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Learned Optimism Children

Self-esteem is not only about learning how to acknowledge when you have done something well, but also how to set in place strategies to improve your performance next time, Families who foster self-esteem certainly celebrate achievements and successes, but it doesn't stop there. The parents in these families may ask their children:

Learned Optimism Children

  • how well they would like to do next time,
  • how they plan to do as well as they would like to,
  • what it will take to get that kind of result, and 
  • how they would feel if they actually managed to achieve that. 
One of the keys to having high self-esteem is to have a skill, a talent, or an ability identified in the late childhood/early teenage years and for parents to make a bit of a fuss over this skill. This is particularly powerful if it fits in with an interest of the young person's and if she can be encouraged to set goals to improve that skill even further. Success in a part-time job can also be valuable in building self-esteem during middle adolescence.
The language of optimism 

Families, when they work well, also teach children the skills of optimism. This is the ability to explain successes in such a way that they are caused by the person, reflect ongoing abilities in that person, and are linked to other strengths the person has. Basically, optimists take credit for the things that go right in their lives and tend to shrug off negative events as the result of external factors such as luck, fate, or other people. Pessimists blame themselves for what goes wrong and explain most positive events as the result of external forces. 

For example, if a young person succeeds in getting a good grade for a piece of work, it could be explained optimistically as: "I really used effort and imagination to get that mark, and I guess I am pretty good at school after all." Whereas a pessimistic way of explaining the same event would be: "It was good luck that the teacher was in a good mood when she graded the essay and that she missed some of the errors I made."

In the optimistic explanation, the cause of the high grade is due to the young person's own ability, which is seen as a permanent part of his character, and so may apply in other settings. The pessimistic statement explains away the success as being outside the person's control, due to temporary circumstances such as luck and the teacher's mood, and so may occur only in this situation.

Similarly, if dealing with a setback such as failing to play a musical piece well:
  • Optimistically: "I haven't had the time that I need to put into practicing to play that piece well, and I will put more time into it before trying again."
  • Pessimistically: "I can't play the guitar," "I'm tone deaf," or "I'm stupid."
In the optimistic statement, the setback is explained as temporary and changeable, whereas in the pessimistic statement it is seen as being due to a permanent, enduring failing on the part of the person.

The way that parents explain the successes and setbacks in their own lives can strongly influence whether their children develop more optimism or pessimism. And while optimists can sometimes be a little blind to their own shortcomings, this is far preferable to the other option. Optimism is a skill that can be taught. To find out more, you can check out Learned Optimism Children.