Our friend has struggled with her child who had developed a tendency to get stuck in negativity. She would often hear her eight-year-old speaking negatively about himself. Even when he seemed to be doing great at a task, he’d focus more on the negative than the positive. Even when his mom told him, “You did a great job!” he would still be convinced that it’s not as great as it could be. He often used such phrases as “I’m not good at this,” “I’m not smart,” or “It’s all my fault.” So, our friend became determined to learn how to better manage her kid’s negative self-talk. What she discovered was that adopting the growth mindset was the key in helping her son to move away from negativity and low self-esteem. She recommends to parents that find their child struggling with low self-esteem and using negative self-talk the following strategies that she found to be effective.
Try just listening
As parents, it’s easy to want to fix everything to make life easier for our children. However, every so often the best way to help is to simply listen and be present. Your child might just need a person to vent to and you can give him a safe place to do so. Let your kid complain while you just listen and occasionally say “I understand” or “I see how that can be hard for you.” Talking things out can make your child feel better and he’ll appreciate you for lending an ear.
Understand the source of their frustration
When you hear your kid say “I’m not good at this” your parental instincts immediately push you to counter her negativity to try to motivate her. Try not to give into it. Instead of jumping with assurances or advice, engage her and ask why she thinks that way. “Seek first to understand, then be understood” is a very effective approach recommended by the famous author and educator, Stephen Covey. Using this strategy, you can find out where your kid is getting this mentality from and why. Once you determine the source of her frustration, do not engage to lift her up. Instead, brainstorm with her to come up with ways she can do a better job next time. This way you’re giving your kid a puzzle to solve that is meant to fix the root cause of the issue rather than using a temporary Band-Aid approach.
Show them a different way of approaching negativity
If your child says something like, “I stink at this.” try to change his perspective by giving him an alternative statement to use. Say something along the lines of “You don’t stink. You’re learning.” Putting a different (growth mindset) spin on his negativity can help him see his challenges in a new light. Also, try digging deeper to understand why he feels this way, therefore, showing him a productive way of approaching problems. For example, if your child says “I don’t think I’m a fun person” you can probe in the following manner: “Why do you think this? Do you think you’re not exciting enough? Do you have to be exciting to be fun? If yes, what can you do to be more exciting? Is it even necessary to be fun at all? Teaching kids how to question their negativity can either help change their view of themselves or help them actively work on becoming the kind of person they want to be.
Remind them that everyone starts somewhere
It often helps for children to hear that the people they look up to also had to practice a lot to get to where they are. For example, if your kid often gets down about her drawings, comparing it to your art and telling you that she’ll never be as good, it would be a good idea to go into your old sketchbooks and show her all of your old art, letting her see how you progressed and improved. This not only makes her feel better, but also inspires her to practice more. Telling stories about times when you were just starting something or mistakes that you have made can do wonders for children. If you don’t have any stories that can help, ask relatives or maybe find a video on YouTube that is relevant.
Ask them for input and advice
When you experience challenges, ask your kids for advice when appropriate. By doing this, you are normalizing imperfection in their eyes. You can ask your children for input when struggling to make a decision. You can say something along the lines of “I need to complete a project, but I don’t think I have much experience in that area. Would you help me with that?” Going to your kids for help has a positive boost to their morale because they start to feel important, which in turn helps their self-esteem. You will notice that more often than not, kids will do their best to give you advice that you would give them. When they face challenges, you can remind them of the advice they gave you.
Keep track of accomplishments
What kid doesn’t like to see the good she has done? Create a board or a sticker book where you keep track of positive things your child has done, such as making an effort, not giving up, being helpful, etc. Emphasizing and exaggerating even the smallest things like “Remembered to say thank you” or “Held the door for someone at the store” can really help boost children’s self-worth.
Of course, give reassurance
Sometimes tried-and-true ways work the best. Give your children compliments and praise, but be sure to do it all the time and not just when they are feeling negative. Only saying something when they are feeling down may lead them to believe that you’re only saying it to make them feel better and that you don’t actually think it. There may be times when you compliment your child and he responds with a “That’s not true.” Try asking other family members or friends to compliment and reassure him too. Sometimes your kid may roll his eyes at your compliment because he may just need reassurance that what you're telling him is really true. So, hearing praise from another person might be critical for him too.
Dealing with your children’s self-esteem can certainly be a challenge. However, simply giving compliments and lifting children up only when they are down is not a good strategy. Beliefs are learned just as much as skills are, so it can take time for a child to really believe something and understand how that belief applies to different contexts. It is our job as parents to be consistent and make sure we guide them through this process, and just be there for them physically and emotionally. If you are a parent that is going through this with your child, hopefully, you can find some value in the tips above to better manage your child’s self-worth.