5 Steps to Raising an Optimistic Child
by: Dr. Tony Fiore
I had just completed a session with 17-year old Julie who suffered from severe depression. Julie believed she
was a total failure and would never be able to change anything in her life. Julie also felt all her shortcomings
were her own fault.
Where, I ask myself, did such a young person acquire this negative and fatalistic thinking?
The answer soon became apparent when I invited her parents into the session. They began discussing numerous life
events and explaining them in ways that their children were learning. The car, for example, got dented because you
cant trust anybody these days; Mom yelled at brother because she was in a bad mood; you cant get ahead in this
world unless you know somebody, etc.
As a parent, your own thinking style is always on display and your children are listening intently!
The Importance of Optimism
Why should you want your child to be an optimist? Because, as 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.
Children with optimistic thinking skills are better able to interpret failure, have a stronger sense of personal
mastery and are better able to bounce back when things go wrong in their lives.
Because parents are a major contributor to the thinking styles of their childrens developing minds, it is
important to adhere to the following five steps to ensure healthy mental habits in your children.
How Parents Can Help
Step 1: Learn to think optimistically yourself. What children see and hear indirectly from you as you lead your
life and interact with others influences them much more than what you try to teach them.
You can model optimism for your child by incorporating optimistic mental skills into your own way of thinking.
This is not easy and does not occur over night. But with practice, almost everyone can learn to think differently
about lifes events even parents!
Step 2: Teach your child that there is a connection between how they think and how they feel. You can do this
most easily by saying aloud how your own thoughts about adversity create negative feelings in you.
For example, if you are driving your child to school and a driver cuts you off, verbalize the link between your
thoughts and feelings by saying something like I wonder why Im feeling so angry; I guess I was saying to myself:
Now Im going to be late because the guy in front of me is going so darn slow. If he is going to drive like that he
shouldnt drive during rush hour. How rude.
Step 3: Create a game called thought catching. This helps your child learn to identify the thoughts that flit
across his or her mind at the times they feel worst. These thoughts, although barely noticeable, greatly affect
mood and behavior.
For instance, if your child received a poor grade, ask: When you got your grade, what did you say to
Step 4: Teach your child how to evaluate automatic thoughts. This means acknowledging that they things you say
to yourself are not necessarily accurate.
For instance, after receiving the poor grade your child may be telling himself he is a failure, he is not as
smart as other kids; he will never be able to succeed in school, etc. Many of these self-statements may not be
accurate, but they are automatic in that situation.
Step 5: Instruct your child on how to generate more accurate explanations (to themselves) when bad things happen
and use them to challenge your childs automatic but inaccurate thoughts. Part of this process involves looking for
evidence to the contrary (good grades in the past, success in other life areas, etc).
Another skill to teach your child to help him or her think optimistically is to decatastrophize the situation
that is help your child see that the bad event may not be as bad or will not have the adverse consequences
imagined. Few things in life are as devastating as we fear, yet we blow them up in our minds.
Parents can influence the thinking styles of their children by modeling the principals of optimistic
About The Author
Dr. Tony Fiore is a So. California licensed psychologist, and anger
management trainer. His company, The Anger Coach, provides anger and stress management programs,
training and products to individuals, couples, and the workplace. Sign up for his free monthly
newsletter "Taming The Anger Bee" at www.angercoach.com and receive two bonus reports.