Long Island Parent Talk

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What to do when your kid says he's 'stupid'

A sad young boy sitting on cement floor.

A sad young boy sitting on cement floor. (Credit: iStock)

One of the most heartbreaking things a parent can hear a child say is, “I am stupid.” It’s like when he skins a knee, breaks a new toy or sees a friend move away -- all you want to do is make it better.

“For most parents, when faced with a situation where their child insists that he is stupid, the initial temptation for the parent is to immediately challenge that assertion and to reassure the child that he is not ‘stupid’ and that he does many things well — very understandable,” says Jonathan Kratter, a Melville child psychologist.

But here is the problem, Kratter says. “From the child’s perspective, you are not listening to him and you do not really understand how he feels. Sometimes, parents need to hold back in fixing the problem immediately. It can be more helpful to just listen with an empathetic ear, giving the child an opportunity to express his feelings and frustrations and to feel that he is being heard and understood.”

By listening, the child is more likely to hear a parent’s advice, he says.

When you ask other parents, you find it’s not uncommon for kids to get so frustrated about getting a question wrong in class or feeling frustrated by their homework that they put themselves down.

The next time it happens with my 9-year-old, I will try hard to listen and take Kratter’s advice on the follow-up by saying, “Come over here, give me a big hug, and let’s go plan something fun to do this weekend.”

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