Negative Self-Talk: What to Do When Your Child Is Too Hard on Themselves

We all want our kids to be motivated and hardworking. But you may notice your tween’s impossibly high standards for themselves are taking a toll on their mental health. Child negative self talk is a red flag for self-esteem issues. If your child engages in a lot of negative self-talk, beats themselves up over even the smallest mistakes, or pushes to achieve at the expense of their overall wellbeing, there are steps you can take to help them go easier on themselves.  

How to help a child with negative self-talk

Talk to them about the content they’re consuming

It’s been said that comparison is the thief of joy, and the glossy world of social media has certainly proven that case. If your tween’s feed is full of the heavily-curated posts of influencers peddling idealized lifestyles, they’re likely measuring themselves against impossible-to-obtain standards. 

Following your kid on social media, periodically sitting down to look at their feed with them, and utilizing tools like BrightCanary are all excellent ways to keep tabs on what they’re consuming online. It’s also important to talk to them about not comparing themselves to other people’s highlight reels. 

Encourage rest 

As adults, we’re aware of the danger of burnout and (hopefully) adept at keeping our plates from being too overloaded. But for the highly motivated tween — with their seemingly limitless energy — it can be easy to push themselves to an unhealthy degree. 

As parents, it’s our job to help them learn to set limits and take the time to rest, both physically and mentally. These mental health apps can also help them be more mindful, learn to relax, and silence negative self-talk.

Help them reframe negative self-talk

Kids who are naturally self-critical may have a hard time focusing on the positive. Here are a few ways to help them override their negative self-talk: 

  • Encourage them to keep a gratitude journal: Taking just a few moments each day to write down things they like about themselves, or something that made them happy that day, can go a long way toward shifting their perspective. 
  • Help them spot negative self-talk: For many people, negative self-talk can become so habitual that it’s difficult for them to spot. Recognizing this behavior is the first step toward reducing it. When you notice your kid being self-critical, gently point it out and encourage them to be kinder to themselves.
  • Provide counter-messaging: Researchers have found that it takes three positive comments to outweigh one negative one. If your child is prone to negative self-talk, you can help balance it out by affirming their positive qualities. Any parent of a tween knows kids can spot disingenuous adults a mile away, though, so be sure your compliments are authentic — and don’t overdo it.

Set an example 

If you notice you’re beating yourself up about something when your kid is around, point it out in the moment and demonstrate being kinder toward yourself instead. 

This behavior will not only provide them with an example to strive toward — it will show them they’re not alone and that being self-critical is something everyone deals with now and again.   

Recognize when to contact a professional 

If your child’s self-critical mindset, negative self-talk, and perfectionist tendencies are persistent and negatively impacting their life, or if you notice other shifts in their behavior and mood that concern you, it’s a good idea to seek the guidance of a mental health professional. They can help identify if something bigger is going on and teach your child valuable tools and strategies.

In short

It’s normal for kids to be hard on themselves sometimes. But if your tween holds impossibly high expectations for their life and is full of negative self-talk, it’s important to step in and help them learn to be kinder to themselves.

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