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The Optimistic Child

A Proven Program to Safeguard Children Against Depression and Build Lifelong Resilience

By Martin E.P. Seligman
12-minute read
Audio available
The Optimistic Child by Martin E.P. Seligman

The Optimistic Child (1996) explores both the benefits of raising children to be optimistic and the dangers of pessimistic thinking. Drawing on psychologist Martin Seligman’s seminal research, this practical guide explains how parents can instill optimism in their children and equip them with a healthy way of thinking.

  • Educators looking for a fresh perspective
  • Parents seeking new insights
  • Anyone suffering from depression and anxiety

Martin E.P. Seligman is an American psychologist, educator, and author who focuses on positive psychology and well-being. In 1998, Seligman was elected President of the American Psychological Association. He is currently the Zellerbach Family Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

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The Optimistic Child

A Proven Program to Safeguard Children Against Depression and Build Lifelong Resilience

By Martin E.P. Seligman
  • Read in 12 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 7 key ideas
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The Optimistic Child by Martin E.P. Seligman
Synopsis

The Optimistic Child (1996) explores both the benefits of raising children to be optimistic and the dangers of pessimistic thinking. Drawing on psychologist Martin Seligman’s seminal research, this practical guide explains how parents can instill optimism in their children and equip them with a healthy way of thinking.

Key idea 1 of 7

Optimists come up with more positive explanations when things go wrong.

Conventional wisdom tells us that an optimist is a glass-half-full sort of person, while a pessimist sees the glass as half empty. But there’s a lot more to optimism than that. In fact, where you stand on the optimism-pessimism spectrum impacts every area of your life, including your mental health. 

A person with a pessimistic mindset will dwell on the worst possible explanation for something bad happening. For instance, if she fails an exam, a pessimist might think: “I failed this exam because I’m stupid. I’ll never be able to succeed.” An optimist in the same situation, on the other hand, might think: “I failed because I didn’t study hard enough. Next time I’ll work harder – and I’ll do better.” 

The key message here is: Optimists come up with more positive explanations when things go wrong.

When a pessimist turns to worst-case scenarios about the future, it’s known as catastrophic thinking. But pessimism isn’t just about being downbeat about failure. A pessimistic mindset can negatively impact your whole life. The reason for this is that when you dwell on worst-case scenarios, you start feeling as if the future is bleak and that changing your situation is impossible. These feelings can quickly lead to symptoms of depression, such as low mood and listless behavior. Perhaps unsurprisingly, pessimistic children are more likely to become low achievers and be depressed later on in life.

The state of feeling powerless to change your situation is known as learned helplessness. When you’re in a state of learned helplessness, you feel as if nothing you do matters. As a result, you often give up without even trying. While researching depression, the author, Martin Seligman, and his team found that extreme feelings of helplessness are one of the root causes of depression. They also found that optimists are more able to resist these feelings. When faced with adversity, optimists keep trying and aren’t easily defeated. This may explain why they’re less likely to suffer from depression than pessimists are. 

Luckily, Seligman has discovered that it is possible to “unlearn” helplessness; all it takes is the right tools. Just as we immunize children against physical illnesses, you can immunize your child against pessimism – and help protect them from depression and low achievement. 

This immunization works by teaching your child the cognitive skills that foster lifelong optimism, which we’ll explore in the next blinks. 

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