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August 31, 2015 / 16 Elul, 5775
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Q: I always thought it was best to be an optimist. But, I’ve been hearing (especially from a friend who is a perpetual pessimist) that there isn’t so much wrong with pessimism. Is this true?

A: In American culture, there is a large emphasis put on optimism. We are told that we need to think positively and that things will work out. For a lot of people, this type of outlook is beneficial and healthy. However, optimism is not a one-size-fits-all affair. Positive thinking works for some, but not for all. For people who have anxiety, optimism can be very difficult and unproductive. Instead, anxious people can harness that anxiety and use it in order to ensure that they do succeed.

This approach is what Julie Norem, the author of The Positive Power of Negative Thinking, calls defensive pessimism. She explains that defensive pessimism encompasses an entire process by which negative thinking transformed anxiety into action.”

“Don’t worry, it will all work out” does not always come true. Worrying and preparing yourself for the worst can help. And that is exactly what defensive pessimists do. Before going into a stressful situation, they set low expectations for themselves and then follow up with a list of all the things that can go wrong. Once they have figured out all of the bad things that can happen, they can begin to prepare to prevent them or to prepare to deal with them when they occur. This gives those with anxiety a sense of control.

In reality, roughly thirty percent of Americans are defensive pessimists, and then tend to also be highly successful. Their fear of negative outcomes tends to motivate them to perform better in the future.

 

Q: I grew up in a generation when parents potched their children. My generation didn’t potch kids, but we used time out instead. Now, people are saying time out is not effective as a disciplinary tactic. I definitely don’t want to go back to potching, even though it worked for my parents. What is your take on time out?

A: While at different points there is negative press surrounding the use of time outs, many psychologists and educators believe that when used correctly, time out can be effective and valuable. According to psychologist Daniela Owen at the San Francisco Bay Center for Cognitive Therapy, time outs increased compliance and positive behavior far more than other forms of discipline. Here are some guidelines when enforcing time out.

 

  • Separate. When negative behavior occurs, the parent should take the child away from the situation and place the child in a separate area. This area need not be in another room.
  • Explain. In as few words as possible, explain what the child did to earn the time out. For instance, Moshe’s mother might say, “No hitting” or “Don’t hit.”
  • Set a time. A reasonable amount of time is the child’s age in minutes. For example, if the child is three, time out should be three minutes.
  • Don’t attend. Once the child is in time out, the parent should avoid eye contact and not speak to the child. Time out is time out from the parents and the rest of the action happening in the house.
  • Embrace. When time out is over, “time in” begins. Parents should hug their child and let them know that he or she is loved.
  • Discuss. Later that evening or at a calm time before bedtime, parents can discuss with the child the events that led up to the time out. This will allow everybody to rationally and calmly evaluate how to better proceed in the future.

 

About the Author: An acclaimed educator and social skills ​specialist​, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at rifkaschonfeld@gmail.com.


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