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Parent ‘Optimism Training’ May Reduce Behavior Problems


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Providing “optimism training” to parents of children with developmental disabilities who struggle with challenging behavior appears to go a long way, researchers say.

Behavior issues seen in children were more likely to subside for parents whose own attitudes were addressed while they were taught to implement positive behavior support as opposed to parents who were merely trained in how to address their children’s challenges.

The findings come from a five-year study looking at 54 families of children ages 3 to 6 with developmental disabilities who struggled with serious challenging behaviors like aggression and self-injury. Researchers specifically selected parents who were pessimistic about their children’s prospects.

For the study, parents were asked to participate in eight weekly sessions. Half learned to implement positive behavior support while the other half received behavior instruction as well as so-called optimism training. This additional instruction helped parents learn how to identify and address patterns in their own thoughts and feelings. In difficult situations, for example, parents were taught to use positive self-talk like “this is a situation I can handle” as opposed to thinking “my child is out of control.”

While both groups ultimately saw fewer problem behaviors after parents participated in the sessions, the study published in the July issue of the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions found that those who received the added optimism training saw more benefits. Parents in this group said they were better able to implement the strategies they learned and, in turn, experienced a greater reduction in negative behaviors and observed an increase in positive behaviors in their children.

Moreover, both groups of parents were found to be less pessimistic after participating in the study.

“Parents who received the additional optimism training reported that they felt more in control at home, that they did not avoid going into the community and that they had higher hopes for their children compared to parents who did not get this added training,” said the study’s lead author, V. Mark Durand of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

What’s more, Durand said that the more optimistic parents helped their kids work through previously challenging situations like eating at the table or brushing their teeth while parents who did not receive the optimism training avoided potentially problematic activities.

Researchers said the findings are promising particularly given that instruction was limited to eight parent-only sessions, suggesting the method could have a big impact while being highly cost-effective.

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Comments (7 Responses)

  1. Terry Paulson says:

    It is not surprising that those who worked on maintaining a positive optimistic attitude found more strength and satisfaction in parenting. In writing “The Optimism Advantage” we focused on the fact that optimism is earned through a track record of overcoming obstacles. As a result, the more parents do cope effectively, the more confident they will be that they can handle the challenges they face as parents and as a family. Thanks for sharing this research. I’m sure it will be helpful to those facing racing a child with special needs.

  2. Connie Allison says:

    I would imagine some of the results are that our children reflect our attitudes and learn from our examples. Modeling is a big component of behavior modification. They also pick up on our fears and anxiety.

  3. Amy A. says:

    This is important for all parents, and not just those with special needs. Negative, mean people breed little mean people with poor attitudes? …you don’t say.

  4. maria Hrabowski says:

    while it is true that my son reacts very strongly to any sign of my disappointment (not with him) impatience, anger and worse of all exasperation, the picture is not as simple as this article is stating. . The matter of fact I find this article terribly irritating, as in convoluted way it puts blame on parents unhappiness for a child’s behavior. The other way . The other way it usually ha[ppens. There were times, when I dreaded my son’s return from school DREADED!!!! And there are times now when his behavior does affects me negatively even now. Most of the things that happen cannot be dealt with through happy smile. The change requires fortifying yourself with more strength, concern, courage, and going against what everybody else is telling you. With my son’s progress comes happiness. with my son’s educational neglect at school comes stress and more stress. Reading simplifying articles like the one above doesn’t help either. Please spend one week caring with all the happiness you have for self injurious or aggressive and deeply unhappy, probably suffering individual, whom you cannot help in any way, and you cannot find anybody who would help him and then tell me what your optimism did for that child. Before you do that, refrain from sharing this “research”. The results, the false optimism is typically American habit of looking other way or?and blaming the victim.

  5. usethebrainsgodgiveyou says:

    When I changed myself, I was amazed at how much my son’s behavior improved. That said, I also found my power parental muscles that said, “I mean business!”. Overnight, I saw things differently. I was a very, very negative person who had no faith in my own power as a parent.

    Good luck to all. It is hard to change.

  6. Debbie Baker says:

    This is very interesting but of limited use if there isn’t any practical information such as what exactly makes up the optimism training, is there any such training available now, and what are some resources parents can access now to help them take a more optimistic perspective.

  7. Virginia Anderson says:

    I am interested in this type of training. I have grandchildren with these kind of challenges. Please advise where this training is available. Thank you

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