Raise an optimist! Tips for raising an optimistic child
The most precious gift you can give your child is not an excellent education or a sizeable inheritance – it is equipping him with self-esteem and optimism to help him through life’s ups and downs, says Terésa Coetzee
PESSIMISTIC CHILDREN ARE more prone to suffer from depression, according to the experts. Here’s what you can do to guard your child against depression and give him a positive outlook on life.
Besides a healthy body we want our children’s lives to be filled with friendships, love and good deeds. We want them to be eager to learn and ready to tackle new adventures. We want them to be grateful for what they have and proud of the things they achieve themselves. To crown it all we want children to be strong enough to withstand the onslaughts of life, like the inevitable few failures along the way.
Martin Seligman, author of The Optimistic Child, says it is possible to raise children with those attributes, provided you have guarded them against pessimism and depression from early on.
You can raise a child who believes he is capable of making his dreams a reality. Seligman says it is the firm belief that you are capable of doing or achieving something that sets optimists and pessimists apart.
We probably all know someone who suffers from depression. They do not enjoy life and if they experience any difficulty it becomes a huge setback.
A pessimistic attitude can often lead to depression, says Martin. It is scary to think that depression is not limited to adults alone, but is fast sinking its clutches into our children. Even the slightest problem weighs heavily on children. They take it personally and do not know how to handle the problem.
“Stress and trauma, broken families, learning difficulties, alcohol and drug abuse and a unhealthy lifestyle can also give rise to depression,” says Liesl van der Sandt, a play therapist at the Play Therapy Clinic in Pretoria. Liesl previously practiced abroad and worked with traumatised war refugees and orphans in war-stricken Kosovo and Sierra Leone.
Liesl says parents must be mindful that a child has worries of his own that can make him feel down. We must be careful not do downplay a child’s worries or make their concerns invalid.
The experts agree that we can avoid pessimism and depression in children by using the necessary help and tools at our disposal. THE SECRETS OF AN OPTIMIST
This is how you can teach your child to be an optimist: • Bad events are only temporary. If your child says, “Nobody ever wants to be my friend,” teach him that it takes time to build friendships. • Good events are permanent, like knowing that you’ve won because you put in a lot of hard work and you practised. • Certain situations and causes of events are specific. Your child may feel that he is bad at a certain sport because he did not do very well. Remind him that it’s only a tennis (or other applicable sport) match that he did not do well at, and that there will be others. • Criticise unpleasant actions and behaviours rather than the child himself. “‘I am being punished because I hit my sister,’ is better than, ‘I am being punished because I am a bad child’,” says Seligman. CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM
Children learn how to observe the world around them mostly from their parents, teachers and coaches. They absorb criticism like a sponge.
It’s a matter of emphasis. Instead of telling your child he is lazy, you can tell him that he is not trying hard enough, and that you know he can do better. Your child takes note of how you interpret their mistakes. HOW TO BEAT DEPRESSION • Create a healthy family environment at home. It should be pleasant for your child at home. Your home should be the place where your child feels safe, loved, and comforted and where he is comfortable to share his feelings. • Be sensitive towards your child’s emotional needs so that he always feels safe and loved. • Teach your child how to deal with social problems without taking over the reins completely. • If you have an optimistic outlook towards life it will rub off on your child. • Make sure your child knows that you love him unconditionally. • A good support network is important. Make sure your child knows that mom, dad, granny, grandpa and their aunts and uncles love them too. YB