What do you do when your child is in an “I never get anything right” mood? First, know what not to do.
- Arguing: “You are not You are not hopeless.” Contradicting someone (even to defend them) is a put-down, and the child’s natural response is to argue back, digging herself deeper into the determination to stay discouraged.
- Belittling: “Don’t be silly; you don’t know what you’re talking about.” You won’t convince anyone he’s not dumb by implying a low opinion of his intelligence.
- Coaxing: “Come on, it’s not that bad. Cheer up. Smile!” If he doesn’t want to, this isn’t going to help the situation or the mood.
- Humor: “I won’t have you talking about my child like that.” Making light of a black mood may only reinforce the idea, “I’m not worth taking seriously.”
- Logic: “What do you mean, never? Remember the award you won last week?” Proving that “never” isn’t literally true only invites the child to find reasons why that success didn’t really
Not only is it futile to try to talk a child out of discouragement: after a few rounds of urgings and counterarguments, you’re likely to end up pretty discouraged yourself.
What You Can Do
Sometimes, the best response to a black mood is to let it pass on its own. But if you suspect that discouragement is becoming a mindset with your child, it’s time for more active steps.
- Let the child do most of the talking. Encourage her, gently, to think things out for herself: “What do you think makes a person ‘dumb’ or ‘smart’? Where are you having trouble?” After each question, hear out the full response (and be sure it’s finished) before adding more of your own thoughts: interrupting can only reinforce the idea, “You’re not very important.”
- Talk about your own mistakes and struggles. “Nobody’s perfect” means little in itself; but true-life examples of imperfection—especially in people the child respects—brings reality to the idea that she doesn’t have to always get everything right either. And definitely avoid being a toxic perfectionist yourself: if you make a big deal over one “Needs Improvement” on your own performance review, children can hardly avoid absorbing the idea that “imperfect” equals “worthless.”
- Encourage children to explore their own interests. They may feel “stupid” simply because their interests differ from what “most” people consider “normal.” When you recognize and support their natural inclinations—and help them meet others who share those interests—they realize that “different” can be a good thing.
- See that your children get adequate sleep, exercise, and healthy meals. Emotional discouragement is often tied to poor physical condition. An improvement in overall health habits may be all the encouragement needed.
And If Things Don’t Improve?
If nothing seems to make a dent in chronically discouraged moods, there may be an underlying health problem, or a painful outside-the-home situation you’re unaware of. Consult a doctor and a therapist. And be prepared to join the child in long-term family counseling, or to otherwise adjust your own routine as needed. Nothing encourages like actions that say, “You’re worth sacrificing for.”
Blessings to parents and children of all ages!