Parenting Coach

Practical ideas for social, emotional and behavioral challenges

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Break the cycle of helplessness.

What you can do

Emphasize that your child has the ability to succeed or fail, and that the outcome will be determined by his actions—not by luck or chance or any other external forces.

Break the cycle of “learned helplessness.” This is a term experts use when repeated academic failure makes kids feel that no matter how hard they try, they don’t have any influence over the end result and blame someone else for it.

Help your child see that failure is not inevitable and that making an effort is the key to success.

What you can say

“Jacob, I know you’re convinced you’re going to bomb this test no matter how much you study for it. But if you give up on preparing for the test, then you definitely won’t do well on it.”

“I’m here to remind you that when you study hard, you do better on tests than when you don’t study hard. Luck or fate or destiny has nothing to do with it.”

“I want you to come up with a strategy to prepare for this test. What seems to help you remember the material the most? OK, flashcards it is. Let’s go online to see if there are some flashcard apps that can help. You’re such a whiz with computers. Maybe you’ll like online flashcards even more than the paper kind. Want to give that a try?”

Why this will help

Kids feel more confident and empowered when they understand that they’ve done something to control or influence an outcome. If they believe that they played an active role in shaping a result, good or bad, it will be easier for them to celebrate the success or learn from the failure than if they feel that some other person or thing dictated the outcome.

It’s also a good idea to remind kids that one important way they can influence outcomes is through self-advocacy. People are often very happy to help if you tell them specifically what you need to complete a task.

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