What to say when kids say they hate themselves

June 3, 2009

Jumping off dockA reader asked her six-year-old son why he was acting up and he said: “Because I hate myself, and I’m stupid”  “So now what do we say?” she inquires.

The first thing to consider is whether there is a “right” thing to say in such a moment.  Better might be sincere interest, and non-judgment, about this statement—lead by listening.  If we are able to listen to such painful moments and, metaphorically, sit on our hands and wait, they may say more.  One of the hardest things in parenting is seeing our children in pain and not being immediately able to make it better.

Secondly, we want to move away from a mind-set of “solving problems,” and toward a philosophy of truly relating.  This means that we continually try to see to the subtle heart of things, to the sacred spirit (and not label, problem or issue) of our children.  If we do this, it will teach us to be happy and our kids will grow like wildflowers in a mountain meadow.  Martin Buber, a Jewish philosopher who was embraced by the Jesuits, called this sort of relating “the essential deed.”  Like the Buddhists who try to relinquish fear and desire, Buber urged us to see the other as a “thou” and not an “it.”  Even trying to make someone feel better is “it” relating (and parenting often demands this), but simply seeing with compassion, seeing the beauty in what just simply is, takes any and every moment and busts it open in a good way.  Now of course this “essential deed” is MUCH easier said than done, and in the service of this idea I offer to meet you here and encounter your questions in this spirit, oddly acknowledging that this happens when I’m reading what YOU write, when “nothing” would appear to be happening.  Over time these posts may grow shorter, and our Sangha may grow more mindful.

To facilitate this sort of thinking I recommend yoga, and I also highly recommend reading anything by Thich Nhat Hanh.  And now back to the boy who hates himself.

A preliminary thing to say, might be “I’m sorry that you feel stupid, but I hope that you can be proud of yourself for using your words, which shows how even when you think you are bad and stupid, you are actually growing beautifully toward the time when you won’t need to hit or misbehave to communicate.”  I draw the sentence out to make the point.  Less words is better (but we can’t all be Hemmingway).

Just as parents “mirror” children and teach them about who that child is based on their parents’ interest and delight, or disinterest and depression, a child who hates himself and feels stupid begs the question, “Do the parents feel this way about themselves?”  (And can they heal from realizing that having sat down with the child and having allowed them to say how they hurt, also shows growth on the part of the parent?).

Children model themselves upon us in their early years and if we are miserable, it sets a compelling example that may haunt and sadden us when we see it reflected back to us in our children.  Perhaps the wish to love our kids might even get us over our long-held negative opinions of ourselves—and help us understand how it got started in the first place.  Children need ideal parents, and if they happened to have unhappy parents they may be prone to conclude that, since their parents are ideal, the only reason that they are not happy, delighted, patient and calm is precisely because their child is disappointing, bad and stupid.

Busy parents often neglect to reinforce positive behavior, but stop the presses when a child becomes oppositional, or when they express hostility to the parents or toward themselves.  The bigger picture here can be that we are inadvertently reinforcing negative behavior with our attention.  Imagine a child counting nothing but the volume of our words, and doing whatever gets the most words out of our mouths.  Now once a child is miserable, it’s not a great idea to ignore them, but moving forward it can be highly effective to “catch them being good” by commenting, hugging and noticing the behaviors you wish to reinforce.  Some of my favorite comments for positive behaviors are, “I hope you’re feeling good about yourself” or “I hope you’re proud of yourself,” as it tells a child that their own opinion of themselves is more important than our opinion.  This empowers them to trust themselves, and to develop an inner center of control.

Next to consider is the issue of self-esteem.  As I have mentioned in previous posts, the self is like a colander until it forms into a bowl (largely by virtue of accurate attention and empathy); one cannot truly have good self-esteem if one does not have a solid self.  We might reframe the above quoted child’s statement to mean, “I can’t seem to hold my feelings and when I feel too much, I hit or do ‘bad’ things.  And I think I should be able to do better so I’m not good enough.”

Behavior can be ‘bad’ or unacceptable and still not be a mark of character.  The child is asserting that he behaves badly because he’s “stupid.”  This is an example of shame.  In guilt we feel like our behavior was wrong, in shame we feel that we are wrong.  This is why children, and adults, who carry shame, respond to criticism with rage.  They believe that they are bad to the bone and that they are not in control of their behavior.  With greater understanding of self, the bowl of self forms.  With more solid selves, self-esteem develops.

In conclusion, as parents we want to think deeply and work practically.  Cultivating empathy by accurate listening, and reflecting back (i.e. “it sounds like you feel you’re not very smart and you don’t like yourself right now”) is actually more helpful than negating messages of pain by saying, “you’re terrific, how could you think that?”  We can ask them more about what makes them think they are stupid, keeping in mind that this may be a statement of what they feel when they are mad—in a transient moment—and not necessarily what they feel all the time.  After we’ve really heard our child’s pain, we can later clarify that this is not how we see them, but not until they believe that we have seen and heard them where they are.

The negative statements that six-year-old made are clearly a cry for help.  If we assert that we love them, and want to help them feel better about themselves, we can then clarify what our expectations are for behavior.  And then, when a child is being oppositional or aggressive, we can reflect to them that they are feeling badly about themselves.  You might be surprised how, consistently applied, this strategy can move mountains with kids as it builds self-awareness, which increases a child’s sense of self, which in turn creates feelings of autonomy and self-regulation.  Such children get to understand themselves and then naturally behave better because they have learned to be compassionate with themselves through our example.

Let’s dedicate today to compassionate seeing and listening, to “I and Thou” relating—and to sharing notes about how it goes.

Namaste, Bruce

p.s. For more on helping deeply understand your child, as well as many additional and pragmatic strategies for helping them feel better, please consider my book, Privilege of Parenting.  To order the book from Amazon, please CLICK HERE.

{ 57 comments… read them below or add one }

Dr Julianne Flora - Tostado June 3, 2009 at 10:20 am

Thank you for your thoughts, so beautifully expressed. I will read your blog to my grandparents group today – they are each rearing grandchildren after their own sons, and more often daughters, were found to be unable to rear children. These reminders of the gentle power of acceptance will be especially helpful for grandparents who have the double sword of responsibility along with the doubt and concern that their best was not good enough before.

I’m glad you mentioned yoga. For me, an appointment with joy helps me get back to center. I play racquetball and wallyball with friends and finish with yoga to stretch after.

Julianne

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privilegeofparenting June 3, 2009 at 11:49 am

Thanks so much for reading, commenting and adding your spirit to our collective endeavor! And we look forward to that good grandparent energy, as even if we fear that we mess up our own kids, we all have a lot of love to give, and will find many others ready to accept it. Namaste, Bruce

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Stephanie June 3, 2009 at 9:11 pm

Thank you. I will pass this along ; – )

Stephanie

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krk June 4, 2009 at 9:40 am

A positive reminder to use fewer words when trying to make a child feel better.
My tendency is to keep talking until I see a reaction that satisfies me (often
this can be a long time), and it satisfies me and not necessarily the child. I get it.
In gratitude. krk

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Art Kinsey June 5, 2009 at 2:31 am

Your point about parents neglecting to praise good behavior yet paying great attention to behavior that is less than desirable brings to mind the philosophy of one of the greatest leaders of our time. Vince Lombardi was known to spend hours praising the efforts and achievements of his players following a tough loss. Incidentally, his teams won a lot more games than they lost.

If we take the time to praise the good, especially when the going gets tough, our children will continue to surprise us.

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privilegeofparenting June 5, 2009 at 5:56 am

Thanks for that Art, good approach on, and off, the field.

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sulyn October 13, 2010 at 8:22 pm

Thank you for your thoughtful article. This happened to me today (my 6 year old daughter wrote she hated herself in chalk on the driveway). I did not respond well initially, as I burst into sobs (not the right answer I know). I tried to calm down and ask her why she felt this way. Was she angry at something or someone? etc. I feel the desire to make her feel better- but I need to acknowledge her feelings too and help guide her to a better outlet for her negative feelings that she is directing toward herself. Why do girls tend to direct their frustration and anger inward?

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privilegeofparenting October 13, 2010 at 10:44 pm

As for helping contain your daughter’s painful feelings see “the colander and the bowl” (http://bit.ly/cLpprH) and also know that you are being a great parent by wrestling with these difficult emotions and by striving to be your best Self.

As for turning things inward, I recognize the gender aspect, but think much of this is socially constructed—in other words outward displays of anger are considered masculine, which may inhibit girls and women from expressing anger in a healthy way. Doing what we can to empower girls, helping validate anger and encourage drawing, talking, writing, pillow punching or whatever allows an acceptable and accepted (by you) self-expression (by your girl).

Finally, “shame” is when we think we are not good enough at our core, so we need to challenge such mistaken assumptions, normalize strong negative feelings (as situational and not character-based) and facilitate success experiences (i.e. supporting our children to participate in activities where they can gain some mastery and bolster self-concept).

So, hang in and feel free to let me know how it goes.

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Joanne September 11, 2012 at 3:13 pm

Thank you for taking the time to write this post, I have found it very reassuring and helpful. My son tonight said he hates himself – he is a very energetic, intense boy and I often find myself telling him not to do the things he’s doing, to control his behaviour in that moment & I have often been bad tempered with him myself. I replied to him tonight “Is that because you feel you’ve been told off a lot lately?” and he said a very sad, quiet “Yes”. The part you wrote on self-esteem and it’s relationship to shame, then, was very informative to me. The reason I’m replying to sulyn’s post is that, another time, my son has said to me that he tries to keep his anger pushed down inside – obviously, he feels his anger is unacceptable, so I agree with you that this sort of repression arises from social expectations rather than gender. My son is sleeping peacefully right now, tomorrow is another day – I will try to incorporate your ideas for positive comments.

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Bruce September 11, 2012 at 4:06 pm

And thank you, Joanne, for sharing this with me (and with other readers who may come across your words). There is a lot of talk about community these days, but it’s up to us to realize that we ARE that community and that we parents have the power to love our kids and to support each other to do this.

All Best Wishes

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Sarah January 21, 2012 at 7:08 pm

My son has been saying this lately, usually when he gets in trouble for something. I’ll give him a consequence and instead of doing it, he’ll have a meltdown and start screaming that he’s an idiot or he hates himself. I’m not sure if he’s trying to avoid the consequence and being manipulative or if he really is that upset that he’s in trouble. I have explained that we all make mistakes and we learn from the consequences, so there’s no need to beat himself up over it, but I do expect him to follow through with the consequence he has been given.

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Bruce January 21, 2012 at 10:50 pm

Hi Sarah, It’s hard to know if he’s trying to get his way by playing on your soft heart, or if he truly is struggling with some self-esteem wobbly feelings. Perhaps if you hold to the limits and consequences, while being compassionate (i.e. you reflect that he’s feeling badly about himself, but that you love him and think he’s wonderful; you’re only responding to his behavior.

Meanwhile a former post on consequences might also be interesting: http://bit.ly/ay7lc1 (and, of course, there is a lot on every aspect of this question, from self-esteem to oppositional behavior to power-struggles to logical consequences in my book).

All Good Wishes, Bruce

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Hollie March 20, 2012 at 6:36 pm

Thank you for your insight and guidance. I have a 6 year old son who, when anything adverse happens, explodes into a full melt down. Frequently I notice that he turns to negative comments about himself ie. “I hate myself”,”god made me a horrible person and I am always going to be like this.” I want to kill myself. Etc. such comments are so disturbing and I have left me feeling so bad for him. I have tried to persuade him that these things are not true, but I am starting to believe that my job is to listen without judgement and hopefully to provide him with guidance all without being totally freaked out myself. I am not sure how to accomplish this and mostly I am worried that his words will eventually become how he views himself all the time. This has been an incredible parenting/family struggle.

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Bruce March 20, 2012 at 7:36 pm

Hi Hollie,

Yes, when you “listen without judgment” you model for your son the image of a loving parent who can hear the terrible thoughts that we all sometimes have about ourselves.

In fact, we we all knew just how much pain and insecurity most people carry we would probably want to put our arms around many people who turn out to need compassion and understanding more than they need judgment, and even more than they need cheer-up affirmations.

To be loved is to be truly known. You clearly love your son and that love will go a long way to helping him develop a solid sense of self. In addition, it often serves for us parents to think about such things as how our lives were when we were six, and even how our parents and grandparents were faring at that age. Sometimes trauma and hurt can travel across generations, sometimes becoming more conscious of the roots of pain in a family can ripple out to help its most vulnerable members—its children.

Wishing you and your son All Good Wishes.

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Jenny April 18, 2012 at 11:08 am

My 5-year old son has begun doing this about 4 weeks ago. He says “myself doesn’t like myself” and “I’m gonna die” and throws himself on the ground, hits and scratches himself, says he is stupid, nobody likes him, etc. My husband and I have always been so supportive of him and priase him (and our daughter!)… I admit, I have always had self-esteem problems, but I never thought that I radiated that outwards. It’s always been something I’ve tried to hide from my kids, I love them so much it hurts. To see him do this (sometimes when he’s corrected, other times at the slightest provocation), my hearts breaks. I sit down, tell him I know he is hurting, I ask questions and listen. It goes on and on…. sometimes he’ll slow down, sometimes not. I am heartbroken over this, I don’t know what to do. My mother-in-law lives down the street and says to take him to a therapist. His behavior makes her so ANGRY that she yells at him and corrects him frequently. I’m stumped, I don’t know where to go from here.

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Bruce April 18, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Hi Jenny, This is so heartbreaking as a parent, but I’m glad you’re reaching out for help. It can be possible that our own self-esteem struggles effect our children, but perhaps we heal ourselves and allow our kids to develop healthy self-esteem together. If your mother-in-law gets angry, perhaps it because she responds to heartbreak with anger? Sometimes the family carries pain and the children end up feeling the brunt of it and expressing it.

As a therapist my first vote is for the parent(s) to come see me before the children, trying to help parents with their issues and their parenting rather than seeing the child as having the problem. Still, if your child is highly sensitive or struggling with other differences in learning style, it could be useful to get a better picture of this. Perhaps running your question by your pediatrician and asking for appropriate referrals in your area would be a good next step.

Finally, my own book, Privilege of parenting, addresses all of these issues in greater depth (http://amzn.to/w76zcY)

Meanwhile, I send your child and your family All Good Wishes

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Thomas May 8, 2012 at 8:32 pm

Hi Jenny, I hope things are improving with your son and his self-esteem. I’m a distraught dad with a 6-yr old daughter who has told me a few times in the past few weeks that she hates herself and that she wants to die because she felt that she was a terrible and mean person. The first time I heard her utter this, I was in complete shock and basically spent the next hour talking with her about these feelings. (Now I know that less is more!) But I told her over and over that I loved her more than anything else in the world. That no matter if she wasn’t behaving well (and she’s almost always a very sweet girl) I still loved her. It seemed to help, but these comments still happen if she’s feeling particularly upset about something that happens either at school or with her younger sister. Now her 5-yr old sister doesn’t have any sort of self-esteem issues, and is in fact quite confident about pretty much everything she does. So what I wanted to ask you was if your daughter (you didn’t mention her age) had any self-esteem issues. Personally, I can’t remember ever feeling this self-destructive as a 6 year old. If I was mad and didn’t get what I wanted at that age, I would usually take it out on my toys and throw them around or just cry/scream. My 6-yr old still crys that she hates herself. I’m going to try pointing out when she does good things and see how it goes. Thanks Bruce!

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Bruce May 8, 2012 at 9:44 pm

Hi Thomas (and Jenny), Great insights Thomas, but mostly I just wanted to say how much it warms my heart to see parents supporting parents through difficult junctures. We say “it takes a village,” but when we act like we already are that village we’re right on track and right on time. All Good Wishes

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Whitney May 11, 2012 at 7:18 pm

This afternoon, my 8 year old son was wrestling with a decision. He claimed he was so bad at making decisions and he hated his brain. (Something he has said many times before.) Admittedly, I didn’t just listen to him but I tried to reinforce how he is good at making decisions and recalled good, recent decisions he made. He kept saying he was “terrible” at making decisions and I kept disagreeing. Then we were playing, lightly wrestling, joking around and this quickly turned into both my kids claiming injury. I got up and said I was done playing. My son then ran out of the room yelling that he “hated himself” he was going to go “bang his head downstairs.” And I grabbed him and yelled, “don’t say that! You are scaring me!” I was really fearful of him saying how angry he was at himself. Once I realized how out of control I was, I held him and apologized for my yelling and tried to explain to him that I was scared by what he said. I don’t know what to do when he is so hard on himself and I quickly lose it myself.

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Bruce May 11, 2012 at 9:13 pm

Hi Whitney, Great insight on how we parents love our kids so much that it can scare us when they speak or act in ways that are self-destructive… and then once we are triggered into fear we are in fight-flight mode (“done” with them/flight; or yelling at them/fight).

Empathizing that 8 year old brains are not fully developed, and thus not optimal at decision making, can also reinforce the bond you have with your child, as it is appropriate for you as the parent to make the major decisions (i.e. safety, nutrition, education) while allowing as much freedom to make decisions on age-appropriate matters, which teaches us to become good decision-makers through trial and error.

Finally, doing whatever we can to cultivate calm, so that we can be empathic, calming, containing and attuned care-givers for our kid(s), such as yoga, mindfulness (even just taking a walk or sitting an breathing quietly for a couple of minutes) can really add up to improved parenting and the healing of self-esteem issues in our children.

All Good Wishes

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susanft August 1, 2012 at 1:49 am

I happened across this after a desperately sad conversation with my 9 year old daughter this evening. she has been saying for some months that there is ”something wrong with her”. today it progressed to ”i hate myself”. as most would, i listened carefully and then talked about all the things that i thought were great about her. i asked if it was things she did she hated or something else. she responded ”no its all of me, i hate me”.
i am at a loss. where too from here. gentle gentle reflection is one thing but it’s being going on too long:(

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Bruce August 1, 2012 at 11:17 am

Hi Susan,

A few other posts to consider in possibly opening perspective on your daughter’s struggle:

http://privilegeofparenting.com/2009/07/31/ten-year-olds-and-their-changing-brains/

http://privilegeofparenting.com/2009/11/23/orchid-children/

Maybe see if any of those are resonant and report back. An additional resource with some depth on both the topics of depression and self-esteem can be found in my book (which is free from Amazon as a digital borrow if you have a Kindle):

http://www.amazon.com/Privilege-of-Parenting-ebook/dp/B006VOMQKQ/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1343844538&sr=8-2-fkmr0

Beyond this, questions of trauma and loss in the family may also be worth considering:

http://privilegeofparenting.com/2010/12/15/attachment-in-the-lab-implications-on-the-couch-and-in-the-brain/

Finally, at least for the moment, it is good that you are reaching out to help your kid and recognizing that it may be something that needs more than just gentle reflecting. Do note that telling her she is wonderful is missing her point, she needs you to know (and feel, which you obviously do) how terrible it all feels for her at the moment. This is half the battle, very hard to contain, thus you share it here and we try, along with the spirit of our fellow parents, to hold the sadness and cry her tears a little bit along with her, or even for her (she’s only 9).

It wouldn’t hurt to check in with her pediatrician, see if she has any suggestions. Sometimes a parent seeking a bit of counseling on behalf of their kid (not just dropping the kid off with the shrink) can have very good results for the child. As for finding a good therapist, ask your friends if any of them has felt truly helped or understood by someone they’ve worked with and go from there.

Hoping you and your girl feel better soon :)

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Deanne November 11, 2012 at 6:33 pm

I too found your site after a particularly emotional day with my 9 year old. We all went for ice cream before dinner and we told her she couldn’t have coffee ice cream because tomorrow is a school day, and the melt-down began. My husband stormed out of the ice cream place because the two of them were starting to have a shouting match. I ended up giving her the choice to eat the ice cream or not and that it was melting and i’d throw it away in 20 seconds. Well I counted down and she still was refusing to talk so i threw it away. Some time later in the evening i asked her to sit with me and talk and cuddle. She didn’t want to talk so i asked her if she would rather write down her feelings. She wrote she was mad that i threw her ice cream out but the tears (inside) came when she wrote she thinks her dad hates her, (he doesn’t but hes been depressed the last few years, his younger brother died in a car accident at 31), and that she hates herself. I don’t want to fail her as a parent. I’m so afraid that everything that happens now is so formative and I want nothing more than for her to grow up well adjusted. I think I’ll download your book. You sound very on target as far as relating to them at the sort of soul to soul level. Glad I found your blog.

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Bruce November 12, 2012 at 9:23 pm

Hi Deanne,

I’m sorry for this difficult time, and I hope my book helps a little. I’m also sorry for your husband’s loss—such difficult things, but I hope you’ll all find a way to heal, to bank on the love you share and the community of other parents to discover that you are not alone, and that your motivation to be your best Self for the sake of you daughter might carry you through.

Meanwhile, All Best Wishes

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Catherine December 6, 2012 at 4:51 pm

I am grandma, and I love my grandchildren so so much- like most grandparents I know, I feel I/we are blessed with a perspective, developed over years, that allows us to treasure the wonder of their being. And when I heard that my grandson has said, “I hate myself!” I could only gasp.
My husband and I have been able to spend generous amounts of time with the family, enough to have a strong sense of what daily life is like in their home, how problems are solved, how misbehavior is handled, how managing frustration is taught, how being “different” is regarded.
So I know our grandson is treated with respect for the fact that he is a child, experiencing so much every day, integrating what he experiences into what he already knows, altering and updating, as it were, his previous conclusions.

I have spent my career life working with children and families, and yet had not heard of a child of only 6 years, saying “I hate myself.” Saying s/he hated a person of authority who was having to deny a wish, or stop a behavior, yes. Hating self, no.
Most of the comments above suggest children being angry in the midst of thwarted wishes. And I appreciate the general approach of focusing on helping the child to recognize his/her accomplishments, accept the limits imposed by caregivers to prevent children from causing harm to self, others, or property, and reminding them of occasions when they have managed a difficult situation well.
But hating oneself – just because – because of what? Our grandson can tell us his tummy hurts at the idea of going to school. He is very shy by nature, and has been fortunate in having parents who understand how facing an unknown person can feel overwhelming. And they have been diligent in finding a school with outstanding teachers, who also know they are teaching children, not little adults.
Still, when I took him to preschool, he covered his eyes as he walked into the school yard and then into his classroom. And each year, despite being fully competent in school activities, the social aspect overwhelms him with anxiety.
I have seen his first grade work. He prefers math and completes his work well. His spelling indicates a good sense of how sound is translated into letters, his mistakes being very logical.
He makes friends, and teachers have commented that he can be a leader in a small group, suggesting to others some ways to accomplish a goal.
And at the end of a day, he is telling him mom, “I hate myself!”
I’ll add here that he is good enough in sports: he likes to climb anything, play soccer, play basketball, ride his bike, run and jump. It did take plenty of his dad’s time and encouragement for him to develop those skills. I have been spectator to sport times and am so proud of how our son plays with him. Art work is a favorite activity for him.
My take is that, despite his skills, he can readily see that he IS different. Can he know that socializing is easy for others – that it doesn’t hurt their tummies? Or does he think their tummies hurt, too, and they can just go ahead anyway? What level of abstract thinking is probable?
After mulling over all that I’ve read from others, I’m thinking I’ll encourage our son and daughter-in-law to think about how to help grandson find words for what it is he doesn’t like about himself. Reassure him that they know he knows they love him, and his larger family loves him – maybe showing photos of times having fun with others he knows well – how does he feel on those kinds of occasions?
Now that I’m thinking – maybe some photos of times when he doesn’t feel so good – does he ever wish he could be ______? How does it feel, inside, about that?
Talk about how different people really are – what makes some grow up to be astronauts, and others writers of books and others …. Maybe that’s too big a stretch?
Enough, already – I’ve probably written too much. Thanks for providing a place.

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Bruce December 7, 2012 at 11:02 pm

Hi Catherine,

It’s lovely to see you thinking so deeply and compassionately (and comprehensively) about your grandchild and your family. That very spirit of striving for understanding, multiple perspectives and a willingness to try things until our children feel safe and good about themselves is the essence of the spirit we want for all our children and our interconnected community.

Sometimes simply validating and reflecting that a child really does feel badly about themselves helps allay the shame, isolation and confusion of such painful feeling states. When the parents and grandparents really hear the cry of pain, the cry for help, we are well on our way to helping the child push through the pain and discover that they are indeed part of our group with all our myriad insecurities and our strengths as well.

Warmest Regards

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Victoria January 30, 2013 at 9:50 am

Hi everyone! Wonderful article! My 4 yr old son has been saying ( pretty much daily now for the past 4 months) that he hates himself and wants to die. It is breaking me! He has had enough struggles and has overcome so many obsticals in his 4 yes. He was born w a rare genetic disease that affects his liver. His liver cannot process sugar therefore he can’t have any in his diet- if he does it will store in there and eventually cause liver failure. This disease causes extremely low bloodsugars ever few hours and he takes his medicine ( 40 grams of uncooked cornstarch w water 7 times a day 24 hrs) the cs keeps his sugar stable. Anyway.. We almost lost him to the disease at 6 months and he has been hospitalized over 14 times in 4 years. He has a feeding tube which we give him his mess through. I initially thought he was getting made fun of or something bc of his tube and that’s why he was saying these things about himself. But the tube doesn’t seem to phase him at all- and from what he says nobody talks about it. Two weeks ago he accidentally scratched his sister then I had to spend the next hour next to him because he had convinced himself that he needed to hurt himself. All of these changes have come on so suddenly. I have always over praised him I think- I love him more than anything and I feel guilty that I gave him this rare genetic disease. So there is no lack of love for this child. We talk about his negative actions and talk about why he feels the way he does. He has always been the happiest child ever- always dancing and singing. And now he just seems so somber. Things don’t excite him as they used to and he seems tobe overcome with worries and fears and is convinced that the things he thinks/fears are truth. I just feel lost! Some of the things he says surprise me so much and catch me off guard that I often don’t know how to respond. I feel like a complete failure of a mother. I am working on getting him into counseling but I wish I knew better how to help him!
Thank you for your article! I will def try your tips!

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Bruce January 30, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Hi Victoria,

What a moving story—your profound love and your child’s struggle; your guilt (unfair to yourself, but we parents can all related) and his beauty; his guilt and fear that things are his fault… I can only imagine that everyone who knows you guys are simply rooting for everyone to be healthy and have the best lives possible filled with as much love as possible.

One other “tip” might be that anxiety can be linked to repressed anger. Your boy is developing enough to realize that he faces a struggle that others do not, and this is “unfair” and kids care a lot about fairness and so he has a right to feel angry.

He doesn’t have to be angry at you (you blame yourself for his genetic condition, but that is not constructive), maybe he is modeling this and trying to make you feel better by blaming himself, just as you have taught him, out of the deepest love, to do by “taking the blame.”

Maybe if he gets understood in his anger and that it’s totally okay to feel angry he will find himself hating on himself a little less?

Could be worth a try, but mostly just sending you and your family…

All Best & Healing Wishes

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Johnie February 14, 2013 at 9:26 pm

I found this website after a long …well last few months…
My son is 5 years old and just started Kindergarten this year. He was a young boy to be starting (he was four when we put him in) but he had been in Montessori for years so we felt he was ready for public school. He has been doing very well academically but having a tough time with behavior control (making good choices). He has been saying “I am an idiot” for awhile now, and lately it has been changing to “I am stupid” and today he said “I hate myself”. When he says these things it’s usually when he has had a bad day or when he is in a bad mood. I have tried responding in a variety of ways. I have tried saying “tell me more about that” “I’m sorry you feel that way…..why do you feel that way?” I have tried ignoring it because it just keeps happening. It makes me so upset/emotional and that may be why he does it but I can’t ignore it. I have told him how smart and great he is and how much I love him, to the point that he is sick of hearing it. I don’t know what he wants to hear from me, or why he is saying this to me.

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Bruce February 15, 2013 at 1:45 pm

Hi Johnie,

I’m sorry you and your boy are struggling. My two cents might be to start with a more empathic reflecting: “It’s just awful when we feel that way.” This is different than you being sorry that he’s in pain, it is you containing, feeling and reflecting a watered down mirror reflection of the amount of that pain your child can swallow (a baby-spoon’s worth).

If this works, then he will slowly start to open up and tell you more about why, when, how and where the bad feelings get triggered.

If this doesn’t do the trick, and you want to give it a week or so and you want to watch for non-verbal communication (more affection, more eye contact, the release of tears, etc.) as signs you are on a more connected and helpful path, then you might consider a few suspects…

Unresolved trauma in you or other caregivers who believe they have dealt with pain, loss, betrayal, etc. but might not have done so adequately. This can correlate with break-down pockets in children, particularly around social relating, attachment and loss. (for more on this see: http://privilegeofparenting.com/2010/12/15/attachment-in-the-lab-implications-on-the-couch-and-in-the-brain/)

Possible anxiety issues which can relate to circular and non-rational thoughts that do not yield to logic which may also overlap with high sensitivity. Start with: http://privilegeofparenting.com/2012/03/28/calling-some-quiet-shy-and-highly-sensitive-humans/

Finally, I hate to hawk my own merch here, but I did work for seven years on my book, which is a comprehensive guide to understanding this sort of issue and others which might arise along the way:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=bruce+dolin+privilege+of+parenting&x=0&y=0

See what you find and feel free to send another comment to let me, and other readers who may stumble across your and my words, know what worked, what didn’t and where we might go from there.

Learning is about trying things and adjusting based on our results. Your love is obvious and it will overcome your child’s self-doubt and self-negation over time.

All Best

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Steve Burstein May 21, 2013 at 2:17 pm

My parents are good people, but my Father was paranoid and bi-polar, and my Mother very quick tempered, so they couldn’t help my self-esteem very much.

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Bruce May 21, 2013 at 6:27 pm

Hi Steve,

This is very hard on the children of parents with such struggles, but the heart and mind are resilient so I hope you find what you need to heal and develop good self-esteem in any event.

All Best Wishes

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Margo June 21, 2013 at 6:21 pm

Hi all, thanks so much for sharing your stories, each one gives a different aspect of insight. My 6 year old son is a highly sensitive child and his negative outbursts come and go. Recently they have been pretty bad. The reason I decided to post on here was because he tells myself, my husband, or his brother (never his sister) that he hates us when he is angry for one reason or another. I am having a hard time dealing with those words and it bothers my other son when he tells him he hates him.

I have tried to just reply by explaining I know he upset about- whatever is causing the outburst- or sometimes if the situation warranted it I would ignore the words. My son and husband have a hard time at all with him saying he hates them. I am not sure if I am doing anything close to the way scenario though.

If anyone had any suggestions I’d love to listen. Thanks so much.

Margo

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Bruce June 21, 2013 at 8:53 pm

HI Margo,

Perhaps it would be useful to think about the psychological “defense” called “splitting.” Our defenses are ways we cope with psychologically difficult things, particularly things about ourselves we cannot yet mentalize in a healthy and balanced manner.

For example, we “project” onto other people the feelings about ourselves that we “hate,” (i.e. hating the “selfish” person if we are a little selfish). Less evolved than projection (and our higher-level defenses include humor or intellectual defenses–that analytic way that sometimes still leaves others cold when we don’t feel our feelings and merely think about them).

Splitting relates to a very young way of experiencing the world where we either hate or love, but do not experience a balanced view. Typically this level of psychology is universal in very young children who cannot realize that the mom who feeds and loves them is the same mom as the one who frustrates them.

Books like “Where the Wild Things Are” are spot-on for the psychology of good-bad split that four, five and six year olds have. Sometimes the older people in the family forget how it feels to be younger, forget what it’s like to either love or hate but not see the grey of love.

While it’s possible that your 6 year old is suffering from heightened sensitivity (see Elaine Aaron on “The Highly Sensitive Child” to see if he qualifies, and this might help explain why he’s so intense when the rest of you are more… chill).

Keep in mind that he loves you all quite fiercely. He just can’t stand frustration, and then he might feel shame or inadequate, not realizing that he’ll be “smarter” and bigger as he grows.

Devaluation (which is like hating) tends to mask secret idealization. His goal is to realize that he loves and sometimes gets very frustrated with his family; and that he sometimes feels inadequate, but also dreams of being powerful and superior to his current self.

The family task is to remember that he does love you, even when he’s hating; and gently remember that he sort of hates you all a little bit, even when in his loving emotions.

Ultimately you are helping form his Self, which is a personality like a bowl that contains both love and hate; that can integrate opposites and deal with the world in all its complexity.

Hope this helps a little.

All Best Wishes

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Leigh July 10, 2013 at 8:25 pm

My 9-year-old daughter says she hates herself and “I’m the worst” and sometimes hits herself in the head or bangs her head on the floor. I try my best to listen compassionately and let her know I understand that she is hurting inside. But nothing I do or say seems to help her get past this. We have tried counseling, but it did not help. I love my daughter SO much and she amazes me every day with how smart and talented she is. I wish she could see herself they way I see her and others see her. I myself was very similar as a a child, and suffered for years with depression and anxiety. About 12 years ago, I started take a small daily dosage of Paxil, and it made more difference practically overnight than decades of talk therapy had done for me. What should I do to help my child?

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Bruce July 13, 2013 at 9:45 pm

Hi Leigh,

I’m sorry that your girl is suffering, and it would be a bit insulting for me to imagine I would have some “better” idea about what to do than your own maternal instincts.

I’m glad you took the time to share your situation, if nothing else than in the hopes that you might feel a tiny bit less alone in your struggle, and that perhaps other readers will happen across your words and feel less alone in their own struggles.

Since you were a similarly hurting child in the past, perhaps you can try to remember what, if anything, might have helped you back then. You mention that your child is “talented,” and I wonder if you mean artistically. The reason I wonder is that I’ve found the writings of Elaine Aron about highly sensitive people and highly sensitive children to be personally helpful in understanding my own past struggles and unhappiness as a kid, and it has helped me understand high sensitivity in other people.

Given that you felt a lot of help with medications that could be something to keep in mind and/or talk to a psychiatrist about, however, I wouldn’t venture any opinion about it both because it’s not an area of expertise for me, and because proper use of medications depends upon a qualified expert evaluating the child in a highly personalized and specific manner.

I’m sorry I cannot be of more help. but I respect you more by acknowledging this than by offering up some platitudes or “advice” that fails to take into account that you are already doing your best and you obviously love your kid so it must be a a complex and challenging situation

Certainly hoping you will find something that does lift your child’s self esteem and spirits. Finally, if “counseling” didn’t help, maybe a different therapist (ideally someone who definitively helped someone you know and trust/respect) would be worth a try; or even you as a mom seeking counseling, not for yourself, but so you can have support as you tolerate your child’s pain.

All Best Wishes

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Anna July 16, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Hi,

Thank you Bruce for posting such a wonderful piece, I will be looking up your book! My 7 year old son has just returned from spending a few days with his Grandparents, at bed time he told me that he hates himself with his whole heart and that everyone in the world hates him, he also told me that he has felt with was since starting school. This was all preceeded by an episode of not brushing teeth properly! His baby sister arrived just over 5 weeks ago and generally he had seemed to take it all very well, and we have been very aware to make sure he is not excluded in any way and that he still gets quality time with us on our own.

I reassured him that me and his Dad and other family members do not hate him and that I am sure that there are plenty of people at school who don’t hate him either.

Its comforting to know that he is not alone in these thoughts, that many other children feel the same way, its not the kind of thing parents discuss at the school gates! He has so many of the traits mentioned in the above posts, most of them could be describing him!

Admittedly I have had struggles with depression and anxiety in the past and thought I had resolved most of my issues, however, postnatally some old demons are coming to haunt me so this post has prompted me to seek advice when I have my GP check to get my own issues sorted so my children do not absorb them.

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Bruce July 16, 2013 at 9:51 pm

Hi Anna,

Thank you so much for sharing your words with me (and with other parents who may happen across them). I respect and admire your honesty and continually find that when we are vulnerable and authentic we find community and compassion together in our common aim of caring about all our children in some collective sense and in discovering that we are not so alone as we feel in our darkest moments.

All Best Wishes!

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Jon Mountfort September 5, 2013 at 5:10 pm

I’ve been reading about this problem on this and other sites because my son has recently become over-critical of himself. I have noticed a common thread: most of the parents have, like me, been very positive and reinforcing with our kids. I am beginning to suspect that this has set them up for a harsh encounter with the reality that at some point their behavior has to be corrected. What a shock for these kids, especially if they are predisposed to frustration. One thing I am figuring out as I read is that I need to be better at setting expectations and preparing my son for the inevitable corrections. I am very grateful for what I have read here, reminding me of ways to use these painful moments to connect in a positive way rather than getting focused on changing my son’s mind (as if by magic) about himself.

Many thanks, Jon

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Bruce September 5, 2013 at 8:46 pm

Hi Jon,

Thanks for your feedback and kind words. The longer I practice as a psychologist the more appreciation I have for balance—love and limits; compassion and high expectations, not to mention manners and empathy for others.

Sometimes our parental positivity backfires because the child needs to be accurately understood even more than encouraged, but sometimes we do over-indulge (and this might be about our own wounds of the past and the pain of seeing our child frustrated) and this does indeed make the harsh realities of the world more than a bit shocking. Yet our overly harsh (and so often dishonest) world may itself have some room for improvement.

It’s one thing to foster resilience and strength, and another to need to prepare our children for a dishonest and unfair world (a world that didn’t just get that way on accident).

So, here’s to parents supporting each other, and having high expectations not just for our children but for each other and our society.

All Best

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Alexis October 13, 2013 at 9:23 pm

My 15 year old came home smelling of beer. We yelled and grounded him. Later on I asked him why he was drinking and he told me to feel a little happier. I asked him are you sad? He said yes, because he thinks he’s weird and different. I broke out in tears. I felt helpless. He then mentioned that he feels different and hates the person he sees in the mirror. Can some one tell me if this is normal for a teenager??

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Bruce October 14, 2013 at 8:47 pm

Hi Alexis,

Perhaps “normal” is misleading, because so very many young people feel this way, so while they have a lot of company, they don’t generally realize this, and in any event it’s sad that we live in such a brutal and competitive culture where the grown-up, sadly, are often just as unhappy and insecure.

While a blog comment could hardly hope to do much to change your child’s feelings, I certainly wish to convey empathy.

The first thing I would emphasize is safety—keeping an eye on your kid since he’s at risk at the moment, whether or not he’s “acting out” (i.e. crying out for help with his behavior) or self-medicating (as he says he wants to feel happier) you want to help him make safe and more long-term successful choices to feel better by raising self-esteem and by being less lonely in his suffering.

To this end perhaps the crisis that lead to this search of the internet is the beginning of a deeper conversation between you and your child. It’s so important to really listen and hear the pain (rather that “encourage” by just telling the kid they’ve got it all wrong because they are wonderful). Of course they are wonderful, but they need to be understood in the pain.

It’s very hard as parents to tolerate the pain, and I can understand the tears of your own at hearing it. But it sounds like you hadn’t heard that before so this could be a new beginning (and healing can be a slow process; and life has plenty of pain and sorrow in it, so perhaps the best we can strive for is love and compassion for each other when it hurts, and more treasuring of the blessings when they are there for us).

Hope this helps a little. All Best Wishes

P.S. you might want to read more about self-esteem, and also depression for insights on how to help; and to see if counseling might be useful for your son.

You can also see my book: (it has individual chapters on self-esteem, depression and also on acting out) http://amzn.to/193Jmnn

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Kat October 13, 2013 at 9:51 pm

Feel like a crappy mom right now. I lost it with my son and told him to please go to his room and give me space before I lost my mind. He didn’t leave me alone so I escorted him to his room and he followed me back so I yelled at him. We were both tired and had had a long and very good day…but when we both get tired we get crazy. He doesn’t want to listen and I start getting impatient. Especially because i feel I live my whole weekends for him and what he wants/needs to do or what I feel is best for his growth….like sports activities, being in service at a soup kitchen, going to church and so forth.

Well tongith he said he hated me and then felt bad and started hitting himself and started saying he hated himself. I feel like I”m realy hard on my son at times and this has affected him. I feel that he hates himself around me and in our home. I have more expectations on him that at his other home. And it makes me out to be the bad guy.

It’s such a contrast between our home and where he lives with his dad that he’s starting to ask to live there more than here. And that hurts. I don’t want to let him go but sometimes I feel he’d be better off. But then I get scared that he’ll grow up to be like his dad w/o my influence. Sigh…and that’s a whole other topic.

Feeling very helpless and alone.

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Bruce October 14, 2013 at 8:56 pm

Hi Kat,

It sounds like you’re a very involved and loving mom, so it would be good if you didn’t get so down on yourself either (but then I can relate—secretly most of us sometimes sort of hate ourselves, maybe the problem is we end up feeling alone and ashamed rather than in the vast company of our fellow humans).

Meanwhile, you might want to work on coming to terms with your resentments toward your ex. This is a lot easier said than done too, but your boy is, genetically, not to mention emotionally, also his father’s son.

If his dad falls short of your expectations, don’t forget you once loved him nonetheless. I go by the idea that generally we are kind to others when we feel reasonably good about ourselves (and maybe that’s why our society has so much unkindness in it? Too many people feeling like we come up short, disappoint, etc.)

Finally, I’d say that hate is not the opposite of love, more like next door neighbors. Sometimes hating is part of loving, part of having passionate feelings.

I suppose we might learn to take in down a notch from “hating” to expressing our frustrations, etc. in more mature ways, but that’s hard for most grown-ups so cut the kid some slack, double down on the empathic listening and keep up the good work of being the parent, even when you sometimes end up as the “bad guy,” no fun and it’s lonely and thankless (deep down your boy knows it’s way easier to say yes to everything and just give in; he naturally seeks the easier environment, as kids will, but he’s learning discipline and self-respect from your example and your abiding love even when the going gets tough).

All Best Wishes

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anna November 14, 2013 at 9:01 pm

o wow, I read through many parents’ stories of thier 6yr old and I think that is our child! Our 6yr old who has been in preschool, JK, SK, various summer camps in structured environments..seemingly all good with his social skills, suddenly 3weeks into grade 1 this past september..we got the calls and we observed same at home – the ‘i hate myself, no one likes me, everyone wants to throw me in the garbage, etc..’ and then the one that obviously troubled his teacher enough to call and us ‘i want to kill myself’. And he would slap his face when things were amiss or he did something wrong. Now the background – we love our son and have a very loving relationship. So we were shocked! We worked really hard with him creating a sticker poster for every day he didn’t say anything bad about himself, he got a sticker. So this seemed to have worked and the self inflicting words/ actions stopped. But then tonight after parent teacher night, we were shocked to hear that he has had temper fits (one time a couple of weeks ago, he had a meltdown lying on ground, crying, kicking, spitting because he forgot his bag outside in the playground and couldn’t get it back right away as the school has a policy for the custodian to go retrieve and bring back to the office). The teacher explained that she has expressed a sterner approach with him – giving him choices when he has a meltdown to read a book, draw a picture, sit and take a deep breath and she says he has improved. Now our son has always seemed to make small things into big bad meltdown things since he was little and we teach him to control himself and walk away and take a deep breath…all the logical things. But clearly we are troubled and worried about this behaviour. Our son is academically doing very well otherwise, is lovable, and very aware of his boundaries and rules as he calls it. Why is this happening? Anyone that can give guidance on what we should do based on your experience? thank you!

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Bruce November 17, 2013 at 10:57 pm

Hi Anna,

It sounds like you guys are doing everything right and still your child’s pain is very hard to weather without worrying, much less feeling a bit broken-hearted at the suffering.

A few additional ideas to consider:

Perhaps your child is highly sensitive. Read these posts for more on that
http://bit.ly/H06Mt0
http://bit.ly/aRaxzc
and also see works by Elaine Aaron such as “The Highly Sensitive Child”

Another idea to consider has to do with trauma that you or other close caregivers might carry and how this can effect so-called “disorganized attachment” (i.e. moments of meltdown). See this post: http://bit.ly/i52peT

Finally, for more in-depth coaching on how self, self-esteem, depression, anxiety, acting out, intuition and spirituality come together in parenting please consider my book: http://amzn.to/1ecWzMI

Feel free to check back in and let me know if any of this helps.

Warmest Regards in the meantime

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Lynsey December 3, 2013 at 6:03 pm

My five year old daughter (a twin) has recently begun saying she doesn’t feel like herself. She gets really frustrated and can’t seem to explain it to me. I asked her to draw a picture the next time she feels that way- as she may not really have the words to explain. Today she told me she felt that way again at school but didn’t have paper to draw on to show me. I asked how she feels when she DOES feel like herself – to see if she could put that in words but she said “I don’t know how to say it.” I’m not sure what to do to help her. She becomes withdrawn and has such a hard time talking about it. I don’t know of any trauma or anything that predicated this – but she does have some self esteem bumps- as kids in her class have called her fat. I don’t know if I should try to get her to talk to a school counselor with me- or just keep letting her know that she can always talk to me about anything.

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Bruce December 3, 2013 at 10:10 pm

Hi Lynsey,

It sounds like you’re really attuned to her and doing your best to invite her self-expression. Based on the recent frustration you might like to chat with her teacher and share the drawing her feelings plan. This way there could be paper available that she can request when the feeling happens (which would also alert the teachers in real time to her distress).

One hunch on the “not feeling like herself” would be that she gets scared or hurt or upset and then doesn’t know what to do to feel safer, which leads to a floaty feeling that could be called “disassociation.” You don’t want to talk big words to her, but you might normalize that feeling of being a little out of body and encourage her to breathe deep when that happens and focus on something in her environment, like sounds outside the window. This is called “anchoring” and might bring relief and give her a coping strategy.

Next she might start to notice when the not-herself feeling happens (i.e. after being excluded from play or insulted). From there, with the help of her drawings, she might realize she feels angry (because being excluded or name-called is not fair, and not fair makes us mad).

Perhaps learning to be assertive (which is not the same as aggressive or “mean” back) will help her learn to say things like “That hurts my feelings,” etc. After-all these kids are five—so it’s up to us to teach them compassion, not to mention manners.

Here’s to you and your girl feeling happy and empowered

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jim July 27, 2014 at 6:34 am

Bruce, thanks for opening up my mind to a more productive way of thinking especially about parenting. My 16yr old daughter screamed those words”I hate myself , I’m so stupid “through tears last nite and my wife and I are crushed. You touched on a few things which made me re-evaluate how we approach these situations. I hope we have the strength and wisdom to get through this crisis.But at this moment i am really lost.

jim

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Bruce July 27, 2014 at 9:52 am

Hi Jim,

Certainly wishing you peace and patience through the crisis, which could also be thought of as your daughter opening up, asking for help and being honest about how she hurts (which could be more than understandable in our troubled world, not to mention the way high school feels to many people).

In addition to what I suggest in the post above, and while it could sound self-serving to suggest it, my book is a very thorough and structured look at the ways in which our kids may suffer and ways to deepen our thinking as well as strategies to help parents and children feel better.

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=bruce+dolin+privilege+of+parenting&x=0&y=0

Beyond this, whatever you can do to cultivate so-called “mindfulness,” (which really, from a cognitive neuroscience perspective, means activating the part of our brains that does present-moment awareness and gratitude, appreciation, happiness in a non-pleasure-bound way, and simultaneously calms our “worry brain” that catastrophizes, exaggerates our faults, blames others, etc.—the part of our brain that suffers and is never satisfied and always afraid) is no quick-fix but is really the ticket for long-term well-being.

Mindfulness benefits from a bit of guidance and instruction, but ultimately it is free and this is the chief reason it’s unlikely to become a mass phenomenon (in contrast to the marketing of mindfulness which is already a mass phenomenon).

Your child wants to feel peace. She wants to feel understood. This will make her feel loved and less alone. This will decrease her ideas that she has to “compete” or be more, better, prettier, smarter than she already is. This is peaceful. This feels nice. This is free. The worry mind does not love, it does not deliver on happiness. We are vulnerable to myths about what we must have done wrong and how we can improve ourselves.

Even in writing my book and suggesting you read it a part of me is still running on the hamster wheel of “giving” and so I’m striving to be as honest with myself as with you, as fellow parents who, I’m trusting, deep down just want peace for ourselves and our community and all our children. If this is remotely possible it will probably reflect a shift in how we think about ourselves.

Getting people to understand us, validate us, protect us, etc. is exhausting. Giving love and compassion is fairly quiet and calm, and it gets less tiring as we get more used to it. Maybe our kids are offering a chance to just show up for them, and thus model that none of us have to do quite so much, just takes some breaths and relax into the present moment: having a child, having family, having a chance to give love.

All Best Wishes

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Kathy August 14, 2014 at 6:58 am

I am so thankful that I came across this article. I just wish I could find a counselor like you, who could help my family. I have been to more counselors than I could count and my 7 year old daughter has been to a couple herself. When you mentioned the point about a child viewing themselves the way their parent does, it really woke me up. It really won’t matter how often I compliment my daughter, if I hate myself. Yesterday she threw a 3 1/2 hour tantrum. She kept saying how she hates herself and she’s stupid, bad and her brain is broken. She’s been crying a lot the last few weeks, so I’m afraid she is suffering from depression, as I am. I lived years of serious abuse and neglect and I feel like I will never be normal. I try to fake a smile everyday but I know my daughter is starting to see through it, especially since I can’t hold the anger in. I get frustrated very easily and I now believe that she blames herself for that. I want so badly for her to be happy but now I realize that she’s treating herself the way I treat myself. I feel like it’s a hopeless situation then because there are no medications or counselors who can “fix” me. My heart is broken for her. All I want in life is for her to be happy but she says she wants to die and no matter what I say, no one loves her. I try to spend as much time as possible with her but it doesn’t seem to help. The only thing I want is to find someone to help me so I can help her. Thank you for giving me a little insight though. At least I have some tools to help me when she says she hates herself.

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Bruce August 14, 2014 at 10:34 pm

Hi Kathy,

Thank you for taking the time to leave your comment. I’m sorry that you and your daughter face so much struggle, and perhaps other parents will come across your words and at least realize that they are not alone.

If multiple different therapies have not worked for you guys you can deepen your quest to understand what’s really wrong and from there what might really help.

Thus while “talking about feelings” can be helpful, sometimes more targeted treatment based on clearer understanding of the underlying neurology and the thinking that arises from that might be useful. Perhaps your daughter is wrong in calling her brain “broken,” and yet giving a clue about the way it feels to have a brain that keeps worrying and saying mean things to ourselves.

This is not any sort of character flaw, and it’s not constructive to feel guilty or ashamed about having a brain that is either wounded by traumas and abuse and/or just also prone to anxiety and/or depression.

I would encourage you to keep seeking help, perhaps widening the circle to a local university or hospital, maybe someone experienced with anxiety/depression. Getting it right for you can only help for your child, and if you discover what works for you it might give clues about how to directly help your kid.

As for reading, something like David Burn’s work might be helpful:

http://feelinggood.com/

His “Feeling Good Handbook” can give insights into the sorts of thoughts that keep suffering going like a loop.

My own book offers compassion and insights for deepening understanding of a range of issues, starting with the sense of Self (and how it relates to being able to hold feelings rather than be overwhelmed by them) and then chapters on the more challenging emotions in our children from depression to anxiety to anger and oppositionality:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=bruce+dolin+privilege+of+parenting&x=0&y=0

While it’s not a substitute for therapy, I did write it with parents like you in mind.

Also, there is increasing evidence that mindfulness (simple meditation practices) can really help with anxiety and depression, and there are many resources on line around mindfulness including web sites, apps and people teaching mindfulness.

Certainly hoping you and your daughter may find some peace and healing in the near future

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Kathy August 25, 2014 at 12:15 pm

Thank you so much for taking the time to respond. My daughter has been screaming about how much she hates herself and everyone around her since last night. It’s so hard to try to stay calm and not feed into her rage. I contacted another counselor for both of us. I will never give up because I love her too much to have her suffer as I did as a child. I also have a son, who is almost 3 years old. He is starting to get upset by her now constant outbursts. I really need to improve this situation before it’s too late. I will certainly read both books you mentioned, and look into mindfulness. I always say that i really need to take a yoga class or something similar! Thanks again for your advice.

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mariel August 17, 2014 at 11:34 pm

Hi. I feel confuse in how to talk to my 7yr son. He told me this afternoon that he wants to go up to the sky with Jesus, that he is not happy with us. That he feels sad and does things like watching happy tv shows to feel better but those only help a bit. That he doesn’t like the fact that he is not going to have siblings. And that I don’t let him being a child. I know I am strict, but never thought that I would hurt my child this way. I feel horrible, that he says he doesn’t want to be here because of me. I didn’t know what to say and just listened to him while my tears were coming out. He has said in the past that he is stupid and I correct him by telling him how bright he is. And also he gets a bit temperamental and starts hitting himself, which I have also corrected by telling him to stop. But I don’t know if I doing the whole thing wrong and I doing more damage than help.

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Bruce August 18, 2014 at 9:49 pm

Hi Mariel,

There are no easy answers to a situation like this. My thought is that your family needs support and compassion—and skillful assistance.

One option is to consult with your child’s school, because he might be eligible for emotional support from a professional counselor. Your next step might be to go to the principal and request and Individualized Education Plan (I.E.P.), this would include some assessment to see if he is having depression, self-esteem issues and also possible learning differences (which could contribute to his feeling badly about himself or feeling “stupid”).

For more on this see:

http://privilegeofparenting.com/2009/07/17/what-is-an-iep-and-how-do-i-get-one/

It also might be a good idea for you to seek some help on parenting to get support for whatever might be in your way (such as a difficult childhood yourself, or lack of support as a parent). Counseling, parenting classes, even mindfulness meditation to help you have better calmness could all be useful. For this you need to explore your local options, but I would encourage you to seek face-to-face help in your local area. Maybe a parenting support group is available?

While it is no substitute for counseling, my book (which is more comprehensive and structured than this blog) has chapters of depression, self-esteem, anxiety and also ideas about discipline to balance compassion and love with limits and boundaries. Perhaps it would be of some help:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=bruce+dolin+privilege+of+parenting&x=0&y=0

Finally, the laws have changed recently and if you have health insurance and you, or or son, happen to have emotional/psychological struggles, it might be that these are covered and will be affordable. You could check with social services, local hospital, or mental health counseling centers, or even local university to find resources that would be right for you.

I’m glad you are listening to your child, that your are open-hearted and willing to adjust and learn. You both deserve to feel safe and happy, so don’t give up on your search for help that will make a real difference.

All Best Wishes to you and your son

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Lacey November 18, 2014 at 7:16 pm

Hi there. Great information! I have a 13 yr old son who is so emotional and defiant all at the same time. He puts half of what hes got into everything but his video games. As a result, on several occasions ive remarked on how “thats stupid” or “how dumb is this”. I made sure to reinforce that what he had done or not done as the object of attack and not him as a person. However that wasnt good enough maybe, because now hes screaming that i make call him stupid and dumb and an idiot and he “listens to me” (yet it appears to be the only one thing he listens to me about & sill hears me wrong) and that im slashing his esteem and drive to do better or at all for that matter. I cant tell if hes just trying to run the show and mind trick me into getting him the new game he wants (as an example) or if he’s really feeling this way. He says it with a tear scorned face and with such desperation. So my question is how do i repair the damage of bad words and responses so that he sees that i believe in his abilities?

Thank you
Lacey

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Bruce November 18, 2014 at 10:13 pm

HI Lacey,

The short answer is that you must listen to him deeply, patiently, compassionately and not get defensive, not make it about your guilt but only about his emotional state. When you have really heard him and reflected back to him some expression that communicates that you have heard the depth of his pain and frustration (i.e. if he doesn’t shut you out maybe he tells you more about it since he now realizes that you are listening). Then you apologize, and most importantly, you stop saying the things that he tells you hurt is feelings and his self-esteem.

The longer answer is my book, which I wrote to help parents like you be your best Self as a parent and grow and heal yourself in the process. It gives a host of insights into self-esteem, anger, oppositional behavior, anxiety, depression, etc.

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=bruce+dolin+privilege+of+parenting&x=0&y=0

Certainly wishing you and your child All Best

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