Capable People

Most children want adults to treat them with respect and as if they are capable people.

Glen and Nelsen (1989) emphasized that children believe they are capable at a very young age and adults tend to undermine their self-confidence and reduce their belief in their abilities. In their book Raising Self-reliant Children in a Self-indulgent World they identify five categories of mistakes people make that are counter-productive to empowering students or increasing their belief in themselves.


Assume that children do not know.

Solution: Diagnose to discover what students know before they start a task and if the student knows enough to work independently.

Rescuing or explaining:

Teachers step in and explain things to the students instead of allowing them to discover things for themselves. This prevents students from developing the processes needed to solve problems on their own. It also does not afford experiences where students can successfully accomplish something on their own which in turn develops their self-confidence.

Solution: Provide students opportunities to solve their own problems. When students solve problems the see their abilities as assets, their mistakes as opportunities to learn, feel encouraged to take risks, and see learning as an invitation to participate and contribute.


When teachers or parents direct their child's every move. This makes students feel like an object which can be told what to and manipulated to the whims of the adult. It can make the child frustrated and helpless and creates a barrier between the adult and the child.

Solution: View children as capable and helpful. Encourage children to set goals and help them achieve them through invitations to participate in mastery oriented choices and facilitate their learning how to be successful. Students that are successful in achieving become competent adults.


Expect students to be involved in learning. Set high expectations, but not so high that students will fail.

Solution: Encourage students and help them recognize their progress. Students sometimes have high expectations and need to be helped seeing that even small accomplishments are steps in the direction they are heading.


Treating a child as if they are an adult. Many times we see children do things that cause us to believe they are mature.

Solution: Remember children are not little adults. They have not had the experiences to think and do as adults. People who expect children to think, act, understand, and do things as an adult create frustration, hostility and aggression in children. Therefore, destroying the child's belief in their own capabilities, their self-confidence, their self-worth, and their abilities to effect changes in their lives. Teachers must recognize students' limits, encourage them to participation in realistic goal setting, help them achieve their goals with invitations to participate and encouragement to persist until successful.


Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes