The optimism – pessimism spectrum and your child
When our first born was in the first year of school, we received a letter from school welcoming us to write what we wanted for our child. It is a big and wide topic, isn’t it? Academics, sports, social skills, emotional development, the list is endless. However, if we narrow it down, it comes down to two things: 1) To achieve his full potential 2) be happy. This has been the basis for all our three children.
This is what we want. However, in this crazy time of uncertainties, we really need to know what they are going through. What if their inner feelings are not conducive with your aims and dreams? Their thoughts and feelings could be the one where they hold them back rather than set them free. The times are such that pessimistic thinking could become a part of them. For example, the innuendos of schools opening or closing? Exams online or in person? These thoughts can really put children down. I thought it’s high time, I write something about the unbelievable powers of optimism and how I am trying to immunise them from thoughts of uncertainties.
Conventional example and reality
I don’t like the conventional example of optimism and pessimism : A glass half full and glass half empty. I don’t know if you’ve heard the new example: It’s full half ;-). For me, there is plenty more to optimism than that. To be honest, where you stand on the optimism – pessimism scale has a life long implication on your mental health.
If I have to define optimism, I would say that an optimist give him/her chance by coming up with more positive explanations when things go wrong. (Ref from The Optimistic Child)
For example, you failed, not because you are stupid. But because you didn’t study hard and next time, you will work hard and get the desired results.
Learned helplessness is a feeling when you feel powerless to change your situation. You feel as if nothing you do matters. Because of this, you often give up before even trying. Martin Seligman and his team on their research on depression, found out that feelings of learned helplessness are one of the core causes of depression. They also found that optimists are more capable of resisting these feelings. When they are faced with adversity, optimists keep trying and aren’t easily affected. This may shed some light on why they’re less likely to suffer from depression than pessimists.
On Seligman’s research, he discovered that it is possible to ‘unlearn’ helplessness. Just like immunisation programmes for physical ailments in children, we need to immunise our children against feelings of helplessness.
According to the book ‘The Optimistic Child’ by Marin Seligman, self esteem should be more of what a child does rather than the feelings. That means making a child feel good about themselves scores less than what a child does and how a child behaves. Although I take note of the things he is referring to, I may not completely agree with him. He talks about mastering skills, persistence, meeting challenges, solutions to boredom – these aspects are all good. However, there are softer skills such as how you make someone feel, and in the process of that you end up feeling good about yourself.
I will list down my top 5 points in immunisation against feelings of helplessness.
Acknowledgement: There are times, when we all feel helpless. Acknowledge that. And remember – it’s only a phase.
Modelling: As parent, how do you react to a situation? To be honest, I have failed many a times in doing positive modelling for my children. However, we all learn. Parenting is a learning process. With time, reactions become a bit more softer. Instead of a stern ‘What?’ and ‘How can you?’, it’s more like ‘you can do better than that!’
Connections and relationship: Humans are like nerve cells.When you are born, there are millions of them. However, if they don’t connect, they die out. Life is all about relationships and human connections. To keep you alive, you need people. Talking helps, and children will follow you when they see you talk it out.
Framework: Is there a one shop stop for problem solving? Give your children a choice to adapt and change frameworks. Make it normal that you can change your ideas and plans.
Influence: Let your child know that their small activity may have an influence in the world.
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