Optimist or Pessimist–Either Can Be Learned

Columbus Day was a special day when I was in elementary school. We’d review “Columbus sailed the ocean blue in fourteen hundred ninety-two” and study his travel routes to the New World. Then after I became a teacher, much of the traditional story was disparaged. I still mentioned it on October 12 each year, though, for it is part of our culture.

It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around how long ago that was that I was in Miss Sue’s class, or Miss Floy’s class, or Miss Valley Legge’s class. (You know I couldn’t make up that name!) They taught basic values that still serve me well today. Maybe soon I’ll write about the day in 1954 when Miss Floy led us outside and we all added “under God” to the pledge of allegiance for the first time.

I’m now reading The Optimistic Child by Martin Seligman. He has excellent explanations for why so many more people in the United States are depressed than years ago when they had more reasons to be depressed. Years ago, everyone espoused the value of God, nation, family, and duty. Today much more emphasis is on self—what we can accomplish ourselves and what others can do for us. Pessimism is a characteristic of depression and he has good tips for counteracting pessimism.

His style is very readable and applicable with any child—or adult, for that matter. He is much more analytical and has studies to back up what he’s writing, but his philosophy for building a child’s self-esteem in a realistic way reminds me of the Haim Ginott books I read as I was rearing my children. You compliment specific accomplishments, such as “You did a good job of putting away your toys” rather than a blanket statement that they might believe is not true, such as “You are a great kid!” Not that you shouldn’t say the latter—just that pointing out their capabilities in a way they can agree with is most effective.

I’m not even half way through with the book, but already I think it’s a must-read for parents. I may be giving a few of these at Christmas this year!



  1. Kenda

    Okay, another book to add to my to-read pile! Sounds interesting–may I borrow your copy when you're done?

    And Haim Ginott books? You'll have to tell me about them, too 🙂

  2. chrisd

    It sounds like a great book but to be honest, I don't read a lot of non-fiction.

    I'm plowing through Donald Miller's book "Searching for God knows What."

    I'm off to look for the Sisterhood site.

  3. Lanita Bradley Boyd

    By Haim Ginott:
    Between Parent and Child
    Between Teacher and Child
    Between Parent and Teenager
    I think they are still in print. They were quick reads but oh, so helpful!
    And yes, I'll put you on the list to borrow The Optimistic Child.

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