Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Optimistic Child

I thought I would take a break from politics to tell you about a book I am reading that might be of interest to some of you. I have always liked the work of Martin Seligman who wrote Authentic Happiness that I wrote about here. But the other day at work, I picked up a colleague's copy of Seligman's The Optimistic Child: A Proven Program to Safeguard Children Against Depression and Build Lifelong Resilience and then bought a copy. It is definitely worth a read if you have a depressed child or just want to help your child see the world in a less pessimistic way.

Seligman starts off describing the problem of pessimism in our society. "It boils down to this: dwelling on the most catastrophic cause of any setback. Pessimism is fast becoming the typical way our children look at the world." He goes on to state that "pessimism is an entrenched habit of mind that has sweeping and disastrous consequences: depressed mood, resignation, underachievement, and even unexpectedly poor health."

Later in the book, Seligman takes on the self-esteem movement, stating that the way Armies of American teachers along with American parents are trying to bolster kid's self-esteem is actually eroding kid's sense of self-worth. "By emphasizing how a child feels, at the expense of what a child does--mastery, persistence, overcoming frustration and boredom, and meeting challenge--parents and teachers are making this generation of children more vulnerable to depression. Often, people think that low self-esteem leads to school failure, drug use, dependence on welfare and other social ills. But the research literature shows just the opposite. Low self-esteem is a consequence of failing in school or being on welfare, of being arrested--not the cause."

The rest of the book focuses on direct information and techniques for parents to help their child overcome the depression that comes from thinking in a pessimistic way. "Children who are prone to depression focus on the worst-case scenario, about their troubles and about the problems of the world. They blame themselves for the uncontrollable: they gravitate to the most negative interpretation.... Such children can learn to think about other factors that may have contributed to the problem, so that they can problem-solve by focusing their energy on the parts of the problem that are under their control."

The final chapter talks about the limits of optimism, for example, pointing to studies that show that depressed people are accurate judges of how much skill they have, whereas non-depressed people think they are more skillful than others judge them to be.

Anyway, it is a good book with some good information if you are a parent or teacher in need of some help for a child who suffers from depression.



Blogger TMink said...

Marti Seligman is one of the best at taking well done research and turning it into a practical applications. His book Learned Optimism is also a classic. Many companies use his tests to select their sales force because, well, it works.

I will pick up a copy of this for my work, thanks for the heads up.


1:38 PM, November 09, 2008  
Blogger Helen said...


I think as a psychologist, you will find it very useful! I did.

1:45 PM, November 09, 2008  
Blogger Cham said...

A few days ago I was involved in a public discussion on the Internet with a group of people. A young teen turned up and very angrily told our group that our discussion was making her feel bad, therefore, we needed to cease and desist.

Naturally, our group told her point blank we didn't care how she felt. This seemed like a new idea to the young lady, but she did apologize which was nice.

2:22 PM, November 09, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cham, you're lucky wasn't Obama.

5:42 PM, November 09, 2008  
Blogger Sparks said...


I've seen the same thing in recent discussions about the election on a family email list. The youngest in the group (early 20's) finally exclaimed that she was getting very frustrated about having to listen to everybody else's opinion which she disagreed with.

Funny thing was she was involved early on in the discussion, expressing her political opinions, which were incredibly naive and not specific. When presented with facts that she didn't want to hear, she acted very offended.

There are a lot of brats out there who think that they are entitled to having it their way, all the time. Not sure if that's Burger King's fault, the self-esteem movement, or both.

5:51 PM, November 09, 2008  
Blogger Cham said...

Kids are smart, they take all this self-esteem building and turn it to their advantage. They've learned that parents and schools have placed a great emphasis on how they feel. So the kids figure they can use their feelings to bully and manipulate others.

The kids simply say, "You've hurt my feelings, so you must stop doing what you are doing, saying what you are saying." I pray the other kids on the playground are able to say, "Get over it."

On another note, I had the pleasure of working with a wonderful 15 year old boy yesterday, who was working off some community service hours by doing some trail maintenance with our group. Sometimes kids aren't pests and can be a joy.

6:44 PM, November 09, 2008  
Blogger Webutante said...

Nice idea, Helen. My children are about to become parents and I think I'll pick this one up, read it and then send it on to them. From experience in being a mother in the height of the age of parents supposedly 'giving' children their self-esteem (what a crock!), I know what Seligman is saying is dead on correct. Thanks for calling it to our attention.

7:53 PM, November 09, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

cham --

So the kids figure they can use their feelings to bully and manipulate others.

No shit. Think Emo.

I pray the other kids on the playground are able to say, "Get over it."

Yeah, they do. Think Emo.

9:56 PM, November 09, 2008  
Blogger Ern said...

Professor Seligman is a gem. His books Learned Optimism and What You Can Change . . . and What You Can't are also very good, IMHO. When his hypotheses conflict with the facts, he modifies his hypotheses, instead of disregarding the facts, which, in my experience, is not the universal practice in psychology.

11:27 PM, November 09, 2008  
Blogger javadoug said...

Thanks for the reference. It will be good to concentrate on anything other than politics.

9:22 AM, November 10, 2008  
Blogger TMink said...

Cham, what excellent posts. The new approach to affect is that it is something that is done TO us rather than something that comes FROM us.

My feelings of discomfort are communication from me to me, not from you to me. With all the lip service that the left pays to psychology, you think they would get this one right.

I remember a poster on my eldest daughter's Kindergarten class: "Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will REALLY hurt me."

Wow. I talked to the person running the program about how victimizing that was, and she gave me a little lecture about feelings and responsibility. She was 22, fresh out of college. (I was 42 with 12 years of psychology practice under my belt.)

I left shaking my head and a 55 year old black woman caught up with me. She was shaking her head and smiling, and told me it tickled her pink that someone else saw how foolish that was. "Can you imagine if you were taught that when you were in grade school?" I asked. "Honey, we'd still be at the back of the bus if we were taught that."

True words.


9:55 AM, November 10, 2008  
Blogger dienw said...

Optimism based on fantasy is foolishness. Christian Realism is far superior: God is and is in control: He continues to speak through his prophets of what is yet to be. Our faith in Him gives us long term optimism without doing injustice to reality.

8:28 PM, November 10, 2008  
Blogger Locomotive Breath said...

The best way to high self esteem is to be really really good at something that is useful and constructive. You don't have to be good at everything and it doesn't matter what you're good at. Just be good at something. No one can ever take that away from you.

8:38 AM, November 11, 2008  
Blogger Cheryl said...

My copy just arrived today, and I can't wait to steal a few minutes to start reading it. I keep walking by it and reading a page or three. Unfortunately the end of the semester is getting close and I have papers due. I'm a counseling student (master's level) and so it will be fun to see how this matches up, or doesn't, with what I'm learning at school.


5:11 PM, November 12, 2008  
Blogger Micha Elyi said...

" for a child who suffers from depression."

I read Seligman's Optimistic Child and what I got out of it was that if your child is suffering from depression, it's too late to apply Seligman's techniques.

5:37 AM, November 18, 2008  
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