Optimistic Children: How to Train an Optimist

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Optimistic Children

How to Train an Optimist

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It does seem logical. If you are optimistic, you are not depressed. A study of over 5,000 Australian children proves that one of the many benefits of being optimistic as a child is that it helps to keep depression at bay. George C. Patton's multiyear study also showed that even though teens who are optimistic still get depressed, they are less likely to abuse drugs or indulge in bad behavior. It's how they handle the depression that makes the difference.

Bloomberg Businessweek reported that the research indicates that the top quarter of the most optimistic had only half the risk of showing depression ("Optimism Could Help Kids Keep Depression at Bay," Jan. 11, 2011). "The researchers figured that if everyone in the study had low levels of optimism, 'the number of new cases of depression would rise by 32 percent in any year,' Patton said. 'That is a pretty big effect.'"

Dr. Patton is a professor of adolescent health research at the Centre for Adolescent Health, Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne, Australia.

The importance of optimism

Parents play a major role in developing children's outlook on life. Every parent should want his or her children to be generally optimistic. Dr. Martin Seligman explains: "Pessimism [the opposite of optimism] is an entrenched habit of mind that has sweeping and disastrous consequences: depressed mood, resignation, underachievement and even unexpectedly poor physical health" (The Optimistic Child, 2007, p. 7).

Optimistic thinking skills help counteract life's routine failures, enable personal mastery and create resiliency when things go wrong.

Dr. Tony Fiore recommends five ways to increase your child's optimism ("Five Steps to Raising an Optimistic Child"). It's all pretty common sense; the problem is consistently following it. Here is a brief summary:

Step 1: Model optimism. Children watch you and listen to your attitude toward life. Even parents can learn new tricks—and a lot of us need to.

Step 2: Tell your children there is a connection between your thinking and how you feel. If a driver cuts you off while you are driving your child to school, you can say, "That woman was rude the way she cut me off and could have caused an accident. But I'm going to give her a lot of space and not change my attitude because life is good this morning!"

Step 3: Teach your children to use "thought catching" to critically analyze their own reactions when they feel let down, especially when they didn't perform as well as they would have liked. Recognizing negative thoughts can help us change them.

Step 4: Help your children challenge "automatic" wrong assumptions. A poor grade could mean to your child, "I will never succeed in school." Help your child to spot automatic negative thoughts and evaluate them accurately.

Step 5: "Instruct your child on how to generate more accurate explanations... Part of this process involves looking for evidence to the contrary (good grades in the past, success in other life areas, etc.)."

Teach your children how to "decatastrophize" and see that all the terrible things they are imagining are mostly, if not all, fiction. Especially with God, there is always good. Tell them this huge truth: "All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28 Romans 8:28And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
American King James Version×

For a helpful biblical survey of family and parenting advice, see our free booklet Marriage and Family: The Missing Dimension.

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