Sometimes my kids do this:
"I hate myself!"
"I'm so stupid!"
"I hate my life!"
Is this just harmless ranting? Side effects of screen withdrawal? Sleep deprivation? Or do they have actual irreversible fractures to their self-esteem? I have no idea. But it isn’t just what they say, it's the passion with which they say it. When my son says he's stupid, he really thinks he is the stupidest person in the whole class. My other son will punch his fists on his thighs as he declares his hatred of himself. They seem convinced, while standing in a toy-splattered bedroom of a pretty nice house in front of two loving parents, that they have the worst life of any child currently drawing breath.
I don't insult my children. I am careful to say things like, "You're acting inappropriately" instead of, "You're bad." I emphazise that it's the behavior that's wrong, not them. I have never once called them stupid. But still, their minds turn to negative self-talk. And, as someone who has a brain noisy with negative self-talk, I worry about this. I worry that this talk will stop them from living a full life, from taking risks, from trying again after failing.
Which brings us to a segment of:
Call the therapist? Or, self-medicate?
Or, self-medicate and then call the therapist?
Let's say I do neither. How is a mother to appropriately respond? Here are some options:
The Comforter: "Of course you’re not stupid sweetie! You're brilliant and the whole world knows it! Come on over here and I will hook you up to this High Fructose IV drip. Here's the TV remote."
The Empathizer: "I know it seems like your life is the worst right now. That feels awful, doesn't it? I understand. I've felt that way too. I mean, not over the size of a cookie, but, you know. I've been there."
The Comparer: "You know who has the worst life? The waitstaff at the American Girl Place Café."
The Analyzer: "Why do you say that, honey? Did someone at school make you feel stupid? Let's take a deeper look at that. You better get comfy, because we will be at this for 45 minutes. Tissue?"
The Denier: "That's nice, love. I'll be in my office watching trailers for movies I will never see on imdb.com."
The Googler: "Just a moment, I'm checking babycenter, parents.com, WebMD, the AAP, psych.org, the CDC, bitchinsisters, scarymommy and kidshealth."
Or, I could do what most moms I know do: Ask a sane mommy friend. I recently spoke to my girlfriend who started doing something called "The Voice of Truth." In the evenings, she talks to her son about something that happened during the day that didn’t go well. He returns with a dramatic negative statement. Then she asks him to state the real truth of the situation. She says that the exercise has helped him gain some perspective and control over the negative thinking.
So I am going to give it a shot.
It's better than self-medicating.