Do you care for a child who engages in self-deprecation? It's heartbreaking to hear children say "I'm not pretty," or "I am just stupid," and know they don't think they have much to offer the world. This sort of negative self-talk builds upon itself: what they say is a reflection of how they think about themselves and their self-esteem continues to plummet as they allow others' words to (falsely) affirm these thoughts.
The good news is, they can stop this pattern. It isn't something you can fix for them, but you can certainly help. Here are a few ideas:
Give specific, authentic compliments: Telling the kid generally "you're the best!" does show them that you love them, but not necessarily that they are gifted, valuable individuals. Instead, find genuine ways to give compliments "Wow, you really listened well to your sister. You're such a caring big brother." Or, "I like the way you are always watching out for teammates who don't get much time with the ball on the soccer field. Your generosity and thoughtfulness is such a gift."
Encourage them to identify their gifts: We know that God has given each one of us unique gifts and talents. Share this beautiful truth with kids and challenge them to discover and name the ways in which they are gifted. Point out that some gifts are obvious like "smart," "funny," and "creative." Others are subtler, but just as important, such as "persistent," "being a problem-solver," "nurturing," etc. If we all had the same gifts, it would be a boring place!
Cultivate self-awareness: Some kids may engage in negative self-talk, but not quite recognize what they are doing. If you hear them talking in this way, ask them if they would say those words to their best friend. If not, should they be saying it to themselves? Help them to understand that the way we speak, even to ourselves, matters, and can affect our overall health and happiness.
Of course, as with so many other caregiving practices, it is important to lead by example. If you are sighing with unhappiness with how you look in a bathing suit or beating yourself up for how you conducted a meeting at work, they may just follow your lead. Little ears are always listening!
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