Learned Helplessness

Learned helplessness is a condition characterized by a sense of powerlessness. It can rise up from a traumatic event, constant negative self-talk, constant scolding, or constant failure to succeed in a task.

When I was pregnant and reading every baby book in sight, I continually came upon the admonition: Say ”No” as little as possible to babies and toddlers. That means taking all bric-a-brac off the tables, puting chemical bottles on high shelves, and looking around the home for potentially hazardous situations that can be eliminated.

Saying “NO” can have many interpretations—including telling a child that what she is doing is wrong—rather than showing how to do something correctly. One approach empowers; the other disempowers.

Refrain from scolding. Scolding makes the child feel guilty and depressed. When our child was 4 years old, she entered a ballet class in which the teacher scolded so often that suddenly my daughter stopped dancing. She had given up.

Just like my daughter’s ballet teacher, we parents can teach helplessness if we are not careful. We should do everything we can to empower our children. Empowerment is the best antidote to learned helplessness.