Raising Optimistic Kids
The last post was about why we parents should foster optimism in our kids. In a nutshell: there is a close link between how optimistically kids think and how healthy and happy they are—and how they perform academically and athletically, for that matter. This post explains a little more about what it means to be optimistic or pessimistic and so that we parents can better foster optimism in our kids.
Martin Seligman has been doing research on optimism for decades, and his book The Optimistic Child is a great resource for parents. According to Seligman and other researchers, how optimistic or pessimistic we are amounts to how we explain life’s events, be they good or bad. There are three basic dimensions to an explanation: permanence, pervasiveness, and personalization. The OPTIMISITIC way of understanding why something GOOD happened would explain:
The cause of what just happened as Permanent (so it will reoccur);
And Pervasive (it will affect many other circumstances, too);
And Personal (I made it happen).
On the other hand, the PESSIMISTIC way of explaining why something GOOD just happened would illustrate that:
The cause of what just happened is Temporary (something short-lived caused it – probably won’t happen again);
And Specific (affecting only this situation);
And Impersonal (I didn’t have anything to do with what happened, other people or the circumstances did).
The reverse is also true when something bad happens. A kid trips on the sidewalk and skins her knee, dirtying her new dress. The pessimist thinks: “I’m so clumsy – I’m always tripping everywhere, and now I look stupid.” The cause of her fall is (1) permanent—she sees it as a personality trait, and therefore it is both (2) pervasive and (3) personal. On the other hand, the optimist thinks: “Dang! Someone oughtta fix that crack in the sidewalk!” She’s thinking that a flaw in the sidewalk, not her own inherent clumsiness, caused her to trip. That crack is (1) temporary; (2) specific to that moment; and (3) impersonal—she had nothing to do with it.
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