The new Learned Helplessness: “You can’t do this, so I will do it for you!”

A teacher’s take on why kids need to learn to do things for themselves…

My 5-6 year old students have their swimming program this fortnight. In my class of 24, there are 2 students that are unable to dress themselves, dry themselves off, and ensure their belongings make it into their swimming bags. The other 22 can do all of those things – granted a bit of help might be needed with things like putting on swimming caps, or the occasional lost sock – but all in all they’re doing very well. Those 2 that I mentioned are also the same 2 that at school, are constantly losing things, leaving things lying around, struggling with such things as the dreaded glue stick etc. It just so happens, that it is the parents of those 2 that are coming to ‘help out’ at swimming every day… You can see where I’m going with this…

The chicken or the egg?
Those 2 parents will tell you, “I’m coming to help at swimming because my child has trouble getting themselves dressed, and is disorganised and always losing things.”
My thought is that the opposite is the case: Isn’t your child disorganised and always losing things BECAUSE you’re doing everything for them? By drying them off, getting them dressed and packing their bags, aren’t you teaching them that these are things which they are unable to do for themselves. Is it that you do not trust them to do it for themselves, or do you think they will be physically, intellectually or emotionally unable to do it for themselves? Either way, you child is receiving a message loud and clear…

“You can’t do this, so I will do it for you!”

 The ‘new’ Learned Helplessness:
“Learned Helplessness” is a person’s sense of powerless, following a traumatic event or persistent failure to succeed. It is a term used in clinical psychology. I am not by any stretch a clinical psychologist and am not intending on appropriating the term myself. However… a Social & Emotional Learning PD I was at recently discussed the presence of many of the ‘symptoms’ of Learned Helplessness being present in school-age children. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not intending to minimise the impact that true Learned Helplessness has on people’s lives, particularly following traumatic, horrific events. I do think it’s important to relay some of the comparisons that can be drawn to young children.

What is it?
The majority of people, when in a ‘bad situation’, will do whatever they can to escape it. The truth for people with Learned Helplessness is that when in a bad situation, they feel as though they have no control and will give up and accept the situation they’re in. You can see why Learned Helplessness and depression are so closely linked. When a person is subjected to an aversive stimulus that it cannot escape, repeatedly and over an extended period, the person may well become accepting of that stimulus, feeling as though they’re unable to have any control. Do a quick Google search of Martin Seligman to find out more.

What’s the connection to school-aged children?
We’ve all heard of “helicopter parenting”, students being “wrapped in cotton wool”, and so on. Well-meaning parents will do anything – and everything! – for their kids. I’m by no means saying that parents are inflicting trauma on their children by being, let’s say “overbearing”. But… by showing & telling kids (directly or indirectly) that they cannot do anything for themselves, are we engraining the same Learned Helplessness idea which will see that child accept their inabilities?

“You can’t do this, so I will do it for you!”

What are the lastly effects of children receiving that message? A new kind of Learned Helplessness?

Teachling <WordPress>

 More from Teachling:

A teacher’s take on letting kids play, Pt.2…

Re-blog: The Rise of the Helicopter Teacher

A teacher’s take on helping children learn at home, pt2…
A teacher’s take on helping children learn at home, pt1…

A teacher’s take on getting your kids to school on time… And why it’s the least you can do…

A teacher’s take on letting kids play…

A teacher’s take on parent-teacher relationships…

 

 

 

Helicopter Parents – More harm than good?

A teacher’s take on independence…

So, Destiny’s Child would lead you to believe that if one buys her own diamonds and her own rings, then she is an independent woman. Does that 13 year old (yikes!) song define independence… someone who is self-supporting or self-reliant?

Clearly, parenting styles have changed and with any change there’s also bound to be side effects. Is so-called ‘over parenting’ leading to a cohort of children that cannot do anything for themselves and in turn actually expect everything to be done for them? Make my breakfast, tidy my bedroom, defend me when my teacher says I’ve done the wrong thing, let me do whatever I want with discipline, fix all of my problems for me… A post from a fellow blogger (http://runningawayfrom49.wordpress.com/2013/09/02/another-great-thing-about-the-1980s/) got me thinking about independence and the important learning curve that MUST take place for children on their journey toward it, and the potentially detrimental effects, perfectly well-meaning [helicopter] parents are having on their children. I’m talking here about a small percentage of parents.

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As a teacher I’ve come across a plethora of parents that are always there to step in when things for their child aren’t quite going to plan. Maybe it’s been a playground disagreement, maybe the child’s being playing up in class, maybe there’s been a difficulty with their learning, maybe it’s been suspiciously adult-like completion of projects, maybe it’s generally parents taking matter into their own hands and in the process taking them out of their child’s.

I’ll restrain from going on too much of a rant, but here’s a Teachling Tip – Relax! Your kid’s going to turn out alright. Not only that, but they’ll actually be better off by you “cutting the cord” (or if that’s too much too soon, at least “slack the cord”). Giving them space to figure things out on their own and dare I say, make mistakes along the way, will teach them valuable lessons in building resilience, taking responsibility for their actions, their belongings, their relationships, their learning, and so on. If they have a problem, don’t solve it for them and certainly don’t make it your problem. Guide them if you will, or completely step back. They’ll figure it out, trust them.

Children need to learn to take responsibility, as an essential step toward becoming effecting individuals and citizens. Given I teach first grade, examples of children that are yet to develop any sense of independence appear insignificant, but isn’t this the best time to change habits (after all, it’s much easier to change habits early, rather than try to break established habits later!). “Mum left my book bag at home” (um, no, it’s your book bag and you should be responsible for bringing it to school). “I just got back from the bathroom and I don’t know what to do” (well look around, every other student in the class is eating their lunch, what do you suppose you should do?). “I don’t have a chair to sit on” (there’s a two spare chairs at the table behind you, just pull one of them over). Maybe I’m expecting too much – they are 6 years old after all. But, put it all in a context where everything is done for them, they’re never held responsible for wrong-doing, someone is always there to protect them from failure, and you find yourself just a few years away from a child with serious independence issues. I mean this in the nicest way possible – A child needs to learn to fend for themselves.

Here’s another Teachling Tip – Start by making your child responsible for their ‘things’ and soon they’ll learn to take responsibility for many aspects of their lives and their independence will grow. For example, make them pack their own schoolbag, maybe even make their own lunch, carry their belongings to class, and more! What do you think? Am I expecting too much?

-Teachling
(Image source: http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_mdxpym5S1l1qzpwk0o1_400.jpg)

Helicopter parenting is a popular blog post topic. Read more…
http://houstonfamilypsychology.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/the-impact-of-helicopter-parenting/
http://talktank.wordpress.com/2013/06/30/helicopter-parents-undermining-americas-future/
http://benoxley.wordpress.com/tag/helicopter-parents/
http://tomliberman.wordpress.com/2013/05/26/too-much-help-helicopter-parenting/
http://clouducation.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/how-helicopter-parents-are-created-by-schools/