4 Signs You’re Unknowingly Discouraging Your Child

As parents, we want to build our children up so they are confident, strong, and independent. We make parenting decisions that will shape the future lives of our children every day, but are we making the right choices?

What if we are discouraging our children despite our best intentions?

You may be eagerly learning how to motivate your child with all sorts of techniques, but unfortunately, you may also be sabotaging your efforts by unknowingly discouraging your child through your words and actions. Before you start shaking your head and insisting that you would never do such a thing, notice the word “unknowingly” in that sentence – you have done it without knowing, just like virtually all loving parents with good intentions.

In this article, you will discover four common ways we unknowingly discourage our children in their learning and interests. You may be surprised at how often you may have done the things below!

1. Too much criticism, not enough praise

All children need to be given correction and direction, but it can become discouraging to your child when good behavior and achievements are ignored. They are repeatedly told what they are doing wrong, but rarely hear what they are doing right. By doing so, we are sending the message that their bad behavior is more important than their good behavior, when the fact is positive reinforcement has a greater effect on young children.

Solution: spend just as much time praising good work as we spend correcting or criticising. Try this: for every time you point out something your child has done wrong or can improve on (“you made a simple spelling mistake here,”) come up with something positive to say to your child (“I like the way you describe the fairy in your composition”).

2. You don’t take your child seriously

How do you respond when your child declares that he or she loves cats and wants to befriend the stray cats running around the neighbourhood?  Do you instantly warn them that they’re not to mess with stray cats? This makes sense to parents, since it seems as if your child just wants to play, and stray cats may bite or carry germs and diseases.

Unfortunately, what the child hears is that they cannot do something they really want to do. If they really do love cats and want to connect with them, they are led to believe that they cannot do that or that it is a bad idea. Their passion is crushed.

Solution: encourage the dreams while eliminating the danger. In the example of the child’s fascination with cats, we could check out library books about cats and discuss the options of becoming a veterinarian when they grow up. While they learn that stray cats are not safe, their interest is not dismissed or shot down.

A more dangerous scenario, however, is when you belittle your child’s efforts. Be honest: have you ever said things like “Your grades aren’t good enough for you to be a doctor” or “How can you write a love song? You’re only 10 years old!” to your child? While you may have only been joking, the indirect message you’ve sent is that he cannot possibly realize those ambitions and should go for something easier.

Remember: it’s never too soon for your child to know what he or she likes. Their interest may be passing, or it may spark a fire of passion that fuels their entire life. If your child can sense that you are taking them seriously, they will also become more serious about everything they say and do.

3. You’re setting unrealistic expectations

On the other extreme, it’s easy to expect more of our children than they are reasonably able to accomplish at their age or with their physical and mental abilities. We want to set them up for an amazing future, and we know that that future depends on their accomplishments and attitudes today.

But like hurdles that are simply too high for your child to jump at his age, unrealistic expectations and goals set the child up for one failure after another. We may encourage them to try harder, but all we are doing is discouraging them through the failure.

Solution: despite wanting the best for our children, we have to get real about what they’re capable of achieving. Hard as it may be to believe and accept, we must remember children develop at their own pace – that doesn’t mean they will be less successful in later life. If your child is constantly failing to reach the goals that you’ve set, you can assume those goals are in some way unrealistic for him or her and try to modify them to suit your child’s needs.

4. You don’t allow your child to perform tasks independently

If even the small accomplishments are to be recognized positively, children must be allowed to perform tasks independently. This is how they learn new skills and develop confidence.  As parents, however, we often want to step in and give a helping hand or improve on what they’ve done. For instance, do you ask your child to make his/her bed, only to redo it later because it wasn’t neat enough? This sends the message that they are incapable of doing things on their own. It discourages them from even trying, and in future you may hear the frustrated retort: “Why ask me to do it when you’re just going to redo it anyway?”

Image credit: clogozm, on Flickr

Solution: allow your child to try things on his own before help is offered. If your child is insistent that he can do something, let go of your control and let him have a shot. More importantly, don’t criticise them when they don’t do it the same way we do. Let them do things in their own style. You may even want to compare methods with your child to help them learn – and you may even be surprised when your child comes up with more creative and effective way of doing something as simple as a Sudoku puzzle!


Although it’s not possible to be constantly 100% aware of our words and actions, we can try our best as parents to be supportive and motivate our child not just in their behavior, but in their interests as well. This will help them become independent, industrious, and resourceful individuals as they grow up.


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