The increase in childhood depression is difficult to understand.

tempting to attribute the increase to factors beyond our control —
social trends, genetic predispositions or perhaps even the food we eat.

noted psychologist, Dr. Martin Seligman, argues that the way we raise
our children has contributed significantly to their vulnerability to
this mental disorder. In “The Optimistic Child,” Seligman identified
parenting approaches that inadvertently help to produce depressed

Seligman argued that contemporary parents focus
excessively on kids’ feelings rather than accomplishments. Acquiring
things becomes more important than developing meaningful relationships.
Individual wants take priority over group needs. When things go wrong,
the focus is on blaming others rather than accepting personal
responsibility. Positive self esteem is valued over actual achievements.
Praise and recognition become freely dispensed entitlements rather than
based upon substantial accomplishments.

The way we raise our
children results in entitled and overprotected kids who are ill prepared
for the real world. Kids can’t deal with stress or failure, and
subsequently are more likely to become despondent and pessimistic.

antidote to such pessimism is what Seligman refers to as an “ABC model”
of parenting.

1. The A stands for adversity or the bad event that
Pessimistic kids tend to catastrophize and exaggerate
unpleasant situations. If a child is not invited to a party, he is apt
to declare that “no one likes him.” A youngster who did poorly on a test
reports that she “always” fails math exams. Parents need to challenge
such hyperbole, helping kids come to a realistic and specific
description of the disturbing event.

2. The B in the ABC model
stands for the underlying belief systems.
We all deal with distasteful
events, but depressed kids think of them in different ways. Seligman
points out that pessimistic kids tend to think of bad events as both
global and permanent. A depressed youngster who struck out a baseball
game reports that she always does poorly under stress (i.e., global) and
nothing can be done about it (permanent). Such kids also have problems
with identifying fault, typically either always blaming themselves or
always blaming someone else. Correcting these underlying faulty belief
systems is critical in treating depression. It’s important for parents
to be helpful not empathetic. Don’t try to make your children simply
feel better. Rather, at the right time challenge their faulty belief
systems that are leading to their pessimism.

3. The C in this
model represents the consequences that occur as a result of the adverse
Depressed kids exaggerate and misinterpret consequences.
Reporting that “everyone on the team now hates me and will never be my
friend” represents a misinterpretation that is global (“everyone”),
permanent (“never”) and incorrect.

Seligman’s The Optimistic Child
gives lots of specific examples and strategies to help parents prevent
negative attitudes and incorrect ways of viewing common negative events.
It’s a great way to prepare kids for the real world and protect them
against the serious mental disorder of childhood depression.

Gregory Ramey, Ph.D., is a child psychologist and vice
president for outpatient services at the Children’s Medical Center of
Dayton. For more of his columns, visit


Source: Dayton Daily News –