Tuesday, November 26, 2013
The Optimistic Child: A Proven Program to Safeguard Children Against Depression and Build Lifelong Resilience by Dr. Martin Seligman PhD
Though I don't read as much as some of my friends, I have read many books and written a few reviews. Seldom do I write the entire title...including the subtitle...on my post title. However, this book demanded full attention to the ENTIRE title: The Optimistic Child: A Proven Program to Safeguard Children Against Depression and Build Lifelong Resilience. I have been told I am an optimistic person. I happen to agree. I grew up in a very optimistic family. If there was a problem, we just needed to figure out how to fix it. Individually, we could do anything we put our minds to. If something happened that was painful or hard, after crying or being sad about it, we just knew that it would get better -- or that there must be a reason for it -- or that there was something to learn from that experience. I remember my Junior year in high school, I went through a really rough time. I have told people that I was kind of depressed that year. But you know what? What "depressed" looked like to me was crying because I couldn't find my shoes in the morning (that happened once), and feeling worn out in general (hello...I was taking a pretty good academic load, plus year-round sports, musical, class president, clubs, etc. I was a VERY busy girl). That's not depression. That's being a teenager. But because I grew up always so full of energy and...optimistic...this slump was devastating for my 16 year old self.
I'm now 33 years old and I've experienced a lot more than just busy days and rough classes. And though I maybe grew up "optimistically," I now have my own children. Life has gotten a lot more complicated for kids than they were only 10 years ago. And, I want to protect each of them the best I can. So when a book claimed to have a proven program to safeguard my children against depression and build lifelong resilience, I took notice. And I bought and read the book. I am so glad I did.
Dr. Seligman introduces a concept: what if we could immunize our children against depression? We have immunizations against other various physical diseases. What if we could immunize our children against mental health ailments? He claims we can; and he has a very convincing case. His ammo? What he calls Realistic Optimism. Dr. Seligman and his team created a class...a course...that they offered to the most at-risk for depression 5th graders. After the 24 week class was over (1 hr/wk for 24 weeks), these at-risk kids not only demonstrated a huge improvement in the way they thought, but these results were long lasting. The same group was followed and re-evaluated every 6 months until graduation. The program was then used on another group of at-risk kids. Success. Another group. Success. Then, the program was created for teachers. Teachers were trained and used these methods in their classrooms. Then the same program was created for families....so parents can do this with their own children. These programs can be found online. Read the book, and download the program.
Dr. Seligman makes the case that pessimistic thinking patterns are what fuel depression. Can we change those patterns? Yes. And he provides a structured way to do it.
There was one part of research that really stood out to me. We often talk about how depression is genetic...having a history of depression in a family will increase one's likelihood of having depression themselves. However, in a study with twins -- identical twins who grew up together and in different households -- they found that the genetic link is much weaker than originally thought. Genetics contributes about 25%. The other 75%? Environment. If you grow up in a home with depression, that's your environment. BUT, those mental patterns can be changed. And seeing that most of my children have been adopted....this comforts me. Yes, we may be predisposed, or more inclined to have pessimistic thoughts, which according to Seligman is an epidemic...but, now I feel like I have tools to really safeguard my kids so they can experience, and create, joy in their life.
I can't recommend this book enough. I loved it and plan on using his program when my kids get older for family night lessons. For now, I'm doing small things he recommends for toddlers...some we are already doing, and others I'm incorporating into our daily dialogue. Anything I can do to help my kids feel more in control of their life, to have more peace, and to be more successful...I'm all for it.