Learned Helplessness

Hi Everyone!

Happy Saturday! Does your child struggle with frustration, shutting down and giving up? Negative feedback and experiences can “train” a child to then avoid situations where they fear they will not be immediately successful. Some signs of learned helplessness are: procrastination, decreased problem-solving ability, frustration, passivity, and low self-esteem. This can also lead to depression. The child feels as if they have no control over their own performance results and feel like nothing they do will affect the outcome. Some techniques to counteract learned helplessness include acknowledging how the child is feeling, pinpointing the problem, and working together to come up with possible solutions. Help them to come up with their own problem-solving approach.

Learned optimism is a cognitive behavioral approach to learned helplessness. The method includes seeing the bad times as impermanent, not blaming oneself, avoiding negative self-talk and replacing it with positive thinking, and not seeing one failure as pervasive. Psychologist Martin Seligman suggests following his ABCDE Model in which one recognizes the Adversity and one’s Beliefs regarding it and examining the Consequences of those beliefs. They key is in Disputing one’s Beliefs, resulting in Energization which comes from challenging one’s negative thought patterns. (Source: Verywellmind.com)

You can see a 22-minute talk by Martin Seligman on TED called the New Era of Positive Psychology.

On Edutopia, in an article by Ginna Guiang-Myers, you can read about (what may sound a bit more approachable term), “Realistic Optimism” and while it is written for teachers, parents can also use the same methods to help their children cope with learned helplessness. The methods include positive reframing, selective focus, avoiding catastrophizing, and using humor and an optimistic explanatory style.

Please note: We are educators/parents and not psychologists. Please take the advice and related articles with a grain of salt –you know your child best. Do seek professional help if you feel your child is at risk for depression.

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