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Navigating feelings of frustration and hurtful language (both towards others and oneself) is hard. Here’s a quick story time of how I handled this with my 6-year old!
While trying to attempt new tricks with her hula hoop, my 6-year old grew frustrated and blurted out, “I’m stupid!”
I was stunned. I couldn’t believe what I just heard.
As a family, we spend so much time discussing the importance of persistence, hard work, and the beauty in making mistakes. “Mistakes are how you learn!” is one of our favorite mottos.
With such a global statement, I knew I couldn’t rush in with logic, dismissiveness or reassurance “You don’t mean that! You’re not stupid. You’re learning. Blah, blah blah.” – Even though that’s exactly what I wanted to say!
When our kids are in the thick of their emotions, they don’t want to hear our logic.
At least not at first.
So, here’s how I handled it…
Me: “Oh wow! Your mind is telling you that you’re stupid. That you’re failing because you can’t do the hula hoop trick yet.”
Right now, “I’m stupid” is a feeling. I don’t want to her to adopt this feeling as her identity so I need to help her gain some distance so she can start to examine her thoughts critically. But I need to tread carefully because I also want her to feel heard and understood so I …
When kids (and adults) experience intense feelings, it’s common to feel alone and like you’re the only one who experiences them. One thing that can be really healing for kids to hear from parents is “Me too!”
Me: “I’ve felt that way before. Sometimes when I get upset or I’m learning something new, my mind starts telling me all kinds of hurtful things. Learning new things is hard.”
If you think about it, learning new things is hard! Not only mentally but emotionally. It takes a lot of courage to suck at something and to keep trying when you feel like you’re failing.
I helped her realize this by saying, “Feeling frustrated is a sign you’re getting out of your comfort zone and learning something new. You’re growing!” I shared a quick story of how I overcame this feeling as a doctoral student.
Once I took time to speak to her emotions, I started to transition to examining her thoughts.
Me: “What’s your mind telling you about the hula hoop?”
Her: “That I can’t hula hoop.”
Luckily, I had recorded her so I pulled out a video of herself hula hooping and said, “That looks like a girl hula hooping to me!” She smiled.
During these conversations, I follow her lead. I don’t keep bringing up things if she’s showing me she’s ready to talk about something else. So, we naturally dropped the subject.
In the middle of her homework, she blurted out, “I don’t feel stupid anymore.” I simply replied, “Feelings come and go.”
The following day, she was back to hula hooping and she told me again, “I don’t feel stupid anymore.”
Love that for her. 🙂
1. Listened & provided distance between herself & her thoughts.
2. Normalized feelings
3. Reframed feelings
4. Provided evidence that conflicted with her thoughts
5. Took a break and focused on something else.
Has your child ever made similar comments?
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As a clinical psychologist, published author, and mother to three young children, I get it. I’ve spent YEARS researching and filtering through the noise online, so you don’t have to.