"Children learn whatever you teach them, whether you've intended for them to learn it or not. "

5 yo Self-Esteem

Question

My 5 year old son seems to be going through a rough time the last couple of months. Always a very sweet and mostly happy toddler, he has suddenly become negative and whiny about everything, including himself. Out of the blue (especially at bedtime) he will say things like "I'm a bad kid" or "I just can't make good choices". He resists our attempts to comfort or praise him when he's like this. He suddenly not only dislikes, but says he "hates" things he used to like. He idolizes his 7 year old brother and compares himself unfavorably. He does misbehave at times, but I wouldn't say anything out of the ordinary for his age. He just seems irritable, negative and unhappy right now and I don't know what to make of it. I have seen that the harder I try to "build him up" and the more we talk about things, the worse it gets. On the other hand, I don't know how exactly to respond when he gets like this. Can you help?

Answer

As Shakespeare recognized, human beings are inclined toward drama, including self-drama, and the proclivity emerges early on. The problem is that the more your son says negative things about himself, the more he will begin to actually believe them. That’s a principle of the new science of neuro-linguistics. Paradoxically, the more you try to persuade him that what he’s saying about himself isn’t true, the worse it’s going to get. So it’s important that you stop the conversations…completely. Remove his audience, and it has to be done cold turkey. Sit down with him and tell him that you don’t know why he’s saying this silly stuff about himself, but you’ve said everything you have to say in return and, therefore, you are not going to talk about any of this stuff with him again. “I’d only be repeating myself, and you don’t want to hear me say the same things over and over again, now do you?” And then, if and when he gives forth with one of his “silly-gisms,” just walk away. If it’s at bedtime, just say, “You need some sleep.” Then kiss him goodnight and leave his room. If you starve this particular beast, it will go somewhere else to feed.

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