14.2.14

The Natural Optimism of Children


I've recently discovered MOOCs and I've enrolled in many courses. 

Last month I took one about Early Childhood Education offered by Open Universities Australia and even if I already knew quite a lot about the subject I decided to give it a chance to surprise me and teach me something new.

And that's exactly what happened!

Therefore, I'm here today to talk about children's OPTIMISM!

According to the founder of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, children are naturally optimistic. They are born with a strong sense of hope and a sort of immunity to feel helpless.

The adjectives that define optimism are: Personal, Pervasive and Permanent.

Optimistic children take events and look at them from a very personal point of view.

They might say: 'I'm really smart' or 'I'm really strong'

And then they apply this statements to everything they do.

Consequently they might arrive at the conclusion that they are just good at everything (pervasive) and that actually they are going to be that way forever  (permanent).

According to my personal experience I can say I've heard something like 'I know a lot of English!' 'Me too!' Or I'm very smart! or I'm strong!  And these children are 4!

And it's true that they act as if they're constantly keeping in mind those statements.

But also the opposite is true. Children who say 'I can't use scissors' sometimes don't even grab them to give it a try.

But what else can we do to preserve this amazing aspect of their personality or correct misjudgments about themselves?

What to do when they make a mistake, misbehave or do something that needs to be talked about?

The way we speak to them will have a  positive or a negative influence depending on how we do it.

So, for example, your daughter (or one of your students) has an argument with her playmate and tears off her doll's dress.

Instead of saying 'you're a naughty girl' etc. or in general using a negative style that will influence the child toward pessimism, you can use a positive approach: 'Gee, that's not like you. You are usually a really nice girl to your friends…' and then explain her what's the right thing to do.

However the other side of the coin is that too much empty praising can be counter-productive. 

Take a look at this article about how super smart kids avoided those school activities which required effort just because they were raised with the wrong idea that being smart supposes that you can succeed in everything automatically and with no effort.

Nobody has ever told those kids that some effort in addition to their intelligence would have led them to success in any field. 

'You're smart' should be a statement about children's potential, not about a fixed quality. Something that would make students feel good about the hard work they are doing to accomplish challenging goals.

In the end, depending on the way we approach our kids we have the power of influence the way they feel about themselves and how they interpret what happens to them.

So let's use our power to keep developing their optimism!


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Lucy dedicates a lot of time and love to thinking about and writing the posts she shares with all of you. Because she believes that a better teaching is the key for a better future. If you find any help, value or joy in this blog, please consider becoming a supporting reader. A donation, in any amount, will be gratefully accepted.