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Helping self-critical children

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 “I can’t do this work. I’m stupid!”

How do you respond if your child says this?

We all feel down at times and will think, if not say, negative things about ourselves. We need to allow kids a little latitude and not expect them to be positive thinkers all the time.

Sometimes it is good to let off some steam even if it is negative. The important thing is not to dwell on it and move on in a positive direction. “Okay you got that out of your system not let’s get to work” is the type of response that is useful sometimes.

Kids who constantly put themselve down

If children constantly put themselves down or downgrade their performances then we need to take a different approach.

First, don’t be fooled by children’s feelings of inadequacy. Like all behaviours they have a purpose and continuous self-criticism makes others lower their expectations of them. Generally, parents and teachers will lower their sights as a response.

Expectations for achievement should be realistic and pitched just ahead of where children are at developmentally or ability-wise. Too high and they maybe discouraged. Too low and they have little to aim for. It takes wisdom to get your expectations just right. 

Either ignore or challenge their put down. Sometimes it is best to let the ‘I’m crap’ statements pass, while there are times it is useful to point out the occasions when children showed they were capable. Not only does this challenge their view of themselves but it also provides a useful reference point if they are going to tackle a difficult task. They can draw on the same resources this time around that were successful for them in the past.

Helping self-doubters

One way to help self-doubters is to break a complex task into smaller steps. If it is a complex school project, then help children break the work into manageable bits. Some children need a great deal of help with project management. It is always easier to do a series of smaller tasks than one great big one. 

The advantage of tackling a series of small tasks is that there is success built in all the way rather than waiting until the end to gain a feeling of accomplishment.

Self-doubting or self-critical children benefit from a great deal of encouragement. Every person, child or adult, needs someone in their life who says, “I think you can do this.” The hard part is that self-doubting or self-critical kids tend to discourage those around them.

That is why they can be hard to encourage.

There are plenty more ideas to help you raise confident kids in my book Thriving! 

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