Young children's vulnerability to self-blame and helplessness: relationship to beliefs about goodness

Child Dev. 1992 Apr;63(2):401-15.


Motivational helplessness, linked to conceptions of intelligence, has been well documented in older children. While some researchers have reported that children just starting school are motivationally invulnerable, others have found evidence of helplessness when these children encounter failure. The present study seeks to determine whether the reactions associated with helplessness can be identified in a new context, that of criticism, and whether any such responses are related to the child's conceptions of goodness. Subjects were 107 5- and 6-year-old children who enacted achievement situations in which teacher criticism was presented. The 39% of children whose own assessments were undermined by criticism exhibited the affect, task choices, and nonconstructive problem-solving strategies characteristic of helplessness. They were also more likely to make global negative self-judgments following criticism, including negative judgments of their goodness. Finally, these children were more likely to endorse stable and global beliefs about goodness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Behavior*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Helplessness, Learned*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychology, Child*
  • Self Concept*