How to Encourage Your Child When They Feel Like Giving Up

“It’s too hard!”

“I’m just no good at this!”

“Maybe I’m just not smart enough?”

At times, we’ve all heard lines like these from our children, despairing of being able to continue, much less succeed. The rigours of academic or sporting challenges can wear down their optimism and everything around them seems to turn to failure and disappointment.

To make things worse, you can think of nothing to say or do to encourage or motivate your child.

As parents, we’ve all been there: the worry, the guilt, the disappointment and the sense of helplessness are familiar feelings.  But no matter what ages your children are, there are some things we can all do to encourage them to keep going, even when they seem determined to give up.

1.       Never stop believing.

As Lady Bird Johnson, former First Lady of the United States, once said, “Children are likely to live up to what you believe of them.”  I think this is profound. It’s not a case of faking it until your children believe it, but of believing it until your children do, too.

Education is not always a linear process, and there are many subjects competing for your child’s attention at the same time. There will be periods of progress, periods of struggle and other periods when learning has the appearance of plateauing. Your children will need your encouragement at all of these times. 

Encouragement can take the form of assisting your child to set SMART goals; goals which are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Timely. For every goal, there needs to be some steps along the way to achieving it – and your encouragement can make all the difference in ensuring that your child keeps going, all the way, until those goals have been achieved.

2.      Set an example.

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”  — James Baldwin, novelist and social critic.

If your children see and hear defeatist, pessimistic and negative self-talk and behaviour from us as parents, then our encouragement will always fall short of the mark. As Christians, our lives are motivated by hope for the future, and we need to become self-aware of how we tackle the inevitable hardships and stresses in our own lives.

We live in times which, in many ways, present unprecedented challenges, and with that comes unprecedented anxiety and stress, putting pressure on our health, employment and relationships. If our children hear their parents encourage one another, expressing hope and acknowledging that ‘this too shall pass’, we will be modelling our belief that encouragement works and that our children are worthy of it.

Encouraging our children can be non-verbal, and perhaps even more effective, when they see it in action.

3.      Be patient.

Encouraging children is a journey, not an event. Whilst a one-off word of encouragement might be appreciated, a consistent atmosphere of encouragement can only serve to support your child to keep going when they feel like giving up.

Your children will no doubt make mistakes, as we all did, and even appear to back-slide at times, but even if we personally did not receive words of encouragement, we can start today to make sure our children do.

This doesn’t mean overlooking shortcomings and mistakes, or lowering our standards so that children simply feel good. They will benefit from being held accountable and encouraged to excel, but success has many forms.

Ultimately, as long as progress is being made, goals can be achieved: being patient is one of the most encouraging gifts we can give to our children.

– Written by Jeremy Baker, Senior School English Teacher