“Little Meiling was upset. Her best friend had told her that she refused to be best friends with her anymore. Meiling tried talking to her but no avail. Feeling extremely overwhelmed and helpless by the situation, Meiling fell into depression and decided to stay away from school for as long as she could.”

Most of us want our children to grow up strong, healthy and be able to tackle life problems as they come. Yet, many of them don’t turn out that way. They become extremely frustrated when they encounter issues and either whine or give up. A few of them may take more extreme measure such as attempting suicide. By then, most parents will be devastated or crushed – because no one knows exactly why they turn out that way.

“We did all we could. We taught her the best that we could do. What happened?”

Parents, are you teaching your child to be helpless without realising? Is your child learning to be helpless?

What is Learned Helplessness

Learned helplessness is a behaviour where one is unwilling to escape from an unpleasant situation even though they are able to. They felt that they have no control over it and would not be able to get out of it without anyone’s help. More often than not, many will then fall into a cycle where they will meet the same issues repeatedly and will not be able to overcome them. This may spiral downwards to depression and eventual dissatisfaction with life. In short, they feel trapped.

How does Learned Helplessness affect our Children

Ask yourself: did you ever tell your child “What is wrong with you?” or “Look at Jacob. He can do this but you can’t.” How about “Why are you so stupid?” Some parents, in times of pressure, may even yell at children before acknowledging their feelings.


Many parents do not realise this but children learn about learned helplessness when they are schooling – both home and school. More often than not, when they are unable to do well and move out of the cycle of receiving terrible marks for their studies due to lack of strategies, many would actually give up trying and turn to disruptions. Interestingly, many children who are often referred to school counsellors are really kinesthetics learners who have not been shown how to use their strengths and develop other learning channels. When the teacher uses only visual and auditory methods, the kinesthetics learners often exhibit behavioural problems.

When we (both teachers and parents) pin negative labels on them, children begin to believe them. Expectations for themselves are lowered, they will develop this passivity and give up trying.

RELATED: How to identify a Kinesthetics Learner


Most parents forget that their child is watching them all the time. What words do you speak around your child when you face an issue? Yes, you. Do you use negative words such as “It won’t work out. There’s no use trying.” or  “I can’t do it. It’s too difficult.” Your child is constantly watching you navigating through life as well. While there will definitely be times where you may not be able to overcome things, constant negative self-talk modelled to your child may hamper how he/she sees himself.  Chances are, this will be what they will be saying to themselves if they face life’s obstacles. This may result in aversion to risk and thinking out of the box. It’s definitely not good news for parents who want their children to be entrepreneurs in the future!