How to help your child when they are being hard on themselves

As parents we often hear our children talking about themselves in a negative way, for example: “I’m stupid, I can’t do anything right, No one likes me, everyone hates me, I’m ugly/fat/skinny/spotty!”

Some of the time these are just throwaway phrases or just the child wanting re-assurance that he’s actually ok. In other words, they are harmless.

However, it could be that the child is using negative self – talk which can be a very unhealthy sign because it means he or she is thinking the very worst of themselves, and this can lead to more serious mental health problems.

We all practice self – talk, don’t we?

I know I do….”Gosh Elaine you’re bum really does look big in these jeans!

However, whilst some self – talk can be constructive (I could talk myself into healthy eating!) it can also be destructive!

So, if your child is talking him or herself down all the time, it’s time to get some help.

Children are very much into “all or nothing” thinking until they reach their late teens (and then some!) They will say things like “I’m rubbish at netball” when they have only played the game once!  Or…”I can’t do maths!” when you know only too well that if they sat and thought about it they COULD do it.

My daughter thinks she has to be PERFECT at everything!

Some children set themselves some very high standards which are impossible to meet. They become perfectionists and are extremely tough on themselves even if they get one little thing wrong.

On occasions, children use negative self- talk because they are seeking to manipulate others. A good example of this is when a child tries to make his parents feel guilty by saying things like “I’m a terrible child, no wonder you get cross with me, you must HATE me!”

Of course, what he’s wanting the parent to say is “NO! of course we don’t hate you – we love you unconditionally!”

A lack of Perseverance

Sometimes, negative talk from a child or teen indicates a lack of resilience or perseverance. If a child lacks the motivation to see something through – to complete his homework or a project – it can lead him to having a lack of motivation to see things through to the end and to persevere, even if something is difficult to begin with.

Bullying and Harassment

When a child is being bullied it can show in a form of negative self – talk.

One of the mums whose daughter, Chloe 12, I treated last year for negative self – talk, says:

“My daughter Chloe, was bullied at school and she didn’t tell us for several months. I noticed that she was always saying things like, “I’m so ugly, my nose is too big and I’m so fat” it was only when she came home in floods of tears because someone had called something vile, and I realised that she was starting to believe all this rubbish these kids were saying to her. It was so hard seeing and hearing her like this, and part of me wanted to go and sort the bullies out but another part of me knew that this was something that she has to deal with but I just didn’t know what to say to her! I took her to Elaine as I knew it would be better if she learnt some techniques that she could use herself when this sort of thing happened in the future. Elaine was brilliant with her and from that first session her whole attitude changed, and she was back to being my happy little Chloe again!” (Jane Andrews, London)

But when do I need to worry about my child?

If your child says the odd negative remark every now and then I wouldn’t worry about it too much but if you are constantly hearing it and you have noticed that your child’s self esteem seems low, or there is an added anxiety problem or the child is refusing to go to school, or seems depressed, just look at the list below and see if you recognise any of the signs.

  • If the negative self-talk is not realistic – for example your son is the most popular boy in his class but he’s saying that everyone hates him.
  • If the negative talk is persistent
  • If it is affecting your child’s sleeping
  • If it is affecting the child’s eating
  • If she is complaining of tummy aches or headaches frequently and not wanting to go to school
  • If it is having an impact on his or her schoolwork
  • If the child becomes very teary and appears depressed.
  • If your child loses interest in her or his appearance
  • If he or she wants to stay in bed all day and can’t be bothered washing.

But what can I do to help my child?

There are many things a parent can do to help their child. The main thing is to listen to what the child or teen is telling you and let them know you are concerned. If your child says something like:

“I’m really scared about going to my new dance class tomorrow as all the girls are going to be slim and they are going to call me fat or maybe they won’t even speak to me because I’m so ugly!”

You could try answering with:

“Starting a new dance class is always a bit daunting darling, however there will be all sorts of girls and boys there – fat – thin – pretty – not so pretty …. So, I wouldn’t worry! You’ll soon make some friends and you’ll wonder why you ever worried about it won’t you!

As parents, we often say things out loud in front of our children which is self – critical, so try not to do this. If they constantly hear their mum saying “Gosh, I’m SO fat” or “I wish I had long hair” they are only going to learn that behaviour! Model positive self – talk. It might be a good idea to ask your child’s teachers if they have noticed that he or she is being over self – critical.

If the behaviour seems to be persisting and nothing you are saying or doing is having an affect on the child, do seek professional help.

At my clinic, I see children with this all the time, and it doesn’t take long to get it sorted. Sometimes it is linked to another on going problem like OCD or anxiety. Often, it’s just because they are insecure and just need a bit of help with dealing with their emotions. But whatever it is, the sooner it is treated the better!

For further information on this or any other children’s or teenagers emotional and behavioural problems do contact me at:

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