keep our eyes peeled. We’re gonna really be soaking up this Florida sunshine since it’s so cold in Minnesota right now. And we can even have some races along the trail.”


“We're going hiking."

Setting a vision, which is part intention and part visualization, is supported by diverse research. Strong and specific intentions have been shown to be a powerful tool that can influence behavior, thoughts, and moods (Gollwitzer, 1999). For example, people who made resolutions were 10 times more likely to attain them (Statistic Brain, 2017). Even a single positive word can strengthen areas of the brain related to cognitive functioning, motivation, and action, while a single negative word can increase activity in the brain’s fear center, partially shut down the brain’s logic and reasoning centers, and disrupt genes that protect from stress (Borchard, n. d.). Positivity researcher Barbara Fredrickson found that when people were shown positive film clips, they felt more motivated to take action and see the possibilities in their lives (Fredrickson, 2004). Describing a positive day to kids is like showing them a positive film clip that they're about to jump into. Lastly, emotional contagion research suggests that enthusiasm and joy (as well as sadness, anger, and fear) can be passed from person to person within milliseconds (Colino, 2016; Goleman, 1991). When you muster your own positivity about the day's events, your kids will pick up on your emotions.

How parents set the tone helps determine if their families will see the day as a disaster or a delight. It alerts them to the fun moments they can be especially “on the lookout for.” It also reduces resistance and builds enthusiasm, joy, excitement, and a sense of safety from knowing what's coming next.

Copyright Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD

Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD is a counselor in Chicago’s western suburbs. She is the author of Joy Fixes for Weary Parents: 101 Ideas for Overcoming Fatigue, Stress, and Guilt - and Building a Life You Love (New World Library), now available for pre-order at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Indie Bound. Join her on Facebook or sign up to get free articles on parenting with mindfulness and joy.


Borchard, Therese. N.d. “Words Can Change Your Brain.” Psych Central,

Colino, Stacey. 2016. “Are You Catching Other People’s Emotions?” U.S. News and World Report. January 20.–01–20/are-you-catching-other-peoples-emotions.

Fredrickson, Barbara. 2004. "The Broaden-and-Build Theory of Positive Emotions." The Royal Society: 1367-1377.

Goleman, Daniel. 1991. “Happy or Sad, a Mood Can Prove Contagious.” New York Times. October 15.….

Gollwitzer, Peter. 1999. “Implementation Intentions: Strong Effects of Simple Plans.” American Psychologist 54, no. 7 (July): 493–503.

Statistic Brain. (2017). New Years Resolutions Statistics.