As we continue to consider how we may best develop self-esteem in our children, we recognize that during preschool years and sometimes beyond, children are very sensitive to real or perceived rejection or failure. They sometimes show sudden and intense reactions about themselves or others. We call this “splitting” because children cannot comprehend having mixed feelings, but rather are black and white in how they experience emotions. Further, as I have stated in other posts, children tend to be egocentric, immature and impulsive. They often cannot process their emotions in a way that makes sense to caregivers. Often these emotions appear to be exaggerated.
When children self-deprecate or feel hopeless
Principle 6 is when our children put themselves down or express a sense of failure or hopelessness. It is crucial in these moments that caregivers intentionally intervene to prevent the child from spiraling down and to guide them to be able to assess the situation correctly and realistically. From this realistic position, they need to be able to develop a new sense of optimism and hopefulness.
When a child is frustrated because he cannot do something or because someone sets strong limits, he can find it quite hard to remember the good moments or good qualities about himself. These mood changes occur even more frequently and intensely if the child is tired, sick or under stress. When the child is experiencing these difficult feelings, he really views situations and people as bad and he feels genuinely inadequate. For example, if a child comes last in a race, he may feel as if he is the slowest runner in the world; or, if he fails at something in school, he may feel like the dumbest kid in the class.
It is unhelpful to contradict a child’s feelings
When these negative feelings happen, caregivers need to avoid contradicting the child. Right or wrong, the way the child perceives the event influences how he feels, remembers and reacts to the event.
The child may need support for how he feels. In other words, those feelings need to be listened to and acknowledged. In these moments, the child may need to be reminded of the good times associated with the particular event and guided to discover a solution which will help ensure a positive perception. Problem-solving will be important in these moments because it is necessary to come up with a new way to think and feel about the situation.
Young children find it really difficult to dwell on their own negative thoughts. However, they can think and process information about the same kinds of issues much more clearly if they happen to a someone else (a friend or fictional character).
Playing with puppets, story-telling or role-playing situations that relate to troublesome issues can be an effective way in turning around child’s negative thoughts.
The extreme emotional reactions to these hard moments can really frustrate a caregiver. In fact, it can make the caregiver feel inadequate about her competency or angry with the child. But it will be imperative to reframe the situation from the perspective of the child and provide the child with a new sense of optimism.
If caregivers can discuss ways to help a child think of or imagine different ways to react to a situation, the child will learn gradually to come up with solutions on his own. It takes sensitivity, patience, processing and awareness as to what the child is feeling to be able to lead him toward hope and optimism. Helping them to achieve a new perspective is a great for our children are hard on themselves and struggle to come out of such difficult places on their own.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network
Research taken from Pathways to Competence, Second Edition, Sarah Landy, p. 351.