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How to Help Students Who are Discouraged

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Do you have a student who is discouraged and defeated? Check out this list of concrete and actionable ways to help discouraged students in your classroom.

How to Help Students Who are Discouraged

Identifying Discouraged Students

A student won’t always come up to you and announce, “I am discouraged.”

It’s up to you to notice the signs of a discouraged student.

That can sometimes look like sadness. You can even see it in their posture on their face.

It can also look like apathy. Students may stop participating in class and doing their work, going into “shutdown mode.”

A discouraged student can also be frustrated and even angry. Their internal frustration and hopelessness spill over, and they lash out at others (even you).

So, how do you help discouraged students?

How to Help Students Who are Discouraged

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10 Ways to Help Discouraged Students

Here are ten ways to help the discouraged students in your class.

Provide a Safe Environment

What is the tone of your classroom? Do students feel safe being themselves, trying new things, and taking risks?

Providing a supportive and empathetic environment lays the foundation for students opening up to you.

If students feel supported, they are more likely to confide in you about their discouragement.

You can read more about establishing a safe classroom environment here.

Listen Actively

Many factors can contribute to a student feeling discouraged.

As a teacher, you may assume that the root cause is a learning issue, but this may not be the case.

What is going on at home or elsewhere in a child’s life?

Don’t assume you know the answer.

Find an opportunity to communicate with the student openly.

Look for a time and space where you can speak with the student openly (and where they don’t feel watched by other students).

Your opening question can be as simple as, “Hey, I’ve noticed you seem not yourself lately. What’s going on?”

Ask a question, and then listen actively to their answer.

Active listening means you don’t just accept what you hear at face value.

Ask clarifying questions to make sure you understand the meaning and intent behind the student’s words.

How to Help Students Who are Discouraged

Connect Them with Others

Your student may confide in you about their struggles, but they may also not.

That’s okay.

Connect them with additional support personnel, like a school counselor.

You can also connect the student with a mentor.

If you know the issue, you can see if there is a support group the student can attend for additional guidance or perspective.

You don’t have to be the solution for a discouraged student, but you can help them find a solution through a supportive community.

Collaborate with Parents

You, the student, and the parents are all on the same team.

Notify the parents or guardians of the student and let them know what you are observing at school and what you have learned from talking to the student.

Work together to create a supportive network for the student.

Give the parents some ideas for concrete actions they can take to help their child.

Teach Stress-Relief Techniques

How do you keep stress and discouragement at bay?

Teach your students about self-care and stress relief.

Self-care involves getting a full night’s sleep, eating well (including breakfast), and eliminating negative self-talk (more on cultivating a growth mindset later).

You can also help by providing mental breaks during the day or allowing for times of reflection.

In addition to self-care activities, you can teach students stress relief techniques.

These include stretching or yoga, physical activity, breathing exercises, mindfulness, and visualization.

How to Help Students Who are Discouraged

Offer Words of Encouragement

You can be a positive voice in your student’s life.

Offer words of encouragement (“You’ve got this!”) and praise their efforts.

If a discouraged student is trying, that is a win. They are developing grit.

Help them see themselves as they really are: a person with unique gifts and strengths.

Highlight their strengths to them, whether that’s an academic skill, a character quality, or another ability (like leadership or creativity).

Most kids can’t see themselves in the right light. They focus on the negative.

By praising effort, offering encouraging words, and highlighting the student’s strengths, you will boost their confidence.

Break Down Tasks

If the student’s discouragement is affecting his academic work (and it likely is), you can help by breaking down tasks into manageable chunks.

Don’t assign a book to read; assign pages to be read each day.

For larger projects, provide a scaffold of individual steps and a timetable to achieve each one.

By making the steps smaller, you can help the task to feel more achievable.

Set Realistic Goals

Ask yourself, “Are you reasonable in what you expect of your student?”

Make sure your goals align with the child’s capabilities. A little stretching is okay, but too much will set the student up for failure.

If your goals are realistic, you can encourage your student further by celebrating even incremental successes. A high five can mean more than you know.

How to Help Students Who are Discouraged

Provide Support to Overcome Learning Challenges

This way to help discouraged students goes hand in hand with “set realistic goals.”

If your student is discouraged and struggling because of a learning issue, provide additional support or resources to that student.

Meet with the parents and the school psychologist to create or adjust an IEP or 504 plan.

Foster a Growth Mindset

Discouraged students often feel stuck. They tend to believe in a fixed mindset.

Teach them about growth mindset, the idea that intelligence can be achieved through hard work and by challenging yourself.

A growth mindset emphasizes the importance of perseverance and learning from your setbacks.

You can decorate your classroom with growth mindset posters, display a growth mindset quotation of the week, and complete growth mindset activities.

Staple a cheery growth mindset note to homework or quizzes.

If you teach middle or high school, check out this article on growth mindset for teens.

How to Help Students Who are Discouraged

Reaching Discouraged Students

When you have a discouraged student, you desperately want to help them. And you may not know how.

Put into practice these ten ways to help discouraged students and be a light in that student’s life.

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