Today’s Table Talk is by our wonderful friend Kathleen Fischer. She always has something up her sleeve to inspire and direct us as we navigate the often interesting road of parenting tween/teens. She references Dr Seligman who coined the phrase “learned helplessness” – something that we need to recognize and use as motivation every time we stop ourselves form stepping in and doing for our kids. Here’s a brief definition from a 2011 NYT article on teh topic:

In observing people’s need for accomplishment, Dr. Seligman says, he’s reminded of his early experiments that famously identified the concept of “learned helplessness.” He found that when animals or people were given a series of arbitrary punishments or rewards, they stopped trying to do anything constructive.

“We found that even when good things occurred that weren’t earned, like nickels coming out of slot machines, it did not increase people’s well-being,” he said. “It produced helplessness. People gave up and became passive.”

Anyway, I hope you enjoy Kathleen’s latest take. 

Thanks, Kathleen!… And thanks for walking the road with me.



I don’t know about you, but I just LOVE to learn new things. Especially things which explain life and help me get a more positive understanding.

You may not know the name Martin Seligman but he’s a professor at U Penn and the founder of “positive psychology.” Make no mistake, Dr. Seligman is not a la-la kind of psychologist. But his fascination is with questions like: why do some folks thrive; who flourishes and why; how can we not just avoid despair but how can we savor a joy-filled, meaning-filled life? He’s my kind of guy!

Anyway, recently, Dr. Seligman was retained by the U.S. Army to study post-traumatic stress among our soldiers. Undertaking a study of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, Dr. Seligman arrived at a stunning conclusion. Imagine a Bell curve. . . you know the kind where “typical” is depicted at the height of the curve and represents about 68% of any given population. Now imagine a “tail” to the left and a “tail” to the right. What Dr. Seligman found is that, indeed, there is a group of soldiers who suffer “post traumatic stress,” represented by the left-hand tail. The majority of folks, that 68% in the middle of the Bell, actually return to their previous level of well-being about 3-6 months post-combat.

Seligman graph

But here’s the really interesting part: the portion of soldiers represented by the right-hand tail actually experience what Seligman has termed, “post-traumatic growth!” They come home BETTER than when they went to war. Their experiences have led them to believe that they’re better leaders than they knew . . . or that they’re cool hands under fire . . . or that they can help people go on during difficult times. One way or the other, trauma has led them to grow. It’s such a simple concept, I wonder why I hadn’t realized it before!

So, how does that apply to our kids? Oh, let me count the ways!!! Other girls treat her meanly and instead of becoming depressed, she becomes compassionate. He doesn’t make the team and instead goes out for the play and finds he is excellent onstage. She doesn’t get into the college or grad school of her choice so she re-doubles her efforts and, wonder of wonders, gets in the following year!

Sometimes, we FORGET about our terrific potential for growth!

Share this reminder with your kids today!

It’s their nature to grow, to become stronger. WOW!

Kathleen Fischer, a longtime Dallas resident and mother of three, is a registered nurse with a master’s degree. She has worked in public education and in public health settings; presented professional seminars; taught at the university level; and written two books. Kathleen continues to be a popular speaker in corporate, community and church settings as well as a sought after family/parenting coach for individuals and groups.

Pin It on Pinterest