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This article I did not write, but was quoted in Redbook Magazine, March 2000.    

Can-Do kids Who look Forward to their Future are Happier and Healthier

It's a lazy afternoon, and I'm hanging out with my 4-year-old daughter, Lena, as she struggles to put together a "Jungle Book" puzzle. "Does this go here?" she asks, gripping another amoeba-shaped piece and trying to stuff it into a square corner. It's all I can do to resist plunking a handful of parts into their rightful position and chirping, "There you go!" Instead, I mentally give my outstretched hand a slap and say, " Why don't you look for some shapes that will fit into corners first?" When her masterwork is complete, she presents it to me as proudly as if she were bearing the keys to the city. "I did it! I want to do another one!" she exults.

As someone who is happy when she's alphabetizing her spice rack, it doesn't come naturally to me to guide Lena and then get out of her way. But I've seen the benefits: She learns that with enough trial and error, she'll get what she wants. Whether she's working on a winning soccer move or figuring out a way to make amends with a friend, with every solution she grows more confident. She's becoming an optimist.

"Optimism isn't just about telling yourself positive thoughts, like 'Every cloud has a silver lining,'" says Jane Gillham, Ph.D., co-author, with Martin Seligman, Ph.D., of The Optimist Child. "There has to be a real basis for it. Optimistic kids look toward the future worth hope because they know that they have the skills to meet the challenges."

Even kids who seem to have been born with Chicken Little temperaments can learn to be more optimistic, experts say. It's skills that make life a lot easier for them, as recent studies show. Students who were identified by their teachers as optimistic were found to get along better socially in school, work longer at tough academic problems, and achieve more than their pessimistic peers. They feel healthier, are less anxious, tend to bounce back from illness better when they're older, and are less likely to become depresses.

Fortunately, it's never to late -- or too early - to raise an optimist

Encourage your child to be a part of the bigger picture. In addition to taking care of herself, "doing chores that contribute to the family teaches a child that she's a valuable member of a team and helps her believe in herself," says Charlene Messenger, Ph.D., author of Secrets of the Third Little Pig: 7 Steps to Build a Child's Inner Strength. "Assign something that takes effort; your 3-year-old can break up salad for dinner, and your 8-year-old can do the dishes for example."

Foster a sense of involvement in the community too. People who volunteer and feel that they're contributing to the greater good are better at minimizing personal setbacks. Your kids can pick up litter in the playground, water an elderly neighbor's plants, or volunteer for a civic or religious group. In fact, recent studies indicate that people who are involved in a religious community are more resistant to depression. They feel support from a wide circle, and faith gives them hope that they can influence their world.

Let your kids practice decision-making. Kids who are in the habit of thinking for themselves feel more in control of their lives. Making good choices takes practice, so give them plenty of it by frequently offering age-appropriate alternatives: "The blue or the red juice cup?" for 2-year-olds; "French or Spanish class?" for 10-year-olds. They'll learn to share your faith in their ability to make wise decisions.

When your child has problems, asking open-ended questions can help her figure out her own solutions. "Abby's math homework has gotten harder now that she's in fourth grade," says Amy Hansell, a Piedmont, CA, mom of two. "When I look over her work instead of saying 'That one's wrong,' I'll point to a problem and say 'Can you tell me how you got this answer?' When she explains it to me, she usually finds the error herself."

How to Raise

an Optimist