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ABCing Parental Involvement

written by Dave Shearon 17 May 2008

Dave Shearon, MAPP, applies positive psychology to both law and education. Dave writes articles about applications of Positive Psychology to law and education at his site. He co-authored the recently published book, Smart Strengths: Building Character, Resilience and Relationships in Youth. Full bio.

Dave's articles are here.

Parental involvement is widely recognized as important to the creation of great schools. This past week I was working with a group of school superintendents and one shared this story about ABC’s and parental involvement.

“ABC” stands for “Adversity-Belief-Consequences.” It is a key construct of cognitive behavioral therapy and, from a positive psychology stance, of explanatory style and resilience. An adversity (or an “activating event – something that catches our attention) occurs and we feel and act. Often, we assume that the adversity caused the feelings and behaviors — the consequences. But, between the adversity and the consequences are our beliefs.

Thus, if I speak to a colleague in the hall as we pass and he fails to respond, I may feel angry, sad, or nothing at all depending on whether I believe his behavior was a violation of my rights, a sign I had lost something of importance, or that he was simply very distracted at that time. A’s do not cause C’s. B’s about A’s cause C’s.


I had worked with this group of superintendents on the basics of positive psychology since last fall, and this past week was both a review and an application to organizations. As we talked about ABC’s, one superintendent came up with this example. He was working with another system as part of an evaluation process. In that process, they had interviewed parents and system personnel about parental involvement. The system personnel perceived parental involvement as low and were angry because the believed it represented a lack of concern and commitment. Parents, on the other hand, while often indicating they were not particularly involved in the schools, explained their behavior by noting how much they trusted the schools! The superintendent relating this story commented how quickly the feeling and energy among system personnel changed when his team relayed this finding. ABC’s are not just for individuals; they can be a group thing. Of course, that system might still want to see more parental involvement, but think how different their approach might be with this different, more positive understanding!

One way to become more skilled with identifying and working with ABC’s is to look for them in popular media. Perhaps some readers might look for the ABC’s in this song! Meanwhile, BCing you from Nashville!



For more information on ABC, see the following:

Seligman, M. E. P. (2006). Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. 2nd Edition. New York: Vintage. In depth on explanatory style as a construct and the research behind it. See my book note here.

Seligman, M. E. P. (1995, 2007). The Optimistic Child: A Proven Program to Safeguard Children Against Depression and BuildLifelong Resilience. New York: Mariner Books. In addtion to research insights and suggestions on the question of how children develop their explanatory styles, this book has one of the best explanations of the “ABCDE” technique, a key component of moving to a more flexible, accurate style.

Reivich, K, & Shatt?, A. (2002). The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles. New York: Broadway Books. Practical, practical, practical. How to apply the insights.

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