We try to talk positively to our kids, or at least many of us parents know that we should be using kind and caring words and positive encouragement. It can be incredibly painful and disheartening then, when we hear them putting themselves down. Hearing a child refer to herself as “stupid” or “ugly” or talk about what a “loser” he is certainly can be upsetting. But, what can we parents do to nip the negativity in the bud and address the possible self-esteem issues?
You might need to start by taking a good hard look at your own habits to see if the child is getting the language and the “message” from mom or dad or the family. Do you put yourself down or say things that are negative messages? You might not even realizing that you are saying thinks like “What a dummy I am!” or “How could I be so stupid?” or if you do say them, you might not really think about the message they are sending to your child until you hear him or her parroting the same thing back.
Where else might the child be hearing such negative talk? It might be a family problem, or it could be coming from peers, school, etc. While figuring out where it is coming from won’t completely solve the problem, it will give you a better handle on the sort of environment your child is faced with.
Try having a conversation with your child about how disturbed you are by the phrases he’s using and see if you can figure out what is going on: “It really hurts me when I hear you say those things about yourself” can be a way to start the conversation. I used to tell my kids when I heard them put themselves (or their sibling(s) down): “I don’t let anyone talk about one of my children like that!” There was a little humor infused with my request for more positive self-talk. A young child may need you to give him or her new language and tell him or her specifically what you would like to hear: “I know you are frustrated, but let’s say encouraging things to ourselves like ‘keep trying’ or ‘ I know you can do it.’”
If the negative self-talk continues or becomes worse, it may signify that something heavy is going on for the child and you might want to get some professional help to deal with it. As a parent, you can continue to watch your own language and do what you can to boost the child’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth.