Helplessness in early childhood: the role of contingent worth

Child Dev. 1995 Dec;66(6):1719-38.


This article presents an expanded view of the bases of helpless reactions to failure. This view stems from recent findings of helplessness in young children. Previous formulations have stressed the attainment of invariant trait conceptions as a necessary condition for helplessness to occur and have suggested that children are relatively invulnerable to helplessness prior to this attainment. We review a series of studies documenting that key aspects of helplessness are present in preschool and early elementary school children (ages 4-7). We then propose a preliminary model in which (a) a general conception of self and (b) the notion of this self as an object of contingent worth are sufficient conditions for helplessness. We integrate this view with Dweck and Leggett's model of helplessness in older individuals, in which more differentiated trait conceptions play an important role.

MeSH terms

  • Achievement*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Helplessness, Learned*
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Personality Development
  • Self Concept*