Childhood Hyper Optimism: Why Does It Disappear When You Grow Up?

Did you have a happy childhood? If so, how long did those feelings of joy and hope last? In fact, what does science claim happens to those rather innocent visions.
Childhood Hyper Optimism: Why Does It Disappear When You Grow Up?
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

It’s quite likely that the world would be a better place if we were able to maintain a part of our childhood hyper optimism. This is an approach endowed with inexhaustible hope, infinite curiosity, and effervescent joy. However, sadly, it wears out over the years. In fact, the first reduction comes with the arrival of adolescence and its inevitable feelings of disappointment.

These feelings occur because, when you turn 12, 13, or 14, you discover that the world and the people in it aren’t the way you thought they were as a child. In fact, you find out that many are both better and worse at the same time.

Growing up doesn’t hurt, but maturing and discovering certain realities does. This is exactly what a recent scientific study from the Queen Square Institute of Neurology in London explained. They claimed that the gradual loss of optimism as we mature isn’t total. That’s because the optimism bias is something that’s with us, to a certain extent, over the years. Nevertheless, it’s a process that’s both natural and necessary. It’s when the luminous vision that every child harbors about life dims to give way to a more realistic perspective.

After all, it’s important, as you get older, to learn to manage more adjusted perceptions and ideas about what surrounds you. Therefore, you lose, in effect, that magical, fanciful, and always kind look at the world in which you live.

“Adults are just obsolete children.”

-Theodor Seuss Geisel-

Girl with a surprised face representing childhood hyperoptimism
As you grow and mature, you lose part of that magical and fanciful perspective that children have about the world.

Childhood hyper optimism

Did you have a happy childhood? Although this question sounds simple, many would find it difficult to answer. That’s because their reply would probably be a no or, at least, they’d certainly remember as many bad times as good. This suggests that childhood hyper optimism isn’t a universal experience. Nevertheless, one of the commitments of most parents is that their children should be happy and optimistic.

Research conducted by George Mason University (USA) indicates that parents’ primary goal in parenting is to give the world happy, confident, secure, and hopeful little ones. In fact, linking childhood with happiness is an almost universal purpose. There’s also another fact that facilitates this goal: children are optimistic by nature.

We know that the optimism bias appears intensely at around three years of age and that it doesn’t decrease until preadolescence. Experiencing this first stage of life through rose-colored glasses makes it easier for children to relate to their surroundings and to each stimulus with greater confidence and curiosity. Indeed, as long as they have family affection and protection, hyper optimism will be present in them.

Although hyperoptimism decreases over the years, this characteristic is essential for children to try out and discover new things without fear.

The cheerful and optimistic child has greater learning opportunities

We understand childhood hyper optimism as being a mental, emotional, and attitudinal disposition. It allows them to process each stimulus in a hopeful way. It’s an almost natural instinct that allows them to assume that everything will work out in a positive way, that negative events are unlikely, and that, if they do occur, they’ll be fleeting and unimportant experiences.

This natural optimism bias contributes in a remarkable way to a child’s learning. Because optimism is the basis of confidence and also the impulse that urges them to relate without fear and to try new things without anguish or stress. Indeed, as a rule, hyperoptimistic children make a more successful transition to school and enjoy the process.

Optimism contributes to the cognitive and emotional development of the child by reducing variables such as stress and fear from their brain.

The arrival of adolescence and making contact with existential reality

The Queen Square Institute of Neurology in London and the Max Planck Center in Germany published an interesting study in 2021. They concluded with a point that we mentioned earlier: childhood hyper optimism is reduced over the years, more specifically when reaching adolescence. However, the optimism bias doesn’t disappear but, as children mature, realism prevails over exacerbated optimism.

Generally, when children see themselves in situations of social comparison or where their performance is evaluated, their optimism starts to wane. Consequently, they start to build a more adjusted vision of themselves and adopt far more objective evaluations. They also stop being so dreamy, confident, and imaginative. Furthermore, their fantastical ways of thinking give way to more neutral and even skeptical visions of life.

Childhood hyper optimism is necessary between the ages of three and 11-12 years. However, when adolescence arrives, they need those rose-colored lenses to become sharper. This allows them to be more prudent and make better judgments and decisions.

boy who retains infantile hyperoptimism
Teenagers must continue to retain the optimism bias to ensure their mental well-being.

The flip side of childhood hyper optimism

Sooner or later, we all become rather skeptical adults who see reality through glasses that are somewhat clear as opposed to rose-colored. Therefore, you start to mistrust more than you trust. Your curious look becomes myopic, and you lose the effervescence of the child who wants to experience everything. You become cautious and even routine.

Naturally, you need to control your impulses, build more adjusted expectations, and possess a realistic mind. Nevertheless, you mustn’t completely lose your childhood optimism bias because, to a certain extent, it guarantees your mental health.

Indeed, removing hope, trust, illusion, and positivity from your mental life will bring you closer to feelings of fear, anguish, and depression. In fact, it’s never advisable to go to extremes and you should always try and take care of that child you were yesterday.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Habicht, J., Bowler, A., Moses-Payne, M. E., & Hauser, T. U. (2021). Children are full of optimism, but those rose-tinted glasses are fading—Reduced learning from negative outcomes drives hyperoptimism in children. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Advance online publication.
  • Jaswal VK, Neely LA. Adults Don’t Always Know Best: Preschoolers Use Past Reliability Over Age When Learning New Words. Psychological Science. 2006;17(9):757-758. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01778.x

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.