Putting an End to Negative Self-Talk in Kids

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A little negativity can go a long way. So when you've got a kid who is constantly down on himself, getting him to listen to a positive perspective can seem like an impossible task. A few days ago, the following email from a parent with just this problem landed in the inbox of our parenting expert, Rosalind Wiseman. Here's her advice for silencing negative self-talk.

Q. My 10 year-old son has such a defeatist attitude. He’s always saying, "I’m no good at this or I’m no good at that." His so-called teammates and friends blame him when they lose games and they never invite him to anything after school. I always struggle to think of the right things to say that my son will actually take to heart. How can I help him?

A. I understand how frustrating this is for so many parents. You feel like there’s nothing you can say to make it better. And if you don’t say, “No honey, you’re great!” you worry that it sounds like you agree with him. So here are my suggestions.

1. Stop using “You’re so great” as your go-to response. It comes across as not listening to your child. Instead, what I find more helpful is to say something like this:

You: I’m really sorry. Will you tell me a little more about why you’re feeling this way? Are there specific things you’re feeling down about?

Your child: I’m so slow. I get teased all the time because I’m the slowest kid in the world. No one has ever been as slow as me in the history of my school.

You: Wow, that’s really hard. I can imagine how annoying that is because it’s not like you want to be slow, and then the kids who tease you make it even worse. There are a couple of things I want you to just consider, not necessarily agree with, but just consider. No one can be good at everything. But the same is true the other way. No one is bad at everything either. I want to make a list of the things you’re good at and the things you’re not so good at. Then you can choose if you want to work on something on your list you want to get better at. Like if you want to get better at running, you can work on that.

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2. Consider who's inspiring these comments. Since classmates or other kids on the team are feeding negative comments to your kid, you might add something like this:

"I know it's a lot to think about but I want to talk about what’s happening with your friends too. If other kids are mean to you, there are two ways I think you can handle it. Maybe you can think of more. You can laugh it off. Like, if kids on the basketball or track team are teasing you because you're not as fast as them, you could say: 'Yes, I’m really slow.' Sometimes admitting it takes away some of the teasers’ power. Or you could choose not to run in any races or play in any games until you feel more confident. What do you think is a good way to handle it?”

Then listen to your child as he thinks through what he wants to do to have a little control and dignity in this situation.

3. Think about the benefits of being left out here. On the issue of those boys not inviting your son to things: take a step back. I know it feels bad when other children don't include your child. However, in this case, do you want your son to be in a situation where they could easily ridicule him under the guise of joking around and playing? Overall, what he needs to do is work on the things he identifies for himself that he wants to get better at and then choose genuine friends who make him feel good instead of tearing him down. Even having one friend who treats him well is way better than hanging out with a group of kids who make him feel bad.

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How would you handle a kid who's down on himself? Post a comment and tell me.

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the new best seller Masterminds and Wingmen as well asQueen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to rosalindwiseman.com. Read more of Rosalind’s parenting advice here

Do you have a parenting question? Email askrosalind@familycircle.com.