Parenting a pessimist? This book’s for you.

Amazon: Freeing Your Child From Negative Thinking To call me an optimist is an understatement. People used to make fun of my relentless tendency to find rainbows hiding in thunderstorms. Age and experience have tempered the glare of my sunniness, but I'm still pretty damn positive.

And so, the world, in its wisdom and ironic humor, gave me the job of raising a pessimist.

Where I see a world filled with possibility and adventure, my son sees threat and monotony. In his mind, new experiences are scary, but familiar experiences are boring. Expectations are either so high that reality is dissapointing, or so low there's little motivation to try.

My knee-jerk optimism doesn't help him feel any better. Too often it reinforces the internal voice that tells him he's all alone.

My challenge is to maintain my optimism but to offer it to my son in palatable doses. Rather than using it to beat away his negative feelings, I try to offer it as a lens through which he can interpret events. I lend him my rose-colored glasses, when he's willing.

It has taken years for me to figure this out on my own.

On a recent library jaunt I spied Freeing Your Child From Negative Thinking on the "Recommended" shelf. I've read my share of "fix your kid" parenting books and finish most feeling either underwhelmed or defeated. Plus, this one's written by a Ph. D. which immediately raised my suspect parenting expert hackles. But if someone can help me avoid more of those painful lessons learned by experience, I'm willing to listen. I checked it out. And I'm glad I did.

This book is compassionate, practical, intelligent, and realistic. It not only gives parents a plan and specific strategies for helping kids reframe their negative thinking, it encourages parents to reframe the process of having to teach these skills in the first place.

For most kids, feeling and reacting happen in a split second. Dr. Chansky demonstrates, with exercises and age-appropriate scripts (for little kids to teens), how to teach your child to become aware of his initial feelings, but then to gradualy change the habitual negativity those feelings set off.

There's way more in the book than I can summarize here, but all of these exercises are doable, and more importantly, they sound natural. This isn't feel-good "I'm OK, you're OK" lip service; this is concrete, makes-sense stuff that will help you and your kid unravel the confusing jumble inside his head.

Bad stuff happens. That's hard. Here are some ways to think about it. More importantly, here's how to recognize and hold onto when the really good stuff happens. Because it happens more often than you might realize.

I just finished the book so I'm still formulating what it means to me, and how I will put some of what I learned into practice. I'm sure I could write a better review in a few weeks. But I was so excited about this book I wanted to share it with you right away. I wish I had a few to give out.

Is your kid a negative thinker? What strategies and tools have helped you along the way?

More: Tips for understanding and working with your child's behavior


  1. Mim says

    Hmmm, I wonder if I could use any of these techniques with my seemingly-incurably pessimistic husband!

  2. says

    Absolutely! Or for understanding your own pessimistic thoughts. I cast myself as the eternal optimist here, but everyone (me included) sinks into pessimism and anxiety at times. The techniques in this book are so straightforward, and yet so mindblowing. I think it’s good reading for anyone.

    This morning, I woke up with that tired Monday feeling of a busy week stretching out ahead of me. Because of what I read last night, I decided to tell myself a different story — that I was going to cross five things off my to-do list TODAY. Suddenly something big and scary felt achievable. It changed my entire demeanor.

  3. says

    Asha, I am just working through a great children’s workbook called “What to do when you grumble too much” with my 8yo son. So far, it’s worked miracles and I don’t really understand how this could possibly work so quickly but, knock on wood, it does! The strategies are very child-friendly (AND they work for me, too) and the approach is quirky and personal. I have another one for the other son (… when your temper flares) and both really like working with those books. I think they like them because suddenly somebody understands their feelings. I don’t usually recommend self-help books but this one wow’ed me.

  4. says

    I thought I was the only one! I’m often at a loss when my son gets into one of his dark moods. “Everything is ugly when I’m sad” was one of his recent memorable quotes (he is three). I appreciate the recco.

  5. says

    I’m beginning to think we live in alternate realities. As the household pessimist, I’m trying to get a grip on my negativity and not plant the same attitude in my children through similar reading.

    After reading NutureShock and Raising Happiness, I noticed they both cited Martin Seligman’s research and his book The Optimistic Child.

    Reading Seligman’s book has been life-changing for me. I’m not to the end, so there’s no review (yet). These books always make me think of neuro-linguistic hacking in sci-fi.

    For some good overviews of the positive psychology movement, I highly recommend checking out NurtureShock ( and Raising Happiness (

  6. says

    Isn’t that one of the basic challenges we all face as parents, Adrienne? That raising children puts us face-to-face with our own weaknesses and biases?

    I’ll keep my eye out for The Optimistic Child. But first, heading over to read your reviews!

  7. Trish says

    I’m going to head to the library to look for this because like Mim above, my husband is a serious pessimist/worrier. at times it’s very hard to support him because it goes against my nature so anything that would give me some insight/advice would be fantastic.

  8. Dana says

    I have a pessimistic son and I can’t wait to read this book and some of the others recommended here. It is so hard at times to try to think of ways to help him when we think in such opposite ways.

  9. says

    I think even generally upbeat kids tend to be negative thinkers when they feel like they are failing. Modern school system is a good example – is it possible for children to succeed at learning but still fail their tests? Quite possible but does it really matter. When my son declares, “I didn’t get 100 at the last test, I am dumb” it’s my role to bring up the positive to the surface. Maybe the grade could be better, but you still learned something new. I really like the acknowledge-the-bad-but-find-the-good approach.

  10. says

    This sounds like a book I should check out. Another way to look at pessimism is as a coping technique, not a problem. A researcher at Wellsley (Julie Norem) has done some really interesting work on this and coined the phrase “defensive pessimism” to describe people who see the problems potentially ahead as a way to protect themselves. I am somewhat like this, and feel most comfortable when I am able to plan for potential pitfalls. Then, if they happen I am prepared and if they don’t I am thrilled.

    The main thing I got from Norem’s work is that defensive pessimism, like optimism, is a frame, and is not worse or better than another way of being. The key (and it sound like this book you reference does this) is to think about ways to use your frame as an aid, not a hindrance.