In the complex tapestry of childhood emotions, there are moments when a child may feel overwhelmed, sad, or discouraged. As parents, we want to respond with sensitivity and the right words to soothe these growing pains and support our children’s wellbeing. But when faced with a heaping plate of a child’s monumental emotions, it’s easy to feel as though your best efforts are falling short.
This guide aims to provide insights and practical tips for effective communicate techniques when your child is feeling down. By creating a safe and open space for dialogue, you can deepen your understanding of their emotions and strengthen your connection with them during challenging times.
When Does Negativity Peak?
Challenges related to self-esteem and social issues often surface around 10 years of age. In the brain, a big shift is taking place as the myelin sheath surrounding the neurons begins to form. This means a budding ability to engage in more abstract thinking and exercise greater impulse control — but it also doesn’t happen overnight.
Math may feel like a breeze on Monday and a nightmare on Wednesday. Or they may impress you with their responsibility one day and make a boneheaded mistake the next. Hormonal changes in the brain that will eventually trigger puberty sometimes make children feel out of control.
Around this time, children enter into a complex developmental stage marked by:
- Identity Formation: At the age of 10, children are exploring who they are, what they like, and where they fit into the larger social circle. This process can be challenging as they explore various interests, peer groups, and societal expectations — all of which can impact their self-perception.
- Social Comparison: As children become more aware of themselves and others, they may begin comparing themselves to their peers. This social comparison can lead to self-doubt and a heightened awareness of differences in abilities, appearance, or social status.
- Increasing Independence: It’s natural for pre-teens to seek more solitude and independence. Around this age, children may go to play dates or birthday parties without mom and dad, or attend their first sleepover. Exposure to more diverse environments and interactions can lead to a greater need for social skills and adaptability.
- Academic Pressures: The transition to upper elementary grades may bring increased academic pressures. As academic expectations rise, some children may experience stress and anxiety related to their performance, affecting their self-esteem. Children who have breezed through their early elementary years may come up against material they find unfamiliar or difficult.
- Changing Friendships: Friendships become more complex during this stage. Children may experience shifting friend groups, the emergence of cliques, and changing social dynamics. This fluidity can be unsettling and may impact a child’s sense of belonging.
- Peer Influence: As peer influence intensifies, children may be more susceptible to the opinions and judgments of their peers. The desire for social acceptance can lead to conformity and a fear of standing out or self-esteem issues.
- Body Image Awareness: Some children go through growth spurts and begin showing physical signs of puberty around the age of 10, leading them to compare themselves to societal ideals.
- Emotional Sensitivity: During this developmental stage, children often experience emotions more intensely, making them more vulnerable to the impact of social interactions and self-reflection. They’re also more adept at reading the subtle nonverbal cues of others.
- Bullying and Teasing: Unfortunately, instances of bullying and teasing may emerge during the pre-adolescent years. Negative experiences with peers can significantly impact a child’s self-esteem and contribute to social anxieties.
- Parental Expectations: Like academic pressure, parental expectations can influence a child’s perception of their worth. Striving to meet these expectations may lead to stress and self-doubt, particularly if a child perceives a misalignment between their achievements and parental expectations.
Understanding these factors can help you lend a more sympathetic ear to your child’s struggle and respond with empathy. Conveying genuine empathy is easier when you have the right script on hand.
Questions to Explore How and Why Your Child is Feeling Down
Asking open-ended questions can help you gain insight into your child’s thoughts and feelings. Here are 10 ideas for open-ended questions to understand what might be triggering negative self-talk or low self-esteem:
- “Can you tell me more about how you’ve been feeling lately?”
- “What part, specifically, do you find difficult or challenging right now?”
- “Are there situations or activities that make you feel more confident or less confident?”
- “What thoughts go through your mind when you face something that feels tough for you?”
- “How do you think your friends perceive you, and does that align with how you see yourself?”
- “What are some things that make you feel really good about yourself?”
- “Can you share a ‘wow’ and a ‘pow’ from your day?“
- “Is there anything you wish you could do better, and if so, why?”
- “Can you share a moment when you felt really proud, supported, or happy?”
- “What do you think makes a person valuable or special, including yourself?”
These questions are designed to encourage your child to express themselves openly, providing you with valuable insights into their emotions and perceptions. Remember to listen actively and non-judgmentally, creating a safe space for them to share their thoughts and feelings.
How To Listen in a Nonjudgmental Way
As parents, we come hardwired with certain tendencies from our own childhood. Your instinct might be to shout, to lecture, or to brush off your child’s statements as “ludicrous.” Next time your child is down and out, try starting with a general observation or statement of support, such as:
- “I’ve noticed you seem a bit down.”
- “Your feelings are important to me.”
- “I can see that you’re going through a tough time.”
- “It seems something is bothering you. I really want to understand.”
- “Feelings are a natural part of life, and I want to understand yours better.”
- “I’m here to listen, not to judge. Whatever you share with me, I’ll do my best to support you.”
Then, follow up by asking for more information with questions like:
- “Can you tell me what’s been on your mind lately?”
- “Would you like to talk about it?”
- ” Is there something specific that’s making you feel this way?”
- “What’s been going on that’s been on your mind?”
- “I care about you and your well-being.”
Sometimes it’s okay to leave the ball in your child’s court, saying:
- “I’m here for you. When you feel ready to talk, I’d love to hear what’s going on.”
- “It’s okay to feel the way you’re feeling. I’m here to listen and support you any way I can.”
- “I’m here to help if you have any questions or anything you’d like to talk about.”
- “Let’s talk about it, and I’ll do my best to support you through whatever you’re facing.”
- “You don’t have to go through this alone. I’d love to know more if you’re comfortable sharing.”
And leave it at that.
The key is to create a safe space, encourage open communication, foster trust, and reassure your child that their feelings are valid.
Ways To Build Your Child Back Up
Here are several constructive ways to gift your child with a cornucopia of self-esteem building blocks:
- Model Positive Self-Talk: Demonstrate positive self-talk in your own life. Be mindful of the language you use when facing challenges. Modeling resilience and a positive attitude toward setbacks sets a powerful example for your child.
Positive affirmations you may incorporate into your everyday life include:
- “I can handle this, one step at a time.”
- “Mistakes are opportunities to learn and grow.”
- “Practice makes progress.”
- “I am capable and resourceful. I can find solutions.”
- “I choose to focus on what I can control.”
- “I am resilient. I bounce back from challenges stronger than before.”
- “My determination’s the sky. My challenges are the weather.”
- “I embrace change as a natural part of growth.”
- “My worth is not determined by one moment or one outcome.”
- “I am not my work.”
- “I can’t do it… YET.”
- “Every day is a new chance to learn and improve.”
- Encourage and Acknowledge Efforts: Reinforce the idea that effort is valuable, regardless of the outcome. Praise your child for their hard work and perseverance in various activities. This helps them recognize the importance of the process and fosters a positive attitude toward challenges. Knowing you’re watching and rooting for them can be a beacon amid the surging tides.
- Promote a Growth Mindset: Teach your child that abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. Emphasize the power of “yet.” This mindset shift encourages resilience and a willingness to embrace learning and improvement. Let your child know what you’re working on learning or overcoming, and explain that we never stop evolving.
- Set Realistic Goals Together: Collaborate with your child to set achievable goals. Break down larger goals into smaller, manageable steps. Celebrate their successes along the way, reinforcing a sense of accomplishment and building confidence.
- Explore Cultural Differences: Attend festivals, visit museums, and take courses that promote diversity. Ideally, you’ll explore your own cultural traditions, and also appreciate the uniqueness of cultures that are different. The Shine Blog is a great resource for learning about cultural events happening around the East End and the Hamptons.
- Promote Creative Expression: Encourage your child to explore their creative side. Whether through art, music, writing, or other forms of expression, creative activities boost confidence and provide a positive outlet for emotions. Consider enrolling them in workshops that nurture their artistic interests.
- Celebrate Individuality: Reinforce the idea that everyone is unique and special in their own way. Help your child recognize and embrace their individual strengths and talents. This acceptance of individuality contributes to a positive self-image.
- Provide Constructive Feedback: Offer feedback that is specific, constructive, and focuses on improvement. Highlight what your child did well and offer guidance on areas for growth. This approach encourages a positive mindset and a willingness to learn from experiences.
Go the Extra Mile: Help Your Child Find Something To Be Grateful For.
In addition to the communication techniques described here, another way to build up your child’s self-esteem is to enroll in a class, camp, or workshop aligned with your child’s passions. Our programs are designed to bring out your child’s inner light and provide creative, enriching experiences that allow children to explore their potential in a supportive and encouraging environment.