top of page

The Optimistic Child - Martin E. P. Seligman - Book Summary

This book was written by the author of Learned Optimism (summarized here) and Authentic Happiness (summarized here). After learning about “learned helplessness”. Dr. Seligman realized that in a similar way you can teach optimism.

The idea of this book is to show parents how to teach their kids about optimism - which is important to not give up, have better health, achieve more and most importantly immunize against depression.

In the book, the “Self-Esteem Movement” is highly criticized, and according to the author it’s the main force that brought such a steep rise to the depression epidemic. He explains that people feeling good when they do well in the real world, but when parents try to help children feel good without doing well - they get the opposite effect - making them feel worse. Instead of lying and praising bad results - you should encourage persistence over results, and teach the skills to help your children do well.

When failing, it is OK to feel bad about it. It is how you interpret the reason for failing that makes the difference. The 3 explanatory styles that are associated with learned helplessness and depression are permanence, pervasiveness, and personalization:

Permanence is the belief that negative events and/or their causes are permanent, even when evidence, logic, and past experience indicate that they are probably temporary ("Eva hates me and will never be my friend again" vs. "Eva is angry with me today"; "I’ll never be good at math").

Pervasiveness is the tendency to generalize the negative features of one situation are to others as well ("I’m stupid" Vs. "I failed a math test" or "nobody likes me" vs. "Jane didn’t invite me to her party").

Personalization is whether one tends to attribute negative events to one’s own flaws or to outside circumstances or other people. While it is important to take responsibility for one’s mistakes, persons suffering from learned helplessness tend to blame themselves for everything, a tendency associated with low self esteem and depression. The other elements of explanatory style–permanence and pervasiveness–can be used as gauges to assess whether the degree of self-blame over a particular event or situation is realistic and appropriate.

When we give feedback or talk about our own experience - we should be optimistic, describe barriers as temporary and specific, and give our kids confidence building experiences. 

Here are the skills that can help cope with depression that are taught in the book:

Catch auto-pilot negative thoughts, and deal with them consciously

Look for evidence

Generate alternatives

Decastrophy - accurately assessing the results, and not imagine the worst case every time.


Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page