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The Optimistic Child Cover Image

The Optimistic Child

How to cultivate children's optimism

Martin Seligman, Karen Reivich, Lisa Jaycox, Jane Gillham

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The Optimistic Child

The Optimistic Child Summary

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In 1964, Seligman attended the University of Pennsylvania to earn his doctoral degree in experimental psychology. He wanted to know why people who were in pain would be obsessed with it. His social concern was considered at the time to be na?ve and outdated. When he first arrived at the laboratory, he first saw some graduate students trying to teach a dog with Pavlov conditioning, that is, to match a signal with an electric shock. They then tried another reflex: they placed the dog in a lab box and planned to turn off the electricity if it ran to the other side. But what troubled them was that the dog did not try to run at all. It sat inactively on the electric floor, and the experiment ended because of this.

The inactive dog disappointed the graduate students, but Seligman detected something from it: the inactivity of the dog was not caused by the electric shock, but by its helplessness towards the shock. This is the same as our response to many out-of-control situations: we often give up without even trying.

Seligman calls this phenomenon learned helplessness. We give up trying something because we have experienced a setback previously. We may even begin to doubt ourselves and think that we can accomplish nothing. However, this is not our true nature; we lose our courage and confidence to try because we have set up a psychological boundary for ourselves, and attributed the failure to some unchangeable internal cause.

How do we lead children out of learned helplessness in terms of psychology? Seligman believes that the key to establishing an optimistic attitude is our explanatory style. Interpreting failure to be eternal, general, and internal makes children believe that it is difficult to change the situation and makes them adopt a helpless pessimism. But if we interpret failure to be temporary and specific and point out that they are changeable factors to children, they will receive positive leadership, become more confident and certain of themselves, and begin to follow the right path.

So, how do we lead children from learned helplessness to learned optimism? One way is to teach your child how to refute effectively. The simple denials and personal insults towards children are not fully based on facts and not supported by scientific theories. We need to teach children to refute pessimism with facts and stand up to injustice.

Parents not only need to guide children correctly, but also make an example out of themselves. Children are like sponges; they absorb both what their parents say and the way their parents talk. They will grow up faster when parents themselves are against pessimism, and hope will prevail when children are confident and optimistic.

Next, let’s talk about how to defeat pessimism and cultivate optimism in our children by understanding these three aspects.

Firstly, the impact of external and internal environments on optimism;

Secondly, the explanatory style is the foundation of optimism;

Thirdly, cultivate optimism with a scientific method.

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