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The Parent'Hood

Dealing with your daughter's self-hate

Your daughter, 8, says 'I hate myself!' when she makes a mistake. What's a healthy response?

By Heidi Stevens, Tribune Newspapers

3:29 PM EDT, May 14, 2013

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Parent advice

From our panel of staff contributors

I'd tell her to use another word and shift the focus from her to the mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. Some mistakes make us feel ashamed, embarrassed, stupid. But other mistakes can make us feel excited, creative, delighted, happy, amused. You know, turning down the wrong road on vacation and ending up at a secluded beach you never knew existed, mixing up movie times and seeing a charming French film instead of the usual Hollywood thriller, dropping chocolate into peanut butter. Mistakes teach us to learn, to be open, to expect the unexpected and, I think, to forgive — others and ourselves.

Bill Daley

As much power as they wield over parents' hearts, kids have a pretty small arsenal when it comes to dealing with their own frustrations and self-doubt. Once they learn it, the word "hate" can quickly become a perfect little knife for dispatching these feelings. In this case, I think the best response is to counter her frustration with a quick, "Well, I love you, mistakes and all," to take the edge off. Help her correct the mistake and remind her that making mistakes is an important part of learning. Tell her that making a mistake doesn't mean anything except that she's trying, and that if she can keep that up, she'll succeed.

Michael Zajakowski

Expert advice

As tempting as it is to talk her out of her statement, it's better to hold your tongue, says Alan E. Kazdin, director of the Yale Parenting Center and author of "The Everyday Parenting Toolkit" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), scheduled to be released in June.

"You can't reason her out of it," Kazdin says. "We're not guided by rationality. Knowledge and behavior are not highly related. Rationality and behavior are not highly related.

"'You're just as good as so-and-so' is going to get you nowhere," he says. "'You know I still love you' suggests 'You're a total failure, but I love you anyway.'"

Instead, he suggests, try to slowly, methodically brighten her overall outlook.

"Depression is a tendency to see negative things about yourself, negative things about the world and negative things about your future," Kazdin says. "Help her to start seeing the positive things in her life."

So instead of directing your attention to her negative feelings and statements, direct it to her positive statements. Engage her and praise her when she points out things she likes about herself and the world around her.

"When she says, 'Look at that cute little plant,' jump on it and say, 'It's so nice that you notice those things!'" he says.

And help her find activities in which she excels: playing a musical instrument, participating in dance, playing a sport. "Build some competencies," Kazdin says.

Create a culture of seeking out the positive so your daughter gets plenty of practice and modeling.

"Play a game at night: 'Everyone has to choose one nice thing they saw in the world today,'" Kazdin suggests. "Make it fun. 'I bet no one can think of two.' It's good for family interaction and it focuses you on the positive."

And next time the "hate" remark rears its head?

"Give her a little tap of sympathy and move on," he says. "Don't get into the discussion. Save the cuddling and the extra attention for the positive moments, not the negative moments."

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