Caring for Self-Critical Kids

Katherine Cork's picture
By Katherine Cork on December 4, 2018

Have you ever heard your child say things like “I’m so stupid” while trying to do homework, or “Everybody hates me” when recalling the day’s recess?

Do they get upset when they don’t do something perfectly?

Just like grownups, children have an inner voice that can turn negative and lead them to be hard on themselves.

While this may be a normal part of growing up and figuring out the world, if left unchecked it could also be harmful to your child’s self-esteem and confidence.
So what’s a parent to do? The team at Carilion Children's offers tips on how to help your child tame that negative inner voice:

1. Take it seriously.

If something is bothering your child, don’t dismiss it, help them through it. Saying something like “You’re being silly” or “Don’t give up” isn’t very helpful and can come across as putting your child down.

They need your help to sort through their thoughts and feelings and figure out what they should do, not just what they shouldn’t do.

2. Ask questions.

Hearing your child’s answers to questions like “Why do you think that?” or “What is the worst that will happen if you don’t do this perfectly?” can give you some insight into what the underlying issues are.

It also opens up a dialogue, so you can help them understand more realistic scenarios and outcomes.

3. Reassure them.

You don’t expect your child to be perfect—make sure they know that! Life isn’t about being perfect, it’s about trying your best and learning along the way.

4. Reframe it.

It’s never too early to help your kids look at something from a different perspective. Ask them things like “What would you tell me if I didn’t know how to do something?” or “What would you say to your best friend if he said he was stupid?”

Looking at the same situation from the outside can give them new insight.

5. Give them ideas.

Sometimes your child may just need help figuring out how to do something or how to be better at something.

It might not even be about you giving them answers or instruction—it might be reminding them that it’s okay to ask a teacher or a coach to explain something again or help them figure something out.

6. Boost them up.

Tell them what they are good at and tell them when you’re proud of them. We’re not all going to be good at everything, but we’re all good at something!

Compliments, recognition and positive reinforcement are important for kids, and can turn that inner voice from negative to positive.

We can’t solve all of our children’s problems for them, but part of our role as parents is to help them figure out how to be successful.

That includes being understanding, helping them find solutions, teaching them and being there for them.
When your child feels good, it will make you feel good!
For more on helping your child with negative self-talk and self-esteem, talk to your pediatrician.

This article was reviewed by a Carilion Children's pediatrician.