Children can sometimes believe negative things about themselves. Negative “self-talk” may include thinking they are dumb, ugly, mean, or a bad person. They may say things like “No one likes me,” or “I hate how I look.”

It can be hard to hear your child talk this way about themselves, but you can support them to manage it so they can work through their feelings. This week, we offer tips for helping your child manage their negative self-talk.

We all make mistakes

As humans, we all make mistakes.  As adults, we can learn from the experience and grow. We keep trying or we problem solve and do something different. Kids, however, may have a tougher time moving on from the experience. Learning that mistakes are normal (and sometimes frustrating), not bad and  to try again or try something else. Learning to say “yet” can be a big motivator. “I am not riding the bike yet, but I’m learning. I’ll keep trying.”

When your child spills or drops something and they say, “I’m so clumsy,” you can normalize that mistake for them, and help them move on. “Everyone drops things once in awhile; let’s just clean it up and then we can start our game.”

It can help to talk to kids about what it means to make mistakes. Talk about mistakes you have made and how you handled them. Admitting your own failures and frustrations, or times when you felt down on yourself and how you worked through it can teach your child that everyone experiences failure, embarrassment, and negative thoughts at some point in their lives. Here are other points to keep in mind:

  • When they say, “ I’m dumb” or “You hate me,” can sometimes be reactions to being disappointed or not getting their way.
  • Some children learn that criticizing themselves gets attention. Take that as a cue that they could use some one on one time with you and emphasize positive attention.
  • Encourage your child to try again after a setback. “You’re not doing it yet, but you are learning!
  • Teach your child how to have fun in a game even if they aren’t the winner. Tell your child that you understand their feelings and help them work out a way of coping with the situation. “Games are like that: sometimes we win, and sometimes we don’t.”

Remember that young children think in all-or-nothing terms.They may think that if they do poorly on one school test, they will fail all their tests. Some children are also “perfectionists” and want to do everything right on the first try. Children can set impossible standards for themselves, which is why it’s so important to be there for them when they struggle.

Learning to cope

Give your child a little extra attention and support when they are feeling down. Find an activity you can do together that makes your child feel good about themselves. For example, if your child loves to draw, suggest getting out some papers and markers and draw together. Ask them what would help them feel better. Teach them that they can choose to do something they enjoy that will help. You could:

  • Go for a walk
  • Read books
  • Play at the park
  • Bake together

Compliment your child when you spend time together: “Great job going across the monkey bars, you are getting stronger. Practicing really helped!” or “You know so many big words in this book! Remember when those words seemed hard? You kept trying and you learned.”

Coping with setbacks and disappointments is part of life. Encourage your child to try again, but also use the opportunity to encourage realistic thinking. For example, if your child doesn’t think she is as good at the other gymnasts in the class, help her to think of a more positive thing to say to herself: “I may not be able to do a handstand yet like the other kids, but I am really proud of myself for landing a cartwheel on the balance beam.”

Model positive (but realistic) thinking

Children who are prone to using negative self-talk may think negatively in other areas of their lives. You can help your child find the good in every situation by modeling optimism and practical problem-solving skills. As parents, we can also:

  • Listen and recognize their feelings
  • Support them to cope with their negative self-talk
  • Provide a safe place for your child to come to when they want to talk
  • Model positive self-talk and problem solving. When you make a mistake, talk through problem solving with them. For example, driving in the car you can say, “Oh, rats, I missed the turn. What can I do? Oh, I know, I’ll just go around the block.
  • Touch base with your child’s teacher to find out what’s going on at school

Lastly, if you have concerns about your child’s emotional health and well-being (such as persistent negative self-talk, changes in eating or sleeping, shift in mood or behavior), consult with your child’s health-care provider.


This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (  Parenting Now! is passionate about happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now! please visit their website ( or contact us at

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