Quick tips for when kids use negative self-talk
- Quick tip 1Don’t dismiss kids’ concerns.Don’t dismiss kids’ concerns.
If a child says “I’m dumb,” don’t dismiss it with a quick “No, you’re not.” Ask questions to help understand why kids are saying negative things about themselves.
- Quick tip 2Point out patterns in negative thinking.Point out patterns in negative thinking.
Help kids recognize negative thought patterns. For example, point out if kids often magnify a small event so it seems like a big deal. This is a good first step toward reducing excessive worrying.
- Quick tip 3Replace negative thoughts with positive ones.Replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
Help kids learn to crowd out negative thoughts by repeating empowering phrases or mantras like, “This is hard, and I’ve done hard things before,” “I’m feeling frustrated, and I can calm down,” “I can do it, and I can ask for help if I need it,” and “I am strong.”
- Quick tip 4Be a role model.Be a role model.
Watch out for your own “thinking traps” and correct yourself in front of kids. Use these moments to model how to notice distorted thoughts and replace them with more positive ones.
- Quick tip 5Give praise that’s honest and specific.Give praise that’s honest and specific.
Acknowledge kids’ effort. Praise them for completing different parts of a project and ask what they might try next time to help meet their goal. That’s the kind of praise that builds self-esteem.
“I’m dumb.” “No one likes me.” “I’ll never be good at this.” Why do kids say negative things about themselves? Most kids (and adults) make the occasional negative comment about themselves.
Sometimes, they want to vent or make a joke. It can also be a way to relate to others. If a negative comment is isolated, it’s usually not something to worry about.
But some kids say bad things about themselves over and over. This is common in kids who struggle in school or who experience more setbacks than other kids. When something bad or disappointing happens, they may see it as part of a pattern that applies to all parts of their life.
For example, a grade-schooler who gets a subtraction problem wrong might say “I can never do anything right.” Or for teens, even the smallest comment or social mishap can feel like the end of the world or a judgment on their abilities.
If kids are constantly saying negative things about themselves, you can help them recognize these thought patterns or “mind traps.” Identifying these patterns can be a first step toward helping kids stop worrying too much or being too hard on themselves.