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Discouraged children - The (lack of) courage to change

Discouraged children and teens - The (lack of) courage to change
Discouraged children and teens - The (lack of) courage to change
©: Wolfgang Cibura - Fotolia

Here we talk about one of the most fundamental principles of life, the principle of constant change. Everything in life is governed by this principle. The theory of evolution says: What does not grow and prosper, will wither away and die. When a plant or an animal has no benefit for growth, then it will not exist much longer. It is similar in humans. As soon as he is no longer growing, internally, he begins to stagnate. More and more he fades away. Life is in constant change and as a human to grow and being able to adapt to every new situation again and again, one needs the courage to take smaller and larger risks respectively. Unfortunately, our society does not operate in a way that would be healthy for our minds. Society propagates a supposed security. A security, that we do not need to change while at the same time the pressure of competition constantly grows. Our mistakes are thrown back at us over and over again – yet, praise does not come easily. These and other factors inevitably lead to a discouragement, which at the end hits children and young people very hard.

A young person is discouraged if he for one or the other reason does not dare to take any risks anymore. Perceived risks can be as small as talking to his classmates, ask for something in the classroom or the fear of rude remarks of others. A beautiful quote says: Fear is not the absence of dread, but the resisting of dread. That brings it right to the point. Even we are afraid of doing something, we still go ahead and do it anyway. Children need to develop resilience and move into action despite their fear. Fear is our constant companion. We need to learn, not just to deal with it but consider it as something positive. Breaking through your fear is usually the biggest step needed to facilitate positive change in your life. Fear is nothing necessarily negative, but rather a guide to move us into the right direction.

courage to jump
courage to jump

Have courage to do it
Have courage to do it

How can I recognize a discouraged child?

In order to understand whether a child has lost its courage, it is paramount to look closely and listen carefully. Children often make statements such as “That’s never going to work, no point to even start” or “I can’t do that”. If you hear statements like that, your alarm bells should start ringing loudly. If those statements are recurrent, they are a disturbing sign. More often than not behind those statements hides the according belief, which, if unnoticed, will only grow stronger. This can have far-reaching consequences and affect the child's entire life. Instead of letting life be an adventure, it becomes a fight. Therefore, as soon as children repeatedly express self-doubt, attention is on order.

One can also recognize this behaviour whenever children come in a new, unknown situation. There are those children who are able to actively respond to changes or those who withdraw and passively wait. When a child distances itself from making new experiences, even avoids for such situations to happen, this might point to a discouraged personality. However, there also could other reasons be at work, which needed to be explored. If this happens frequently or regularly and given there is no other reason, for the child’s sake, a quick countermeasure needs to be implemented. The best way, however, would be, to ensure that it does not come that far in the first place.

The way to discouragement

Have the courage to reach your goal
Have the courage to reach your goal | ©:

To prevent for this situation to arise in the first place, it is important to know how this behaviour develops. Out of the many concerns of parents, children are, sometimes already at a very young age, pushed into an unfavourable direction. In their first years of life, children mainly learn through mimicking the behaviour of their parents. If they (parents) continuously worry about their children and everything else, it is more than likely that their children will take this behaviour on board. For example, if children always hear, “You are too young/small”, “That is dangerous” or just a simple “You can’t”, this will cause the child to lose its natural courage over time. Your remarks communicate to children that they are not good enough. The more this is repeated, the worse the child will feel and the harder it becomes for him to deal with change and new experiences. The sentence “You can’t” harbours a fatal statement, which can be devastating to your child. The hidden message within almost every concern of parents is “I don’t trust you to do such and such”. Every time you restrict your child in this way, pamper it too much or patronize him, subconsciously the child hears: I don’t trust you to do that.

The next aspect of discouragement is perfectionism, wanting so achieve a never-attainable goal. Many parents urge their children to do just that. They always want more without praising adequately the progress already made. Subsequently, a child who grew up this way will want to make everything perfectly. On first sight, that sounds actual quite good but is extremely terrifying to the child. No matter how nice that may sound, it is utter nonsense. This way you already pre-program your child for failure. Simply because, being perfect is impossible. The child is continuously tempted to try the impossible. That is utopian and completely illogical. This causes self-doubt, discouragement, and in some cases utter resignation. It is likely that the child’s new strategy is not to do anything, to protect himself from failure. Therefore, it is crucial always to appreciate what has been achieved. Only then can you ask for a little more. Do not ask for more before the existing achievement is adequately acknowledged and do not ask for too much thereafter.

Another way to get into the spiral of discouragement is to be spoiled. Spoiling your child lowers his willingness to do anything at all. It even interferes with learning new problem-solving strategies. It’s particularly in the younger years that children are able to learn enormously. This is also the age where they should learn to deal with challenges. If their parents or other well-intentioned people step in all the time and do it for them, the child will learn, that there is always someone who would do it for him; would solve all his problems. This starts to spin a downward spiral. To escape this predicament is much harder than not being patronized in the first place. Children need to learn that having success needs a little bit of work. It is rather uncommon for new situations to be easy right from the beginning.

Courage equals happiness

One of the most fundamental, if not the most basic virtue in life is having the courage to take risks. If there really is a force for happiness in our lives than for sure, that must be courage. To have courage is everything because we cannot meet one of our greatest needs without this power. Our innate unquenchable urge for the unknown; a deep-rooted curiosity. Our adventurous spirit and our interest in the unknown are two of the biggest driving factors in life. Without this, life would be a repetitive and monotone. The younger we are, the stronger pronounced is the need. Gradually, through school, education and the social system this urge, this courage is eventually smashed. If we deprive our children and youth of the power of courage, we also take away one of the greatest gifts of life. Their personal growth.

We might be tempted to say, this child is shy. But, you know, that is normal. He always was a little introverted. In some cases, that might be true. In others, however, this behaviour might be learned. The motivational researcher J. W. Atkinson has taken an important distinction in terms of the motivation of people. He says we either act by the hope of success or fear of failure. By nature, we are extremely motivated by hope. You can see that at the example of a young child. If we were motivated by fear, why is it then that a child, when it learns to walk, still does not give up even after the one hundreds fall? No matter what it is, children are exceptionally strong motivated. No matter what, brushing their teeth themselves, getting dressed or the first steps. Children do not give up easily and latest the next day, they try all over again. On the other hand, when you look at teenagers, you will notice how hard it often is to get them motivated. In average, they give up easily and then go looking for something new. By no means is this surprising, when you keep in mind what happened to them. Later in life they will decide if they are willing to live with this shortcoming or to do something about it. In reality, this obstacle should not even have occurred, because it is not natural.

You can learn to be brave

A discouraged behaviour is best nipped in the bud. Children who worry a lot and have a lot of self-doubts must be convinced that this is not corresponding with the truth. If a child does not get it by the first or second attempt, giving up should not be the motto. Go ahead and do it anyway. In this context, I do not mean to force your child to do anything. What I mean though is not to give up immediately. If children are ready to give up quickly, that is another signal that there is a pattern of discouragement. It is important to always encourage children. Yet, those who are already quick to give up, they need encouragement even more so. If they fail or have a problem with their homework, it is recommended not to criticise but to encourage them. One day to do that would be to tell the child, that, when you were young, things were not that easy for you either. However, with a little perseverance you have managed and now you are proud of whom you have become.

Therefore, it is crucial to really listen, to motivate children and not to immediately give up. However, of course, that may not be exaggerated either. If a child wants to learn the piano but later wishes to quit, that is perfectly ok. If this request is expressed time again, just do not back down already after the second time. Children need to learn that not everything is fun all the time. They need to understand that sometimes it’s worthwhile to keep going even the going gets tough. If they do not learn that, they might develop a “Whatever” attitude and may not ever learn to independently take on challenges and succeed. Under no circumstances are children to be patronized. However, you need to explain them the meaning and purpose. Children do not understand why you prohibit things unless you explain it to them. If a child knows what was right or wrong with its behaviour, it will automatically choose the right thing. Children need self-conscious and self-determining personalities. However that is only possible if they learn to understand. For this, though, they need reasons and not instructions.

Likewise important is not to ask too much. Children should learn to tackle things in small steps. If they are allowed to learn this way, the chance to endure and to succeed is much greater this way. If a big goal is broken down into smaller steps, they child experiences to rejoice in every small step and then celebrate achieving the goal. This is a win-win situation for the child. Regarding the child’s environment, there is another important point: The behaviour of the environment. Personal development has a well-known saying: You are the average of the 5 people with whom you spend most of the time. This saying, of course, is not exact science, but there is much truth in it.

If the parents, grandparents, teachers and all the other adults in the child’s life are not a living example to bravely tackle life’s challenges, over time the child will imitate their behaviour. If parents eat rampantly, chances are, children will do the same. It's the same when they see their parents give up repeatedly. Children will consider this behaviour as normal and desirable.

Overall, it is important to be a good role, model. Encourage your children repeatedly and do not expect too much at once. Equally important, do not to allow the children to give up at the slightest problem. It is crucial to let children decide for themselves what they want or do not want. However, just as long as this stays within boundaries and they have not yet developed a discouraged personality.

Self esteem and courage
Self esteem and courage | ©:

Dealing with discouraged children in the context of child and youth work

Ok, dealing with discouraged children is not so easy. If we are discouraged ourselves, do not believe in ourselves and are quick to give up, it will be difficult to help discouraged children. Even to identify discouraged children as such might be difficult. Often they are “diagnosed” to be lazy, indulgence or told they are losers. While at the same time, the discouragement behind this behaviour is not recognized.

That’s precisely why it is so important to understand where this discouragement came from and how it developed. (Spoiling the child, fear of criticism (you can’t do that anyway), experienced and permanent downfalls, quick success thinking,) in conjunction with overwhelming discouragement. (I’m never ever going to make it, there’s no point, that’s way too much for me). This all has the power to influence the child for the rest of its life.

Ultimately, the child, the teenager engages in negative and destructive thinking. His self-image is so negative that it is impossible for him, to take the courage and stay with one thing.

Therefore, it is so important to encourage the young people. To give them encourage to stay with one thing. To see it through and not to give up as soon as a problem arises.

These are the things to avoid:

  • No top performances: No one has to be perfect and high performance is not what it is all about. If parents make extremely high demands on the child, we definitely should avoid doing the same in the youth group. Everyone does as much and goes as far as he can – maybe a step or two more but no top performance. To expect top performance would mean to pre-program the next failure already. Fear of failure can be so great that the young person doesn’t just even start anything. Break it down into small achievable steps which will lead to success.

  • No perfectionism: Nobody has to get it right the first time around and that with super speed. As a matter of fact, if things don’t work straight away, children learn more than if everything goes by plan. Putting in some effort is an important learning factor. Those who do not learn that will give up quickly if something does not work immediately.

  • No finger-pointing or devastating criticism: Any criticism, blame, or feedback is accurately recorded by children and adolescents. It does not matter whether this is done overt, or covert. The children feel what the adult is thinking of them and how much confidence he has in the child or young person. If the child experiences persistent criticism, it feels that the caregiver has not confidence in them. Soon the child will have no faith in himself and eventually ends up completely discouraged.

  • No exposure: There is nothing worse for a child or a young person than to be reprimanded in front of others. In our youth work, we should always be aware of that and avoid it for almost any costs. If the child is a little clumsy, a little slower and has little confidence in himself, exposing him in front of others will only take away his last bit of courage. His last incentive to do anything at all. Most of all, the child will feel like a failure.

>Encouragement of youth
Encouragement of youth

Here is what we should be doing:

Naturally, you cannot invoke courage. However, with much love, small steps and permanent encouragement you can succeed. The child or young person can learn the necessary independence through your confidence in him. By creating and facilitating opportunities to practice new skills and self-confidence. You can enhance that by creating small first steps with visible and tangible success.

Give the child or young person the possibility to try something without you interfering if things are not going according to your expectations. Every time you interfere or do something the child is supposed to do himself, you reinforce for the child that he is just unable to do or solve anything himself. That may encourage you to spoil your child even more – which of course, only leads to more discouragement.

Our positive feedback, challenges and support simultaneously with the encouragement and confidence, your child can achieve and find his own way. He will learn to accept himself, discovers his skills and talents and he will learn it is worth the while to stick with one thing. – Without letting others (or even he) encourage him.

[ © | 2000 Games and Ideas for Youth Work ] - 2000 Games and Ideas for Youth Work
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