The Optimistic Child

The Optimistic Child by Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D. (1995) offers us food for thought as we encourage children to carry-over the goals of speech therapy into real life. This book addresses the larger issue of teaching children how to approach life with a sense of empowerment and purpose. When we place the problems of stuttering in this larger context, we hope to give children the tools and mindset to overcome stuttering AND other challenges.

Parents worry about their children being teased for stuttering. They want their children to speak more fluently so as to avoid the pain of peer rejection. Dr. Seligman suggests that this desire to prevent and alleviate feelings such as sadness, anxiety and anger come from the "'whistle a happy tune' boosterism of the 1950's." (p.50) He says this strategy is actually counterproductive. "In attempting to cushion bad feeling, the self-esteem movement also minimizes the good uses of feeling bad." (p. 42) What could be good about feeling bad?

When children are challanged by stuttering or by practicing new ways of speaking, they may feel embarrassed, frustrated, and defeated at times. But Dr. Seligman thinks that "in order for your child to experience mastery, it is necessary for him to fail, to feel bad, and to try again repeatedly until success occurs." We cannot just tell our children to feel better about their speech. It is by DOING something that they alleviate bad feelings. It is active problem-solving that improves their situation. We can support children's efforts to find themselves a better way.

Today I played with Star Wars action figures. My playmate was a preschooler. As he talked about the characters in the latest Star Wars animated movie, I felt I was hearing fear mixed in with excitment, especially regarding the battle scenes. I felt the 'bad guys' in the movie looked quite frightening; so, I searched for some way to help this child feel safe. I said I liked where he placed his action figures and later described how his characters were effective in our play battles. I asked his advice for where to place clone warriors. (Is that what they are called?) I expressed confidence in the "Commander" and other leaders. Later, I would explain how he could feel safe with his parents protecting him. This little guy should not feel the need to defend himself against things as fearsome as the weaponry in Star Wars. In general, I looked for ways to assure him that his actions were more powerful than those of the oncoming menace.

To learn more about how to help your child experience and bounce back from negative emotions, visit the website of Robert Brooks, Ph.D. at http://www.drrobertbrooks.com/.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.