YCIS Beijing Parenting Workshop: 3 Tips for Raising an Optimistic Child
On June 20, the Yew Chung International School of Beijing hosted one of its many regular informative free Parenting Workshops to parents, teachers, and members of the Beijing community, titled “The Optimist Child.” Presented by professional coach Caroline Wu Beloe, the seminar incorporated the teachings of world renowned childhood development specialist Dr Martin Seligman. Subject matter focused on how to foster an optimistic attitude in children of all ages by emphasizing not on a perceived ability to achieve, but rather on curbing feelings of inadequacies. Ms Beloe explains that by doing so, children are less likely to become prone to depression and also become more likely to more confident in their daily lives.
The secret to fostering an optimistic child, according to Ms Beloe, is centred around the three P’s principle: Permanence, Pervasiveness, and Personalizing. When communicating with children, regardless of whether the context is praise, criticism, or encouragement, incorporating this method changes the paradigm of a child’s thought from “doing well leading to feeling good” to the much healthier and emotionally sustainable “feeling good leading to doing well.” By following the steps listed below, the actions and emotional resilience of the child will become much more positive and stable.
Permanence: We are all prone to making the mistake of taking an absolute view of situations, e.g.: “You never clean your room.” This statement not only makes a child feel upset but also reinforces a negative cycle. As the statement has been made that the child never cleans, it becomes subconsciously implanted that despite being disliked, it is expected that the child will never clean his or her room; the child will act in this way and also continue to feel negatively for it. Instead of using an absolute statement, one should instead take the lighter approach of “your room is a mess. It is time to clean it.” This approach enforces a more positive cycle, i.e. “when my room is dirty, I should clean it” instead of “my room is dirty and I feel bad because I never clean it.” Breaking negative thought cycles and praising positive cycles starts and ends with the parent’s ability to communicate in a manner that does not enforce a permanent and therefore unbreakable cycle.
Pervasiveness: Negative pervasiveness refers to the thought process that because of a failure in one aspect, the situation as a whole is also a failure. This is often seen in a child’s studies. For example: “I’m bad at Maths” unequivocally means “I’m not good at studying” or “I don’t like school.” An optimist has the ability to compartmentalise a perceived failure or area of inadequacy, whereas a pessimist will use said inadequacy as justification for not attempting tasks in the future. To alter this cognitive process, parents must help their child put the situation into perspective. Using the example of Mathematics, respond to the child’s negative statement by using less pervasive comments, e.g. “You find fractions a little difficult sometimes, don’t you?” followed by reinforcing a positive cycle through highlighting an area worth praise, e.g. “you got this answer correct, though, so you are” Helping a child understand that a single mistake or area of inadequacy does not denote a complete failure in all aspects will encourage the child to look at the bigger picture and find reason to persist.
Personalization: Pessimistic children tend to assume that all negative events and problems are a direct result of themselves. Blaming themselves for undesired situations that are out of their control will cause a child to continually feel upset and guilty until the situation becomes resolved (if the situation is resolved at all). An optimist will not internalize negative situations and instead look for a more reasonable rationale for it. To help children become more optimistic in the face of such situations, parents should help look for different causalities. For example if your child claims, “Bill hates me,” help the child change their perspective on the situation by explaining “Bill was having a bad day.” Talking through the situation with a child, then reflecting on the factors involved, will help him or her to stop internalizing the problem and blaming themselves.
By understanding and utilizing these three principles in tandem, your child will begin break negative thought-cycles and develop a more positive and rational outlook on life. This highly effective method greatly reduces the likelihood that a child will become depressed not only during their childhood but also ensure that they will become an emotionally stable and positive individual later in life.
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