Have you ever heard these heartbreaking words from a child or teen?
“I’m so stupid.”
“I am so ugly.”
“I can’t do anything right.”
“I’m a bad person.”
“No one likes me.”
These are just of the few things that kids may say that send us as parents or adults that care for them looking for ways to show them they are NOT what they say they are. We tell them they shouldn’t feel that way. That they are awesome. Can make friends if they try. Everyone makes mistakes. You are beautiful inside and out.
And, they don’t feel any better and the painful words keep pouring out of them in times of distress.
When your child is swimming in emotional dark water, we have to go into the water to help them. We can’t help from the shore, cheering them on to the surface. While it goes against every grain that we have as a parent or caregiver, we have to dive into those awful feelings with them. If we continue to negate what a child is experiencing, whether we think it’s true or not, we can’t help them manage those difficult feelings and find the crux of what is causing them.
An example was a child I had in a social group who was talking about how stupid he was. I said, wow. That’s a tough thing to think about yourself. I don’t think you are stupid, but you do. What is making you feel that way? He responded that he had failed a math test. I said that now I understood. Math is hard and he didn’t feel good about the test. He agreed. But here’s the thing, we now have the problem to solve – needing help with math. If I had just told him I didn’t think he was stupid and I knew he was a bright kid, the problem would have stayed underwater and he would have continued to berate himself. This is a simple example. There are kids that are struggling with low self-esteem, feeling alone, or maybe being bullied.
So, what can you say instead to jump into the dark water to really help pull a child out? You can validate whatever they are feeling. Examples here might be:
Kid: “I’m so stupid.”
Adult: “That’s a really tough feeling to have. Can you tell me more about why you are feeling stupid?” Don’t be afraid to use the child’s words.
Kid: “I am so ugly.”
Adult: “It sounds as though you are not feeling really good about your appearance right now. What is bothering you? Is that your own feeling, or did someone say this to you?
Kid: “I can’t do anything right.”
Adult: “You feel as though you are having a lot of failures huh? Is there something specific that isn’t going well right now?”
Kid: “I’m a bad person.”
Adult: “It sounds as though you are not happy with something that’s going on or something that you may have done. I’m here to talk about whatever that might be and won’t be mad if we can have an honest talk about it.” or “Something has gone really wrong huh? Did something happen with a friend maybe?”
Kid: “No one likes me.”
Adult: “That’s a really hard thing to feel. How do you know that? Is there something going on with the other kids that make you think that?”
The goal is to swim past the feeling and into the problem causing the feeling. Diving into the dark water with a child is painful, but you, as their parent or caregiver, have the power to bring them back to shore in our role as their lifeguards and swimming with them.
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