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A Silver Lining in Every Cloud? Or Chasing Away the Clouds? Teaching Optimism : 

A Silver Lining in Every Cloud? Or Chasing Away the Clouds? Teaching Optimism Marilyn F. Rasmussen, Ph.D. Rose Stee, M.Ed. Christine Kayl, R.D. South Dakota State University Children, Youth & Families At-Risk Conference Chicago, 2007


A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. –Winston Churchill Most of the shadows of this life are caused by standing in one’s own sunshine. –Ralph Waldo Emerson Between the optimist and the pessimist, the difference is droll, the optimist sees the doughnut and the pessimist sees the hole. -Oscar Wilde, Playwright, author


In the long run, the pessimist may be proved right, but the optimist has a better time on the trip. -Daniel L. Reardon, Writer, poet The average pencil is 7 inches long with just a ½ inch eraser – in case you thought optimism was dead. -Robert Brault, American poet Teaching is the greatest act of optimism. -Colleen Wilcox, poet

Glass half-full? Glass half-empty? Are you an optimist or a pessimist?: 

Glass half-full? Glass half-empty? Are you an optimist or a pessimist? You win at the game of Jeopardy with your roommate. As you are strolling through the park, you find a $5.00 bill. No one else is around. Someone compliments the pair of shoes you are wearing.

Are you an Optimist or a Pessimist?: 

Are you an Optimist or a Pessimist? Someone shakes their fist at you while you are in traffic on a busy street. You have planned a family potluck picnic at the park but it is rainy and looks like it will rain all day. You just finished a lengthy project for your supervisor and her response to you is a hasty, “Good work, thanks.”

How You Think About Problems Me vs. Not Me: 

How You Think About Problems Me vs. Not Me Do you blame yourself when something goes wrong or there is a problem? Excessively? *Karen Reivich, Penn Resiliency Project University of Pennsylvania Do you look outside yourself for an explanation? It is important to warn that this is not the same as taking responsibility when it is deserved.

How You Think About Problems Always vs. Not Always: 

How You Think About Problems Always vs. Not Always Do you believe that the problem will persist forever and you can’t do anything to change it? Do you think that the causes are passing and that you have some control over the circumstances?

How You Think About Problems Everything vs. Not Everything : 

How You Think About Problems Everything vs. Not Everything The Everything person thinks the problem will spill into every domain of his/her life and will be ongoing. The Not Everything person is good at defining the problem as specific to this situation.

Optimism vs. Pessimism: 

Optimism vs. Pessimism Optimistic Children Source of resiliency among both healthy and ill children Less at risk for depression Higher self worth Higher sense of competence Pessimistic Children Lower self-esteem Greater risk of depression and suicide Peer problems Sydney Ey, et al (2005) Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry

Can Optimism be Taught? : 

Can Optimism be Taught? Optimists: Recognize that they can experience a wide range of emotions Understand that moods affect attitudes but mood does not necessarily reflect reality Optimists can be in control of their expression of emotions, in charge of their own emotions.

Changing your Mind-Set from Pessimistic to Optimistic: 

Changing your Mind-Set from Pessimistic to Optimistic Capture what you say. Listen to what you are saying to yourself. Me? Always? Everything? Challenge your inner voice. When thoughts are negative, ask yourself, is there another way to think about this?

Changing your Mind-Set from Pessimistic to Optimistic: 

Changing your Mind-Set from Pessimistic to Optimistic Generate alternatives. What are the “not me, not always, or not everything” alternatives? Put it in perspective. What are the consequences? What’s the worst that could happen? What’s the best outcome that is possible? Extremes are usually ridiculous. This forces us to look for “the most likely.”

First Step in Teaching Optimism: 

First Step in Teaching Optimism TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF Quality time for yourself Time with friends you can talk to, including same gender friends Exercise and good nutrition Spend time with nature Meditation, self-reflection, quiet time

Encouragement and Praise: 

Encouragement and Praise Rose Stee Youth Development/4-H Educator

Encouragement vs. Praise What’s the difference?: 

Encouragement vs. Praise What’s the difference? Praise may create undue pressures Encouragement builds self-confidence

Encouragement Praise : 

Encouragement Praise Self-Evaluation Tell me about it How can you learn from this experience? How do you feel about it? Behavior-focus What skills are you learning from this game? Who can tell me the rule? Praise I like what you are doing Good job; good work You look good You were the best Achieving Skills You are such a good girl You got first place! You are better than the rest

Encouragement Praise: 

Encouragement Praise Empathy I see you are angry I know you were hurt by the booing but you handled it well I see that playing soccer makes you smile Conformity You did it right You followed the rules You’re a good sport I know just how you feel

Encouragement Praise: 

Encouragement Praise Self-disclosing “I” message I felt proud when you led your teammates over to shake hands with the other team I appreciate your working together as a team I feel happy when you sing I feel encouraged when you and your brother work together Judgmental “I” message I’m proud of you You never make a mistake I know you have worked hard I like your aggressive behavior on the playing field I understand you are upset about your team’s loss

Encouragement Activity: 

Encouragement Activity Purpose: Build Self-Esteem Activity: Divide into pairs or groups Using the worksheet, look over the phrases listed under “Praise” As a group come up with words or phrases to help build a youth’s self-esteem by encouragement rather than praise

Encouragement Activity – Reflection : 

Encouragement Activity – Reflection Which encouragement statements were most difficult to develop? Self-evaluation Addressing behavior Empathy Self-disclosing “I” messages Which were the easiest to develop? How have you previously used encouragement in working with youth? What challenges have you encountered as you tried to use encouraging remarks? What did you learn about yourself when doing this activity?

Monitor Your Use of Praise to Children: 

Monitor Your Use of Praise to Children Praise to Avoid General, non-specific leads to vulnerability and sense of self-worth dependent on that praise Praise for a fixed-trait, such as intelligence or musical talent, may lead to worry about failure and therefore child avoids taking risks. Appropriate Praise Achievement – what child does. Be specific “good use of color in that picture” not “good job” Process – how the child does it. Examples: for effort, for inventiveness, or for keeping at it. Person – who the child is. Valued for who they are. “I like having you in my group. Your smile is contagious.”

Optimism in 4-H Application of a Characteristic : 

Optimism in 4-H Application of a Characteristic Christine Kayl


The Circle of Meeting Youth Needs Youth characteristics and behaviors impact whether they will get needs met in new situations. Adult responses to needs impact development of characteristics and behaviors in youth. Slide developed by Cathann Kress- Director Youth Development. National 4-H Headquarters. Response - Increases Characteristic or Behavior Behavior or Characteristic Impacts Type of Response Need Met or Unmet

Optimism and Needs: 

Optimism and Needs 4-H aspires to help youth develop and “grow” their internal and external assets The internal characteristic of optimism (or lack of optimism) can be positively influenced by teaching youth self-examination skills and by building their positive self-worth An optimistic outlook or attitude generally elicits a positive response from other youth and adults Need Rational Response Optimism

Fostering Optimism in Youth The 4-H Model : 

Fostering Optimism in Youth The 4-H Model Learning by doing Community spirit and social capital Youth development Four Essential Elements of 4-H Independence Belonging Generosity Mastery


Independence Responsibility Self determination Self discipline Better understanding of oneself Independent thinkers “I pledge my head to clearer thinking…”

Independence and Optimism: 

Independence and Optimism Responsibility for actions and reactions Ability to accept strengths and deficits Make realistic goals and plans Competency to challenge oneself Confidence to take roads less traveled Self esteem


Belonging Positive relationship with a caring adult An inclusive environment A safe environment Physically and emotionally “I pledge my heart to greater loyalty…”

Belonging and Optimism: 

Belonging and Optimism “Safe and inclusive environment”- a place to practice optimism Individual Group Social interaction skills for a lifetime College Workplace Marriage Community


Generosity Value and practice service to others Demonstrates meaning and purpose Big picture “I pledge my hands to larger service…”

Generosity and Optimism: 

Generosity and Optimism Increased awareness of self and OTHERS Everyone may need a helping hand at one point One’s reactions/actions may affect others People and events are inherently good Hope Trust


Mastery Engagement in learning Able to see oneself as an active participant in the future Safe environment to make mistakes and receive feedback Opportunity to feel capable Success at solving problems Meeting Challenges “I pledge my health to better living…”

Mastery and Optimism: 

Mastery and Optimism Take a chance and try Accept success and failure Take another chance and try Practice Plan for the best outcome Make mastery and confidence a lifelong habit

4-H & Optimism – Hand in Hand!: 

4-H & Optimism – Hand in Hand! Essential elements Independence Belonging Generosity Mastery An optimistic attitude will assist youth in having their needs met Application and practice of optimism as a lifetime skill

The ABC Model (Martin Seligman) Teaching Children the ABC’s of an Optimistic Approach to Life: 

The ABC Model (Martin Seligman) Teaching Children the ABC’s of an Optimistic Approach to Life Adversity – any negative event Beliefs Consequences – how you feel and behave following the adversity Beliefs can be the cause of a particular consequence *Albert Ellis, Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy.

Basic Skills of Optimism: 

Basic Skills of Optimism Thought catching – recognize the thoughts that cross your mind at the time you feel the worst. Evaluate these thoughts. Acknowledge the things that you say to yourself are not necessarily accurate. Generate more accurate explanations when bad things happen. Decatastrophize! Do you only think of the worst case scenario?

The ABC Model – Martin Seligman: 

The ABC Model – Martin Seligman Key Point: how a child feels doesn’t come out of the blue and isn’t determined by things that happen to him. It is what he says to himself when problems arise that makes him feel the way he does. When he feels mad, sad or afraid, there was a thought that triggered that feeling. If he uncovers the thought, he can change how he feels.

The ABC Model Adversity – Belief – Consequence : 

The ABC Model Adversity – Belief – Consequence You get into a fight with your best friend. Sad – Now I don’t have any friends Mad – My friend was just being mean. Okay – We’ll make up and be friends again soon

The ABC Model: 

The ABC Model You get a low mark on your spelling test. Scared – I’m going to get in big trouble at home. Guilty – I’ve been goofing off too much instead of studying Okay – I can work hard and do better on the next test.

The ABC Model: 

The ABC Model Your older brother is allowed to stay up late to play video games with his friends and you aren’t. Mad – I’m never allowed to do anything fun. Sad – They love him more than me. Okay – They took me to the movie last Saturday and not him.

Thoughts – not adversity – cause feelings: 

Thoughts – not adversity – cause feelings Your work is always messy. Why can’t you be more organized? Angry thoughts: Okay thoughts:

Thoughts – not adversity – cause feelings: 

Thoughts – not adversity – cause feelings No, thank you Would you like to go to the skate park? Sad thoughts: Okay thoughts:

Thoughts – not adversity – cause feelings: 

Thoughts – not adversity – cause feelings Don’t waste your time. Try another activity. Did I make the team coach? Angry thoughts: Okay thoughts:

Thoughts – not adversity – cause feelings: 

Thoughts – not adversity – cause feelings Near her, Liz sees 2 girls whispering to each other and looking in her direction. Sad thoughts: Okay thoughts:

Explanatory Style: 

Explanatory Style Personal - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Impersonal Me vs. Not Me Permanent - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Temporary Always vs. Not Always Pervasive - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Specific Everything vs. Not Everything

Explanatory Style: 

Explanatory Style Pessimistic Believe that I am the sole cause of the problem (Personal) Situation or problem is unchangeable (Permanent) Problem will undermine every area of my life (Pervasive) Optimistic Other causes, people or explanations for the situation may exist (Impersonal) Circumstances vary from situation to situation (Temporary) Situation is specific to this problem and not every part of my life (Specific)

Learned Optimism is about Accuracy Warning – do not simplify the problem: 

Learned Optimism is about Accuracy Warning – do not simplify the problem Help child judge whether or not he is responsible. Being optimistic is not blaming everyone else and shirking responsibility. Being an optimist is not saying: “It’s not my fault.” Empty optimism: “Everything is just wonderful!” Pollyanna. The pessimist complains about the wind, the optimist expects it to change, the realist adjusts the sails. -William Arthur Ward, Author

Children at risk for depression blame themselves whenever things go wrong. : 

Children at risk for depression blame themselves whenever things go wrong. Although most problems result from a complex set of factors, these children often think things are black or white. They feel worthless and guilty. Consult parents and health care professionals if you suspect depression.

Signs of Depression in Young Children: 

Signs of Depression in Young Children Takes little pleasure from play & activities Sadness Low energy Low self-esteem Hopelessness Guilt Difficulty concentrating Stomachaches or headaches Weight/appetite changes Excessive crying Restless Desire to be alone Difficulty making friends or getting along

Depression Triggers: 

Depression Triggers Insecure attachment Divorce or family conflict Death or illness in the family Too little time with primary caregiver Physical abuse, including excessive punishment Lack of encouragement Being required to sit still long periods of time Persistent criticism Teasing or bullying Lack of consistent/ clear boundaries Lack of contact with nature Too much TV or violent media Not having needs met: safety, emotional security, attention or importance


References: Ellis, A. (1996 rev.). Reason and emotion in psychotherapy. NY: Carol Publishing. Ey, S., Hadley, W., Allen, D.N., Palmer, S., Klosy, J., Deptula, D., Thomas, J., & Cohen, R. (2005). A new measure of children’s optimism and pessimism: The youth life orientation test. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry. 45(5). Kress, C. Essential Elements of 4-H Youth Development Murray, B. & Fortinberry, A. (2006). Raising an optimistic child. New York: McGraw-Hill. Seligman, M.E.P. (2006). Learned optimism: How to change your mind and your life. New York: Pocket Books. Seligman, M.E.P. (1995). The optimistic child. New York: Harper Perennial.

On-Line Optimism Quizzes: 

On-Line Optimism Quizzes http://www.myprimetime.com/health/optimism/optimism_quiz.jsp http://www.bradfordcollege.ac.uk/college/research/allpd/Optimism.htm http://stress.about.com/library/optimismquiz/bl_15optimism_quiz.htm

Questions or Comments?: 

Questions or Comments? Thank you

Promote a Sense of Mastery and Competence: 

Promote a Sense of Mastery and Competence 1. Take a chance to try. Give a child a rich environment full of choices and let child know that you support her effort to try something new. 2. Accept both success and failure. Do what you can to provide appropriate challenges. But when outcome falls short - acknowledge the effort. “I know its frustrating but you tried and you get a little better each time you try.”

Promote a Sense of Mastery and Competence: 

Promote a Sense of Mastery and Competence 3. Practice. Children need to experience success to build mastery. Identify and reinforce child’s areas of competence. Child is more likely to try and to gain competence in areas that the child is curious and enthusiastic about.

Promote a Sense of Mastery and Competence: 

Promote a Sense of Mastery and Competence 4. Plan for the best outcome. Teach a child how to plan. Have child think about the possible outcomes and to plan for the best result and to think about a future reward for actions today. “If we save some of this paint for next week, we could paint pumpkins too.” Show how to opt for future rewards.

Promote a Sense of Mastery and Competence: 

Promote a Sense of Mastery and Competence 5. Yes! Make optimism and confidence in a positive outcome a lifelong habit. YES! I CAN DO THAT! Recognition of one’s own competence – realistic appraisal of what she can and cannot do.

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