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Everybody knows what optimism is. My dictionary says, “A tendency to expect the best possible outcome or dwell on the most helpful aspects of a situation.”
We all know that optimists are more cheerful and more fun to be with than pessimists who stress the negative and take the gloomiest possible view.
We also know that sometimes we may tend toward an optimistic view and sometimes a pessimistic view depending on the situation and the day.
Where does optimism come from? The tendency to be optimistic is part of our personality and and our personality traits are largely inborn. However there is pretty good evidence that optimism can be taught. Indeed a popular book published in 1990 by psychologist Martin Seligman was titled, “Learned Optimism.”
“Explanatory style” is how we explain the events of our lives. There are three factors that come into play when any of us explain a situation. STABILITY vs INSTABILITY refers to whether we feel time changes things or things always stay the same. GLOBAL vs LOCAL means looking at a situation as one part of a life or part of your entire life. INTERNAL vs EXTERNAL is whether you feel events are caused by you or by outside forces. (Elizabeth Scott, About.com)
An optimist explains a positive event by saying this happened because of me, an explanation generated by an internal focus. They further think that more good things will happen (stability) and in other areas (global).
We can train ourselves to look at life and explain events in optimistic ways. The way we explain things to ourselves (self-talk) or to others can actually change the way we feel about things.
The way you explain things affects your children. Parents are the ones who MODEL how to explain and make sense of the world. We can also TEACH our children how to grow up with a healthy explanatory style. The usual advice is that parents should help children experience success, use failure to teach kids to improve and move on, and look for the bright side of things even on a rainy day.
However I think the best thing you can do is LISTEN to how your child explains things (a bad grade in a test or not getting invited to a party) and help the child REWRITE THE SCRIPT with a more optimistic feel. Remind your little pessimist that tomorrow is another day to do better, one test does not mean you are bad at everything, and you (not the mean teacher) are the one responsible for what happened yesterday and how you do tomorrow.
Make a game out of this, role play where you and your child alternate as OPTIMIST and PESSIMIST. And remember optimists have more fun!
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