Negative Self Talk: How to Respond

Negative Self Talk: How to Respond 
By Allie Reid, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, MA, LMHC 

I’ve been getting asked a lot recently by parents and other therapists about what to do when we hear a child say negative things about themselves.  Examples of these negative self-talk statements they've heard are, "I'm so stupid. I'll never get it right." or "I'm done with this homework. I'm never going to understand it.".  I know my first reaction is to console this child to feel the best about themselves by saying, "No, you aren't!" "Don't say that!" or "That's not true!" or even freeze up for not knowing what to say.  However, when we do this, it can make kids feel unheard and invalidate their feelings. Rushing to reassure a child can cause them to close up from sharing their negative feelings with you in the future and/or bottle up into a big explosion of emotions. 
This blog post was written by Big Life Journal.  I’m not affiliated with them in any way, but I just love their work! 😊 It's a company that makes journals and resources for kids and teens to increase their self-esteem by teaching them about having a growth mindset.  They also have free printable posters or activities for kids to do every Friday if you sign up for their weekly email!  
Anyway, back to the actual blog post.  Responding to kids saying negative things about themselves is always hard to hear, and I’m sure even harder to hear as a parent. Below are some of the tips I gathered from this post to help make responding to them easier and help kids feel heard: 
Help your child identify the FEELING that is underlying their statement. Typically, when they engage in such negative self-talk, there is an uncomfortable feeling that pushes them to say these statements. For some kids, this emotional language can be difficult for them to grasp on their own, and it's easier to say, "I'm dumb," rather than to get to the deeper emotion. You could try saying, “I’m wondering if you’re feeling frustrated with your schoolwork?” to inquire more from an emotional side. 
Help your child identify WHAT is causing them to feel these uncomfortable emotions. This can help kids begin to separate the problem from their self-worth. You could try asking, "Can you show me the difficult part of your schoolwork?" or "You seemed like you were understanding this concept up until this point. Is that where it became more difficult for you?”. 
Show them that even YOU, as an adult, make mistakes! I do this all the time with my kiddos, whether it's forgetting a piece of information they told me last week or spelling something wrong when we're working on an activity together. 
Ultimately, it's SO hard to hear our kids say negative things about themselves, but hopefully, after using some of these tips and/or reading the blog, you feel much more prepared to answer them, so they feel heard and validated. 
Allie can be reached at