During a recent online class, a parent asked the questions, “What do you do when your eight-year-old child calls themselves stupid or dumb all the time? I respond with ‘No you’re not‘ but they just say back, ‘Yes I am!‘”
This is a great question and we hear it from lots of parents.
Here are some ideas:
1. Check to see if any adults in the child’s life criticize themselves when making a mistake. That modeling can be powerful.
2. Check to see if any adults tend toward perfectionism with themselves or with the child – often correcting and directing, wanting to look perfect, avoiding mistakes, putting undue pressure on themselves to perform, etc. Offer guidance or correction only on things that are truly important to the child’s development. That is a pretty small number of things.
3. Try reflective listening. Reflect his emotion and sometimes reflect the challenge he is facing if you know it. Some examples are:
- “Sounds like you are feeling pretty frustrated right now.”
- “You seem discouraged with that homework assignment.”
- “Looks like you disappointed with the grade you got.”
If he responds and tells you a bit more, you can go on to coach problem solving. (To learn more about coaching problem solving, check out our classes on Emotional Intelligence or Understanding Feelings.)
4. Find some time when you can focus on your child without interruption and inquire what he might be feeling or thinking when he calls himself stupid. “I wonder what’s going on when you call yourself stupid. Can you help me understand a little better what you are feeling and thinking?” Just listen. Avoid trying to give solutions to his problem or correcting her thinking. Invite him to think about other ways to handle those thoughts and feelings.
5. Let her know you feel sad when he says mean things to himself. “When you call yourself stupid, I feel sad (or worried or concerned or whatever is true for you).”
If this continues you may want to check in with teachers at school and see if there is something going on that might be affecting your child’s feelings or thoughts about himself. Keep us posted on your progress. This is a common challenge for parents and your process will help others learn.