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Are you an optimistic or a pessimistic parent?

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Are you an optimistic or a pessimistic parent?

Do you see the glass as half empty or half full? This is the age-old question that supposedly defines the difference between optimists and pessimists. Recent research helps us understand a little better that this analogy is not so much about the glass as it is about how we explain to ourselves why the glass is half empty or half full.

Psychologist and researcher Martin Seligman has studied how optimists and pessimists operate differently in the world. He attributes this to their "explanatory style". This refers to how optimists and pessimists explain situations that occur to them to themselves. Interestingly, he found that the same type of experiences occur for both optimists and pessimists. They fall in love. Have relationships break up. Get fired from jobs, etc. This contrasts with the common belief that more positive things tend to happen optimists.

He found in his research is that optimists and pessimists differ on how they explain these situations to themselves when they occur. Optimists tend to see negative events that occur for them as being somewhat temporary and limited in their life. Pessimists will tend to see negative events as more permanent and part of a larger pattern in their life.

Let me explain this in an example. Let's say that both an optimist and a pessimist have a dating relationship that breaks up. An optimist would look at that situation and say, "I'm sad this relationship didn't work out, but I'll bounce back and find someone who really cares about me." The pessimist would likely say something like "I'm sad this relationship didn't work out. That's just one more person in my life who doesn't love me anymore."

Take Away

Applying this to parenting, it is not that pessimism is something to be avoided. Pessimism can help spur a parent to take steps that they would normally not take to address a problem situation they are facing. For instance, a parent concerned about their child's safety may require the child to wear a helmet before they can go biking outside.

In general, it is helpful as a parent for you to consider how you are explaining situations that are coming up in your life to yourself particularly as they relate to parenting. Creating this self-awareness can help you begin to question whether the thinking you are having is worth keeping.

If you find yourself becoming overly negative about your child's behavior, you can help the situation both by reducing the level of pessimism that you are experiencing by looking for strengths that your child is exhibiting or changing the way you are viewing your child's behavior. This can be done by looking at your child's behavior not in a permanent, negative viewpoint but as something perhaps more temporary or transitional.

The goal of all this is not necessarily to "think happy thoughts and be happy" but to look at situations more realistically which often can result in feeling happier.

I encourage you to spend a moment to consider some recent behavior your child has exhibited and ask yourself, "How am I viewing this behavior?". If the way you are viewing it bothers you, consider what may be some alternative ways of looking at it. It is often our flexibility as parents in our thinking that can help have a more positive impact on our child.

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