"I'm not good enough", "I can't do this", "I won't be able to do it", 'I'm terrible at this" — as a parent, you may have heard your child express such thoughts.
Yes, it is normal for children to feel frustrated and disappointed when they are unable to do something. But, if you hear your child frequently make such negative statements, it's time to sit up and take notice. Your child is most likely overly self-critical.
The self-critical child
It is natural for children to occasionally indulge in negative self-talk. But how will you know if your child is being overly self-critical?
"An overly self-critical child is often a sad, unhappy person whose mind is filled with negative thoughts about himself. He doesnt think much of himself, yet seeks to be a perfect person. He forsees himself as a failure, the low feelings deplete his energy, his efforts are therefore sluggish and half-hearted. Therfore he sets himself up for failure." - Arundhati Swamy, Counsellor, Head Parent-Engagement Programes, ParentCircle
So, a child who is always hard on himself may also carry feelings of disappointment and defeat.
What promotes an overly self-critical attitude?
When a child is unable to live up to her parent's expectations she can end up feeling that she isn't good enough. The child struggles to cope with the stress and becomes highly judgmental and self-critical.
Also, when parents set the bar too high for themselves or are hard on themselves, they tend to pass on that quality to their children as well. Children of such parents may also feel that they need to succeed all the time, which is an unrealistic expectation.
There are cases, however, when a child might even resort to self-criticism to seek attention or to manipulate others. At the same time, this attitude could simply indicate that a child lacks grit or resilience in the face of struggle and challenge.
How does self-criticism affect a child?
"Negative self-talk does not allow a child to build self-confidence. The child prefers to give up rather than work hard and is afraid of making mistakes," says Arundhati Swamy. "Poor self-image makes him an easy target for bullies, and the lack of self-belief deters him from making use of opportunities that come his way. He becomes anxious about performance and evaluation. The low feelings can later develop into depression and anxiety," she explains.
What you should tell your self-critical child
Acknowledge 'your child's feelings: "I know how it feels when things don't go right." When you witness your child being self-critical, acknowledge her feelings and help her explore why she feels this way. Don't dismiss her statements as silly or unimportant; be empathetic, instead. Help your child calm down and then listen to what she has to say. This will help her learn to remain in control of her feelings before they escalate or cause her to have a meltdown. Offer words of comfort like, "I know how it must feel when you cannot get the answers right", or "It's okay to feel upset because you couldn't do it." It is also important that you take the time to deal with your own disappointment before you begin to comfort your child.
It's the effort that counts: 'It's okay to not get it right the first time. Each time you try it gets better." When a child attempts something new, it's quite common for him to not succeed at first. This can make him feel frustrated and defeated. The key here, however, is to make your child understand that it's absolutely okay to fall, falter or fail. By doing so, you are helping him understand that there's nothing wrong with being unsuccessful initially and that he could treat failures as learning experiences. Encourage your child to keep trying rather than simply give up on himself.
Affirm faith in your child's abilities: "I know you can do it." If you are familiar with the judgemental phrases your child uses, the next time you hear her put herself down, counter it with positivity. Self-criticism can be extremely discouraging to others as well, so you must continue to provide your child with support and encouragement. A pep talk can help. You can try saying something like, "Just because you got it wrong doesn't mean you aren't good at it" or "I know you can do it. Have faith in yourself".
Br realistic: "You can do it if you put in your best efforts." Praise and encouragement go a long way. But don't offer false praise. For example, if your child is upset or anxious about an upcoming project, you may be tempted to say "Your project is going to win hands down" or "You're the best". Saying so can make your child feel that you have unrealistic expectations of him. And, when he is unable to meet the expectations, it will only cause him to become more self-critical. Instead, appreciate and praise your child's efforts. For example, you can say, "I'm proud that you tried your best." Or "It's great that you put in your best effort." Such words can make your child feel encouraged.
Model positive vibes: "I know I can do this." As parents, we are sometimes critical of ourselves when we make mistakes. Since our children are constantly watching and modeling our behaviors, we must remember to not be too self-deprecatory. If you are upset at the way something has turned out, you could say, "I'm disappointed at the way things have turned out, but hopefully, I can do better the next time." Another great way to set a positive example is to tell your child about difficult situations that you experienced while growing up, and how you made efforts to overcome them. Keep in mind that parents too need to stop being judgmental of themselves. Remember, stories of resilience and success can help your child fight negativity and defeat with more positivity.
The self-critical child is driven to perform better, every time. This can be constructive but it can also be harmful if taken to extremes. So, you must help your child understand the fine line between eagerness to succeed and striving for perfection. Instead, be supportive and help him realize his strengths so that he learns to become more proactive than self-critical. Remember, a balanced approach is the healthiest way to grow.