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Book Review: The Optimistic Child (by Martin EP Seligman)

Last week, one of the mums I was working with repeatedly burst into tears as she described her 8-year-old’s low self-esteem. He was reluctant to try anything new, gave up easily in the face of failure and struggled with friendships. She could already see him falling behind his potential and was scared for his future. As a mum, she felt utterly powerless in the face of his relentless negative thinking and no amount of praise or encouragement (or anything else) seemed to make any difference. It is an all too common story.

The Optimistic Child is a book which will give hope to parents of children with poor self-esteem. Right from the start it makes crystal clear the links between pessimistic thinking and low self-esteem and it is packed with practical exercises for parents to use to recognise and tackle their child’s negative habits of mind. It is immensely readable, cogent, inspiring and practical. And most importantly, because it views pessimistic thinking as a ‘learned helplessness’ it offers the possibility that new ways of thinking can be taught.

There are undoubtedly dangers and pitfalls in this book too. The programme of exercises and learning that it maps out is a tall order for a parent to implement and undoubtedly some parts are more useable than others. DIY cognitive behavioural therapy is much easier to describe than to achieve – especially when your own parental hopes, fears and emotions are so engaged with the outcome. The quiz to measure a child’s risk of depression nearly sent me running to Accident & Emergency, the prognosis for my son was so bleak – so you do need to balance the views in the book with your own knowledge and understanding of your child. But the basic thinking is so sound and so clear that it has the potential to revolutionise the way parents view their children and their roles as parents. In essence, a child’s self-esteem is not inevitable or fixed or a mysterious process: it is governed by how a child interprets reality – and interpretations can be challenged.

I learnt a lot from this book and have passed on many tips from it to parents worried about their child’s negative thinking (see Teaching Optimism). It definitely isn’t a magic wand but it might help you understand better how self-esteem is formed and give you a few pressure points that could make a difference in helping your child develop a more optimistic habit of mind.

The Optimistic Child: A Proven Program to Safeguard Children Against Depression and Build Lifelong Resilience is published by Houghton Mifflin.

This is not a sponsored post – I bought and read this book because I was interested. It does however contain affiliate links, which means that if you click through from this post to Amazon and buy the book I will receive a small fee. See Disclosure Notice for more info.

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12 responses to “Book Review: The Optimistic Child (by Martin EP Seligman)”

  1. Mama, My Kid Doesn't Poop Rainbows says:

    Good to know, thanks! Sometimes when I’m presented with children like this I just accept that’s how they are rather than realize that steps could be taken to change their way of thinking.

    • AnitaCleare says:

      We often put things down to temperament or personality, I think, that actually are habits of mind or thinking that could be changed through challenge or circumstances.

  2. Catherine says:

    Thank you for your thoughts on this book, it sounds exactly like a book that a friend of mine could use right now.


  3. This is really interesting. I’ll definitely keep it in mind as it sounds like it could be useful. My 8yo is quite introspective (a long with being very sociable) and I’ve had to help him before with positive thinking. Always useful to have another tool in the parenting tool kit! #readwithme

  4. This sounds like it could help my eldest daughter, she’s quite a confident child but has a lack of self esteem! Thanks for sharing with #ReadWithMe

  5. That sounds very interesting! I’ve noticed my kids’ self-esteem seems to go up and down (but I’m relieved to say that on the whole it’s pretty good!). It’s good that you included the mention of the pitfalls and the importance of balancing the book with what you know about your own child.

  6. I went through this with my daughter, low self esteem was based on a certain groups of friends turning their back on her and we both really struggled with it. Her to accept it and me to encourage her to make new friends! We succeeded in the end and she is much happier. I found this review really interesting thank you #readwithme

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