All Articles Behavior Challenges and Solutions

Display of Inadequacy: Children Who Give Up

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

This article will address the final of the four major goals of children’s misbehavior.  In the previous three articles, we have addressed attention-seeking, controlling, and revenge-seeking behaviors.  Dinkmeyer and McKay proposed this typology of misbehavior in their book entitled STEP Parenting.  It provides parents with helpful insights into the reasons behind their children’s difficult behaviors.

What a display of inadequacy looks like. Children who feel inadequate believe that they are incapable of performing up to their expectations or the expectations of the significant others in their lives.  They think, “I am no good. Nothing I do is any good.  Why bother?”  Here are some behaviors these children may display:

  • Refusal to try new things
  • Giving up easily
  • Disparaging comments such as, “I am no good”
  • Poor school performance
  • Excessive timidness
  • Lack of confidence

What a display of inadequacy feels like to you. Parents of children who are displaying feelings or beliefs of inadequacy often feel like giving up themselves.  They feel hopeless, that things can never improve and that their child will never change.  Discouragement is their constant companion.

What his behavior tells you. These children lack confidence in themselves, their worth and their abilities.  Parents of such children would be wise to monitor for a possible underlying depressive disorder by taking the following factors and symptoms into consideration:  a family history of chemical depression, anhedonia (lack of enjoyment in activities previously enjoyed), sleep disturbance, change in appetite, difficulty concentrating and anxiety.

How to correct a display of inadequacy. These children need lots of encouragement to counteract their feelings of inadequacy.  Encouragement is quite different from praise however and parents would be wise to learn the distinction.  Encouragement is specific and praise is general.  Encouragement focuses on the effort rather than the results.  Encouragement addresses the child’s experience but praise addresses the adult’s feelings.  Instead of saying: “You are wonderful!  I am so proud of you!” (praise), try saying: “You have put so much effort into that drawing.  Look how nice it is coming out!  You must be so pleased!” (encouragement).

Parents also need to avoid discouraging remarks such as, “Oh, just give it to me, I’ll do it for you” or “Hurry up!”  These children need to have their effort encouraged, no matter how small. Noticing incremental improvements and verbalizing your faith in their ability (“I know you can do it!”) will go a long way in combating displays of inadequacy.  You can read more on ways to increase your child’s self confidence here.

In these last four articles, we have covered the four main causes of misbehavior among children.  Hopefully you now feel equipped to use your new “secret decoder ring” the next time you are faced with troubling behaviors in your children.  With a little investigation and self-reflection you will be able to uncover their hidden motives.  But more importantly, you will know how to best address them.

About the author

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in children and families. CfP is the place she combines some of her very favorite things: writing, parenting and God's word. She loves encouraging parents to build their families upon Jesus, the one true Cornerstone. She is happily married to a wonderfully supportive husband and is the mother of two delightfully inspiring children.


  • I have read through all of your literature , and while I agree with a lot . I have trouble believing that the child is feeling worthless by the behaviour.
    As a Grandmother , my 10yr old grandaughter delights in pushing my buttons, and shows no remorse, knowing it is upsetting me . we have always told her how much we love her, and praise her when applicable, and I am getting to the stage were I think I am losing the battle. any help??

    • Hi Margaret,

      I am sorry that you are struggling with your granddaughter. Is it possible that there are other forces at work in her life that could be impacting your efforts to encourage, empathize and correct her? I don’t know your family situation, but if your granddaughter is dealing with ongoing stressors in her life, they can serve to counteract the positive feedback that you are pouring into her. It is often helpful to get to the root of the issue. People’s hearts (like physical cuts) heal best when the deepest part of the wound is treated before we try to apply a band-aid. Maybe your granddaughter would benefit from the caring, listening ear of a child counselor. Sometimes an objective person is the best one to treat those kinds of wounds.

      God bless,

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