There are times that we are all exceptionally hard on ourselves. People often are overheard saying statements such as, "Nothing ever works out for me," or "I'm just not good at those kinds of things." These are self-deprecating statements, and children often label these statements as put-downs.
Listen to your child and take note if they are making frequent negative statements about themselves. You might notice that your child is stating their thoughts in an all-or-nothing manner. Here are some examples:
· "I always look fat in jeans."
· "My teachers always hate me."
· "I never do anything right."
Your child also might be stating something not quite as strongly, but it might be contrary to evidence. Some examples are:
· "I always get bad grades" when your child has only ever received one C.
· "Other kids hate me" when your child has lots of friends.
· "School just isn't my thing" when your child has good grades.
When you hear statements like these, there are some things you can do to help gently guide that all-or-nothing or put-down thinking to a more realistic statement:
Restate. Help your child to restate what she said in more realistic, accurate terms. For example, if your child says, "I always get bad grades." You can challenge that statement by stating a true fact, "You always get As and Bs. This past quarter you had a D in math, but you are in tutoring now and have a plan to succeed."
Relate with your own example. All-or-nothing thinking can often be prompted by a feeling. For example, if your child is going to a new school, they might be feeling scared, nervous, worried, sad or anxious. So, if your child says something like, "I'm never able to make friends." You can share your own experience of how your felt. For example, "I remember having to change schools, and I was also really nervous about making new friends."
Ask a question.Ask your child a question about what they just said. If your child says, "Other kids always pick on me," ask them, "Always?" or "Is there something that is going on at school now that makes you say that?" Ask them how they could state that same sentiment to reflect what they are actually thinking or feeling.
Selective discussions.If your child does not say things like this often, you might choose just to let it go, especially if it's in front of your child's friends. One day, when I was giving my son and his friend a ride, I heard my son say, "I didn't study at all for that test today. Her tests are always awful." I chose to say nothing until later that day because I knew that my son had studied endlessly for that test! When I talked to my son later, it turns out that he was just saying he didn't study to fit in. Use an opportunity like that to have a discussion about peer pressure, too.
Model good self statements.If you model saying positive self-statements and limit all-or-none thinking, your child will pick up on that pattern and copy those behaviors. If you find that you do say a negative self-statement, the best thing to do is correct yourself out loud.
Of course, if you notice that these suggestions don't help at home or if your child's negative self-statements are affecting their eating, sleeping, ability to make friends or school performance, look for help from a school or community-based professional. ■
Tracy Christman is a psychologist with the Milwaukee Public School and the mom of two boys.