It hurts to hear your children call themselves “stupid,” or see them sit around brooding, or watch them explode in frustration over trivial matters. In whatever forms discouragement expresses itself, any home would be happier without it.
It’s hard to completely banish discouragement from your children’s lives (or your own), but there are ways to counter it.
Turn off the Media
Too much social media, especially, discourages independent thinking and invites kids to compare themselves to impossibly perfect ideals. Or to “doomscroll” themselves into believing that everything is hopeless.
Break the Tension
Discouragement is often connected to stress or fatigue. If it’s a temporary mood, you can help dispel it by:
Tossing in a little light humor
Inviting the child to join you for a healthy snack
Diverting her attention to a favorite hobby or self-care activity
Be Sure You Aren’t Part of the Problem
Commit to omitting these child-discouraging habits from your behavior:
Focusing on small mistakes or otherwise expecting perfection
Always being “busy” or in a hurry, either dragging the child into the rush or brushing off her “interruptions”
Taking sides in sibling squabbles
Trying to force the child into the image of your own dreams, personality, or hobbies
Don’t Argue With Self-Criticism
Responding to “I’m so stupid” with “No, you’re not” only activates the child’s “don’t contradict me” reflex and invites him to dig himself deeper into the “I am stupid” pit. And no amount of “smart things you’ve done” examples will convince him those were anything more than lucky flukes.
Another problem with trying to talk children out of discouragement may be the fact that you’re talking at all: this often implies, “I know everything; you’re not worth listening to.” Offer an empathetic ear and let them talk out their feelings, until they discover their own solutions along the way.
It’s tempting to try to “cure” a bad mood quickly—but, as noted in the last two points, pushing for instant improvement usually proves both futile and counterproductive. Even when the solution to children’s discouragement seems obvious—and even if they take your advice and it works—they’ll still get the message that Mom or Dad always handles everything. Children need to learn their own approaches to problem-solving (or else take a path into being more discouragement-prone than ever), so let your contribution stop at an empathetic ear and gentle words of encouragement.
Note also that a chronically discouraged child may be ill with depression, in which case the above approaches usually have limited effect. If black moods persist for more than a couple of weeks, consult a doctor and/or therapist.
Note to Teachers
Discouraged children are a challenge in the classroom: they may slouch in their seats and make no attempt to participate, or they may vent their frustration by being openly disruptive. Even when it’s tempting to wonder what you did to deserve students like this, remember that they’re hurting inside. Watch for tiny signs of interest or ability, and provide them (low-key) with regular opportunities in these areas. Don’t just tell them they “can do better”; show them so they’ll learn to believe it.
Note to Everyone
Veterans Day is Thursday, November 11. Take a moment to say an encouraging word to a veteran!
LEARNING IN AN ENCOURAGING ENVIRONMENT
At Shady Oak Primary School, we believe that children learn best when regularly encouraged to develop their individual gifts, work as part of a collaborative team, and actively explore outdoor as well as indoor environments. We incorporate all this and more into our innovative, purpose-centered private school curricula. Contact us with your questions!