What should I do when my child says “I’m bad”

Q. My first grader with ADHD got in trouble for getting up too much during circle time. Now she can’t stop saying “I’m bad. I’m a bad kid.” What can I say to my daughter?

A. When kids get in trouble for their behavior, they may believe that the behavior defines them as a person. In some situations, they may even think that parents or teachers no longer love or care for them.

Tell your daughter that making a mistake doesn’t make her a bad person. Talk about how parents and teachers use positive discipline to help all kids learn from their mistakes so they can behave differently in the future.

For example, you can say, “You made a poor choice and the teacher gave you a consequence to help you make a better choice the next time. I’m so proud of you for wanting to make better choices. We love and care for you no matter what!”

Or if it seems like your child is embarrassed, you could say, “I know that you felt embarrassed when you got in trouble for your behavior at school. Everyone makes mistakes, and we know how hard you’re trying.”  

It’s also important to let kids know that you don’t expect them to be perfect. They need to know that they’re worthy, important, and loved unconditionally. 

Remember to talk with your child about her strengths while she works on her challenges. Kids look to adults for positive feedback that helps them feel good about themselves. 

Finally, let your child know that being “good” doesn’t mean never getting in trouble. It’s about being kind and trying your best to treat others the way they want to be treated. 

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About the author

About the author

Kristin J. Carothers, PhD is an expert in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and behavioral interventions. She also provides co-parenting therapy for families experiencing high conflict.


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