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Learned Helplessness

Have you heard of learned helplessness?

What do you think it means?

How do you think it happens?

It is described as:

a condition with which a person suffers from a sense of powerlessness, feeling as though they will fail before they even try


a mindset your child internalizes when he/she repeatedly encounters anxiety-provoking situations and is unable to stop them. The child then gives up, becomes passive, and shuts down.

Has anyone ever heard of this?

Felt this themselves?

Seen this in someone else?

Learned helplessness is linked with depression, PTSD, and other health problems. Research indicates that it increases feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression in both humans and animals.

Consequences of learned helplessness

  • Low self-esteem.

  • Adult entitled dependence (AED)

  • Mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

  • Trouble managing and changing behaviors, including addiction and substance abuse.

It’s a tough thing to break once this precedence is established.

So what can you do?

➡️Support them, but don’t just do everything for your kiddo!

This gives them the idea that they aren’t capable which is often felt/perceived as a failure. Over time (not a very long period of time though!) many failures (without support) can lead to learned helplessness.

➡️ Don’t immediately jump in every time you see them struggling a bit!!! Teach them how to ask for help when they’re ready for it

➡️Let them try to be persistent, let them try to problem solve-praise them for persistence “you’re doing a great job trying!”

➡️If/when they ask for help…don’t just do it for them! Show them how, help them work through it-they don’t need to be rescued, they ARE CAPABLE, it just takes some support, practice and maybe some modifications or accommodations

➡️Model this persistence and problem solving in your life-if you work with me in my programs you have heard me say “narrate it” or “sportscast it”- this is hard, I’m going to keep trying. Or…this is really tough, I think I may need to ask someone to show me how to do it so I can try again next time.

➡️Focus on and praise effort and persistence, rather than only focusing on successes and outcomes. This helps prioritize persistence and problem solving over the end result.

➡️You can practice this by intentionally sabotaging things-providing cereal with no spoon, coloring book with no crayons/markers-they will either problem solve and get the missing thing or they will communicate with you-either one is a win!

🔅This will take patience! Plan extra time in your schedule (get up a bit earlier, try to do things the night before, start getting ready to go sooner, etc).

🔅Things will take longer, they aren’t as efficient at any of the tasks you are-dressing, brushing teeth, packing their school bag, making their lunch, etc etc etc, HOWEVER once they have these skills, you no longer need to do these things!

🔅You can monitor and manage just to make sure they’re getting done instead of DOING them.

🎉Plus…this is a huge confidence booster for your child and it usually snowballs into other areas of life.

🎉It sets them up for independence.

🎉➡️It also increases SAFETY-the less they have to rely on others, the safer they will be in life ❤️

‼️Being able to care for yourself is a LIFE SKILL.

❌If you don’t have to depend on others to feed you, bathe you, dress you, help with toileting, etc…there are less opportunities for abuse or exploitation.

Hopefully you take this information and think about how you can apply this to your own parenting.

Join my private FB group here, Empowered Parents, so you have an opportunity to be included in the conversation! I specialize in coaching neurodiverse families with assent-based, neurodivergent-affirming support. We focus on making sure your child's needs are met while building/strengthening the parent-child bond and caregiver well-being. I use my background as a BCBA and special education teacher to collaborate with you and empower you! I run the group and interact with members to answer questions and offer support!

If you enjoy my content, feel free to show your support and appreciation HERE

Be well,


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