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The Optimistic Child

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  1,165 ratings  ·  133 reviews
Despite the increased focus on self-esteem over the past three decades, depression in children has continued to grow, now affecting a quarter of all kids today. To combat this trend, Dr. Seligman began the Penn Depression Prevention Project, the first long term study aimed at 8 to 12 year olds. His findings were revolutionary, proving that children can be against depressio ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published August 2nd 1996 by ReganBooks (first published 1995)
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Oct 06, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've avoided writing my review on this for a couple of reasons. First, because I wanted to try out what I learned. I wanted to examine my own behavior, give my kids the assessment, and then observe and implement some simple practices outlined in the book. Second, I've avoided writing a review because I've felt it to be a daunting task. Given that it's been several months since my initial reading and I've had time to really think about the overall book, it's time to just spit out my thoughts.

I lo
Jane Lebak
Mar 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: self-help
This book cured my depression. I'd suffered depression from age 16 until about age 28, including postpartum depression; I picked it up so I could eventually help my two-year-old but realized shortly that he was far too young to do the exercises. I did them for myself anyhow, then set the book aside to come back to in about five years.

When I came back to this book five years later, I'd no longer been suffering from depression. Even after my second baby died at two hours old, I suffered grief but
Nov 28, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommended to Polly by: Caroline
I just found my notes on this book, so I will add them here:

The clearer the rules and limits parents set, the higher the child's self-esteem. "Masterful action is the crucible in which optimism is forged" (at pre-school age). Children make a habit of persisting in the face of challenges and overcoming obstacles. At school age, the way the child thinks-- especially about failure--is critical. They develop theories of what they can do to turn failure into success...the underpinnings of basic optim
Sep 02, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Richard Williams
Recommended to Johnny by: President of my College
Shelves: psychology
Although I teach young adults and no longer have any children at home, I believe this is a profound and useful book for people like me who ride the "Hero-to-Zero" Rollercoaster. The bulk of the book is on developing an optimistic mindset, but by this, the author does not mean the blithe positive thinking and meaningless platitudes of the self-esteem and unconditional praise movements.

Indeed, this clinical psychologist and former APA president takes the "self-esteem" ideas of (particularly) Cali
May 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Apparently the author, Martin Seligman, is sort of the authority on this subject. I've heard his name come up now and again in reference to the subject. There is an adult version called Learned Optimism. I initially picked this up to help my daughter, a pretty smart kid, who was going through a bit of a pessimistic streak, but I knew I needed it as well. And I benefited from it a lot, but I've tried to pass on some of the principles to her. What I like best about Seligman is the optimism he teac ...more
Nov 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book may not be so helpful if you have very young children but is definitely worth the read if you have tweens or teens. Seligman clearly marks the differences between seeing the glass half empty and the one half full. This book not only contains a lot of research data but also a ton of valuable concrete examples of what children can go through and how they handle it. Seligman shows what a parent should or shouldn't say in some situations, and provides a lot of tools to help children become ...more
Jon Cox
May 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I must admit, the message is very convincing to me, and the amount of research summarized is impressive. Seligman is the genius who came up with the concept of Learned Helplessness, and then turned it around and looked at Learned Optimism. I think every parent would do well to read this book and learn from it.

Having said that, the book itself could have used a little bit of editor's crafting. The writing was fine, but the introduction and review of the research lasts way too long. I found mysel
Kressel Housman
Nov 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: parents
Like all psychology books that appeal to me, this book cited real research, had a self-help angle, and wasn't dry reading. I very much liked the author's step-by-step ways to challenge pessimism, so much so that I'll probably look into his other book Learned Optimism. But this book was specifically written for parents with exercises and stories that we're supposed to do with our kids. He tested them out on a group of school kids as part of his research, and while I'm sure they were successful in ...more
Erika Hope Spencer
Sep 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This book is fascinating. Yes, I'm reading it for my son, but generally speaking it discusses how feeling that you have some power over your situation, can alter things, can overcome things, mixed with the actual accomplishment of this at least part of the time (which requires learning how to bounce back after rejection/failure) leads to an overall belief in yourself and in a fulfilling life that you can make for yourself if you don't get discouraged. Still, I absolutely believe that inborn tend ...more
Feb 28, 2011 rated it liked it
I read this as part of professional development for work. It's a bit dry, but interesting. A few nuggets I got out of it is that self-esteem building isn't as good as specific praise. This went hand in hand with another article I read recently that just telling your kids they are really smart can actually cause them to give up on things that they aren't automatically good at, versus praising your kid's effort at a task will encourage them to try things that wouldn't have and try harder. Also, he ...more
Dec 12, 2012 is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Perhaps it is unfair for me to apply the same criteria to this book as I would to something more scholarly, but Seligman's discussion of the increasing prevalence of depression among children was pretty unsatisfactory. He discounts the likely affect of the decreased stigma for acknowledging depression. He also ignores strong cross cultural research that indicates that societies with a high achievement focus and communal values also have high rates of depression and suicide among pre-teen and tee ...more
Frank Lawler
Most of the meat of this book could be reduced to a twenty page pamphlet. The rest of it feels filled with anecdotes about the progress of his research assistants. Seligman seems more concerned about the resumes and achievements of his staff than about actual practical information for parents. Who is the target audience for this book? Clinicians looking for case studies? Grad students? Professional colleagues? Any of these would be a better fit than readers looking for help with children with a ...more
May 21, 2010 rated it it was ok
I couldn't get through it. It didn't seem like it was written to be a practical guide to raising happy kids, which is what I thought it was when I bought it. ...more
Callan Delbridge
Dr Martin Seligman is a highly accomplished and highly regarded psychologist, revered for his work into the field of Positive Psychology.

Seligman has a belief that someday, similar to how we have studied diseases and found immunisations for them, that we can work towards finding immunisations against depression using psychology, and that we can start fighting off not just physical illnesses but also mental illnesses from a young age.

This book, The Optimistic Child, details his long-term research
Mary Richardson
Feb 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
In 1997, our oldest son was 9 with a prickly personality beginning to manifest itself. He always seemed so negative that I was worried about him being on the road to depression and problems with friends. I happened upon this book and I cannot tell you how it totally changed my perception of our son. We were so worried about his ability to take direction, make good choices, think before he would act and as he seemed to just crash through life - instituting consequences would have him just digging ...more
Reid Mccormick
Sep 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: social-science
I had a great childhood. I wasn’t completely spoiled but all my physical and emotional needs were met. I can’t recall any tragic moments or horrible moments. By all objective measures, I had it pretty good.

So it surprises me when I notice that my default status is pessimism. In college I dealt with some depression, but I bounced backed from that relatively easily and I definitely built up some good resilience. But no matter what I do or where I am at, I can never seem to shake off this forebodi
CeeCee Brewer
Dec 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
ANOTHER AWESOME BOOK BY MARTIN SELIGMAN. Man. This book discusses different ways on how children view the world positively or negatively. He states that there are early indicators if a child is going to be depressed. He uses different questionnaires and has done different studies with a population that shows people how to improve children's optimism. Some of these interventions include realizing how a child interprets certain events in their lives, how to criticize your child, how to teach your ...more
Synthia Salomon
Happy I read this so I can begin implementing strategies to help my daughter become and remain optimistic throughout her life. This is helpful for her and a good practice for me (as well). I shared this book with several parents I know. “Optimism isn’t about cheerful slogans or wishful thinking. Instead, useful optimism means taking accurate responsibility for your actions and persevering through setbacks. You can help your children become more optimistic by teaching them to see their challenges ...more
AnaMaria Rivera
Oct 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Good book, not just for researchers but even more oriented to parents, based on decades of applied research.

"Love, affection, warmth, and ebullience should all be delivered unconditionally. The more of these, the more positive the atmosphere, and the more secure your child will be. The more secure he is, the more he will explore and find mastery. But praise is an altogether different matter. Praise your child contingent on a success, not just to make him feel better. Wait until he fits the littl
Laura Risdall
Feb 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I read this book several years ago, following my education degree. Now, maybe 10 years later, I read it as a PARENT first and educator second, and it is revolutionary to me. I worry that my children will fall into depression, anxiety, stress. This book gives me practical tools, scenarios, role-plays to think through how to help them.

Tools like:
-Permanence- this is not a permanent situation. It can change. It is a season.
-Thought-catching- What is TRUE/FALSE about my negative thoughts?
Aug 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I found this book very helpful in understanding what does on the mind of kids and how to give them positive reinforcement while also being honest. Dr. Seligman's rich examples derived from other institutions across the world provide a great example of what we could be doing in the USA that we don't. I've tried to apply much of what I read to how I coach and raise my own kids and seen very positive results. It's been very helpful though at times difficult to implement. Overall, I really feel that ...more
Feb 18, 2021 added it
Optimism isn’t about cheerful slogans or wishful thinking. Instead, useful optimism means taking accurate responsibility for your actions and persevering through setbacks. You can help your children become more optimistic by teaching them to see their challenges as temporary and specific rather than permanent and all-consuming. 

Actionable advice:

Help your child master the world.

The feeling of mastering a skill or task is an important part of optimism and self-esteem. You can start fostering this
Mar 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
I think Dr. Seligman would have preferred a different title - perhaps "How to immunize your child against depression", or "The Not-Pessimistic Child". He argues that optimists do better in life, so at some level it is easy to want your kid to be optimistic. But by his definition of optimism and pessimism, both are inconsistent, treating good and bad experiences differently. That inconsistency can lead to depression if it is pessimism, but seems relatively harmless if it is optimism.

All that to s
Emilie Davis
Mar 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book was fascinating. I give it five stars, not because it was perfect, but because the author’s critical thinking skills and his ability to explain hard concepts to the average Joe is impeccable. That said, the research presented is old research. That’s not to say that all old research is bad, but usually indicates that it has likely been expanded by this point. Either way, it helped me reflect on my own style of thinking and gave me some clear guidance as a parent. I am excited to have my ...more
Kelly Creel
Jul 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I wish I’d found this book earlier in my journey as a parent, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to pass along the program to my early teen now. This program does a great job giving practical solutions and exercises that allow both children and adults to practice assessing situations and making productive choices instead of following the path of cynicism and learned helplessness. Sadly, optimism gets a bad rap, and the word itself has morphed into one that connotes unicorn rainbow farts and co ...more
Feb 18, 2021 rated it really liked it
Optimism is not about cheerful slogans or wishful thinking. Instead, useful optimism means taking accurate responsibility for your actions and persevering through setbacks. Parents could help their children become more optimistic by coaching them to view their challenges as temporary and specific rather than permanent and all-consuming. Besides, parents could help them master the world. According to this book, the feeling of learning a skill or task is an integral part of optimism and self-estee ...more
Nov 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: kids
I think the concepts taught in this book are valuable in raising a resilient child. Seligman talks about our shift away from a society in which we accomplish to a "feel good" society and discusses the damage that it can do to our children. He gives a lot of examples of the program they've created for schools and gives many of these exercises to his readers. Having children who seem to be naturally pessimistic, I hope this will help with their black and white thinking patterns. I'll have to updat ...more
Apr 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: g
This was pretty awesome. It teaches parents how to teach kids healthy mental and emotional habits.

It is also depressing learning the self- esteem push of “you are special” has increased depression 10 fold. But this book teaches us how to increase our children’s self confidence by having them do hard things and accomplish difficult tasks.

This is something I hope to keep referencing for many years to come.
Sep 23, 2018 rated it liked it
There is a lot of information in this book - difficult to take it all in in one reading. I will definitely have to revisit it again. The exercises are meant for 8-13 year olds, so my child is too young to try this out on now. However, I will be trying to work on some of it myself, so hopefully this modelling will help him pick up more optimistic habits (assuming I can pick up the habits myself)
Nov 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found myself liking this a lot more than I expected. In particular I like how he debunks the Pollyanna mindset and explains why focusing on self-esteem can be so damaging. He then provides the standard cognitive behavioral therapy tools in a way that could be used for children. The edition I listened to felt a bit dated so I'd be curious to hear an update on how well the interventions are working at preventing depression. ...more
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Seligman is the Zellerbach Family Professor of Psychology in the University of Pennsylvania's Department of Psychology. He was previously the Director of the Clinical Training Program in the department. Seligman was elected President of the American Psychological Association by the widest margin in its history and served in that capacity during the 1998 term.[4] He is the founding editor-in-chief ...more

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