Raising Resilient and Optimistic Children Abby Medcalf, PhD New Bridge Foundation Berkeley, CA Private Practice Berkeley, CA
Overview • Background • Optimism vs. Pessimism • Raising Optimistic Kids • Growth vs. Fixed Mindset • Practical Tips and Tools
Evolution of Feeling Negative • Natural selection likely favored growth of negative emotions as life saving innovation • Fight to the death = extreme negative emotions • Those ancestors who felt negative emotions strongest likely fought and fled the best, and passed on relevant genes
Evolution of Feeling Positive • Positive emotions have grand purpose in evolution • They broaden intellectual, physical, & social resources, building up reserves for when a threat or opportunity presents itself • When in positive mood, people like us better and friendship, love, & coalitions cement • Mental set is expansive, tolerant and creative; open to new ideas and experience
Heritable or Changeable • High heritability does NOT equal unchangeable • Traits like height and weight don’t change much • Pessimism and fearfulness are very changeable
Pessimists are…. • 8X more likely to become depressed when bad events happen • Do worse at school and sports • Have less demanding jobs than their talents warrant • Have worse physical health and shorter lives • Have rockier interpersonal relations • Lose American Presidential elections to their more optimistic opponents.
When we’re unhappy, we…. • Become distrustful • Turn inward • Focus defensively on our own needs • Looking out for number one is more characteristic of sadness than of well-being
Optimists • Have better health and live longer • Happy people are half as likely to die or become disabled as unhappy folks • Better health habits, lower blood pressure, feistier immune systems • More productive with higher income • Endure pain better and take more health and safety precautions • Display more empathy and willing to donate more time and money • Make approx. 4X more money
When kids are happy they are…. • Less self-focused, like others more, and want to share good things • Less likely to use drugs or alcohol abusively and wait longer before even trying drugs and alcohol • Less likely to have unprotected sex and wait longer to engage in sexual activity beyond “petting” • More altruistic, overall
Mechanics of Optimism • Martin Seligman, Explanatory Styles and the “Three P’s”
Explanatory Styles • We are constantly talking to ourselves; this is our internal dialogue • We are always interpreting events; both positive and negative • Seligman identified 3 primary elements of explanatory style: The Three P’s
Permanence • Permanent versus Temporary • People who believe good events have permanent causes are more Optimistic than people who believe they have temporary causes • Optimists explain good events to themselves in terms of permanent causes: traits, abilities, always • Pessimists name transient causes: moods, efforts, sometimes
Permanence • It’s my lucky day • I try hard • My kid never listens • I’m always lucky • I’m talented • I ask my kid to do things when he’s absorbed in a video game
Pervasiveness • Specific vs. Universal • Do we think the results of this one event apply to everything in our lives, or just that episode? • I get toothpaste on my shirt in the morning. Is my whole day ruined, or do I just change my shirt?
Pervasiveness • Do you catastrophize and generalize? • All trainings suck versus this training sucks • Homework is a waste of time versus this particular assignment, in this particular class, is not helpful
Hope • Whether or not we have hope depends the first 2 P’s • Finding temporary and specific causes for misfortune is the art of hope • Finding permanent and universal causes for bad stuff is the practice of despair
Hope • “I’m stupid” versus “I’m a normal parent who missed some signs in my daughter” • “Men are bad” versus “My husband was in a bad mood today” • This is your most important score
Personalization • People who believe they cause good things tend to like themselves better than people who believe good things come from other people or circumstances • Locus of control: am I responsible for an event or was something outside of my control responsible?
Personalization • People who blame external events do not lose self-esteem when bad things happen • On the whole, they like themselves better than people who blame themselves • “I have no talent at poker” versus “I have no luck at poker” • “I’m insecure” versus “I grew up with parents who were neglectful and abusive and this impacts how I act”
Realism • Optimism is not always a good thing: I like a pessimistic pilot • Pessimists are not more realistic than optimists
California Education • 1986: The State Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility • Academic failure, substance abuse, crime, poverty, violence, teen pregnancy, etc. all due to low self-esteem • 1990:“Toward a State of Self-Esteem” • No more red pencils • Ribbons for everyone
Dr. Roy Baumeister • Reviewed 15,000 scholarly articles written on self-esteem from 1970-2000; found that only 200 had scientifically sound way to measure self esteem and outcomes • Concluded that high self-esteem didn’t improve grades or career achievement, reduce alcohol/drug use, reduce sexual activity or violence among youth
The Optimistic Child • Self-esteem is a feeling state (embarrassment, satisfaction, contentment), but these feelings are rooted in the success of our commerce with the world • What a child does (mastery, persistence, overcoming frustration and boredom, meeting challenges) is at the core of self-esteem
Self-esteem is not shifted with affirmations, it’s changed with mastery
Self-Esteem • Feelings of self-esteem and happiness develop as side effects of mastering challenges, working successfully, overcoming frustration and boredom and winning • The feeling of self-esteem is a by-product of doing well.
So, it’s not encouraging children to feel good, but teaching children the skills of doing well
Depression • Until the 1960s depression was a fairly unusual condition, typically reported in middle-aged women • Currently, this is considered the “common cold” of mental illness with depression being diagnosed in junior high school or earlier. • People born after the “feeling-good” era and self-esteem movement are suffering depression at about 10X the rate of people born in the first third of the century
But, Why? Change from an “achieving” to a “feel-good”society: Happiness and high self-esteem are the new goals instead of achieving
Michael Jordan • Cut from his high school varsity team. • He wasn’t recruited by the college he wanted (North Carolina State). • He wasn’t drafted by the first two NBA teams that could have chosen him. • When he was cut in high school his mother told him to go back and discipline himself.
And that is why I succeed.” “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost over 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life…
Answer this…. • Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can’t change very much. • You can learn new things, but you can’t really change how intelligent you are. • No matter how much intelligence you have, you can always change it quite a bit. • You can always substantially change how intelligent you are. • Is your answer the same if you substitute “artistic talent” or “sports ability”for “intelligence”?
It’s in the Genes • Neuroscientist, Gilbert Gottlieb: not only do genes and environment cooperate as we develop, but genes require input from the environment to work properly. • Intelligence guru, Robert Sternberg: the major factor in whether people achieve expertise “is not some fixed prior ability, but purposeful engagement.” • Each person has a unique genetic endowment as we start with different temperaments and aptitudes, but experience, training, personal effort take them the rest of the way.
Malcolm Gladwell • “People prize natural endowment over earned ability. Deep down, we revere the naturals.”
Fixed Mindset • Your abilities are carved in stone. • Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser? • Risk and effort might show your inadequacies. • Effort is bad. It, like failure, means you’re not smart or talented. If you were, you wouldn’t need effort (geniuses don’t have to try hard). • Always want to succeed (and on the first try).
Fixed Mindset • Setbacks are traumatic. • This mindset gives you no way to overcome failure. • Students with fixed mindset have higher rates of depression because they ruminate over their problems and setbacks and believe they are incompetent or unworthy. • Students with fixed mindset told Dweck that their main goal in school – aside from looking smart – was to exert as little effort as possible.
Growth Mindset • The hand your dealt is just a starting point for development. • Effort is good. It’s what makes you smart or talented. • Everyone can change and grow through application and experience. • Passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it; even (especially) when it’s not going well.
Growth Mindset • Success is about stretching. • Don’t just seek challenges, they thrive on them. • Failure still a painful experience, but it doesn’t define. It’s a problem to be faced, dealt with and learned from. • Success is in doing you best, in learning and improving. • Setbacks are motivating, informative, a wake-up call.
Dweck’s Research • Studied effects of praise on students at 20 NYC schools over 10 years. • Kid takes puzzle IQ test (simple) and told kid score and gave one line of praise. • Some praised for their intelligence (‘You must be smart at this”). • Some praised for their effort (“You must have worked really hard”). • Why one line? “We wanted to see how sensitive children were.”
Next, students given choice of test • Choice #1: more difficult test than first, but students told they’d learn a lot from attempting the puzzles. • Choice #2: easy test, like the first one.
Guess what happened? • Of those praised for their effort, 90% chose the harder set of puzzles • Of those praised for their intelligence, 71% chose the easy test • The “smart” kids took the cop out
But, Why? “When we praise children for their intelligence, we tell them that this is the name of the game: look smart, don’t risk making mistakes, and avoid the risk of embarrassment.”
Next round, test is 2 yrs ahead of their grade level • Everyone failed. • BUT, those praised for effort on first test assumed they simply hadn’t focused hard enough on this test; they got very involved and tried multiple solutions. • Those praised as smart, assumed their failure was evidence that they weren’t really smart at all. They were miserable.
It gets worse… • After the artificially induced “failure,” students given test as easy as first one • Praised for effort students significantly improved on 1st score (about 30%) • Praised for intelligence students did worse than they had at the beginning (about 20%)
Dweck Concludes “Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable they can control…they come to see themselves as in control of their success…Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of their control, and provides no good recipe for responding to failure.”
Yes, your kid too Repeating experiments found this effect of praise on performance held true for students of every socioeconomic class, boys, girls, ethnicity, and every age group, (even pre-schoolers).