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Child Development 101: The Glass is Half Full

July 23, 2012
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In a recent blog post, Orlando mom Melanie Edwards describes how she taught her young daughter about optimism by explaining the meaning behind the Annie hit song, The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow.

It seems Edwards is on to something. A study by researchers at the University of California, Davis concluded that parents are the best predictors of a child's level of optimism. Children as young as 5 are capable of understanding how positive or negative thoughts can affect the way a person responds to a situation, researchers found.

Learned behavior is the key to how we react to life circumstances, says Los Angeles psychiatrist and physician Dr. Anandhi Narasimhan. "In my practice, I see parents who are high-strung or emotional, or they use loud language when they are under stress," Narasimhan notes. "These are the parents who will tell me their child [is moody] or throws tantrums."

Narasimhan acknowledges that some parents who are optimistic can have children who are anxious. However, she emphasizes that children who observe their parents responding to setbacks in a positive way generally will learn to use positive thinking as a coping skill.

Training one's children to identify the advantages of positive thinking not only supports a child's emotional well-being when things go wrong, but can also reduce some of the physical harm caused by stress, according to the UC Davis study. Narasimhan suggests the "Three Good Things" exercise, in which parents ask their children to describe three positive experiences they had that day to help reinforce positive thinking.

But what if a parent is depressed? Narasimhan recommends cognitive behavioral therapy to help parents learn to reframe their thoughts. The earlier they seek help, the better. "Studies show how babies of women who are depressed will turn their heads away if the mother's facial expressions reflect her sadness," she says.

Parents who want to learn more about positive thinking can read articles and take questionnaires online at Penn State's Positive Psychology Center. They can also search for books at the library. Narasimhan recommends Feeling Good by David Burns, and Maximum Self-Esteem by Jerry Minchinton.

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