Tell me if you relate. Your child comes home from school and tells you that she's not liked, or he's not smart enough. Or you hear their inner critic come play during homework with comments like, I didn't do a good job, or this is too hard for me. Maybe you even notice comparison or judgment being thrown around when they are with their peers, or scrolling...
Essentially they are saying in many different ways, "I'm not good enough."
It is difficult as a parent to see/hear your child beat themselves up. You want to shake them and hug them and tell them that it's all simply not true. That you know they are safe, loved, smart and have so much going for them.
But here's the truth:
They don't need fixing.
They are good enough right now, exactly as they are.
They simply need to shift their perspective from fear to power.
It's natural for your child to think about themselves critically during their tween/teen years. They are changing, trying really hard to meet society standards, and they put a lot of pressure on themselves both socially and academically to fit in and stand out.
And we know that they are growing up and developing in a highly critical environment - between the advancements in school tech and testing and mega social media pressures, it's no wonder harsh, unloving thoughts come creeping in on the daily.
So while kids may not respond directly to loving comments like, 'calm down, you got this,' there are ways parents can help children learn and grow from the I'm not good enough thought when it comes up.
Here are a few tips to elevate the mind, destress the body and help kids recognize that they are amazing right now!
In many studies, it has been proven that teens do not believe their peers feel or think the same way they do. They feel alone in their anxiety and shame themselves for feeling not good enough. As parents, we know that everyone at some point in their life has felt not good enough, not smart enough or not qualified, they've feared messing up and have been hard on themselves for making a mistake. We also know from experience that these thoughts begin during the teen years, as we start to notice our peers; their opinions, similarities, differences, and all they have to offer. When these intrusive thoughts come tumbling through, it's easy to get swept away by waves of self-doubt.
One quick way back to reality is to normalize the thoughts for what they are - human thoughts we all have.
When your child comments to you with thoughts that are tough, you can normalize them by sharing stories that display common threads. This can be from your own experiences (which I am sure there are one or two from middle/high school.) Or, look to someone they admire to help relate to the current struggle.
This helps kids know that they are not alone.
I love the Calm app for so many reasons, and in this context they offer a series of stories about managing the mind and learning through struggles from inspirational celebs, like LeBron James and Camila Cabello. It's all shared in the form of a story, not formal meditation, so it's less icky to the child who resists traditional mindfulness. Your kid can plug in, go on a walk or lay down, and be swept away in someone else's relatable experience. Which will bring them back down to earth, connected to all humans here.
#2 Talk to Yourself like a Friend
What I love about my work in self-compassion is that I get to teach people that the way you talk to yourself is a choice. That you don't have to believe everything you say to yourself. And in fact, you get to decide to either treat yourself like you are your own worst enemy or your own best friend.
Oftentimes we treat our friends with a lot more love and care than we do ourselves. We can pump our friends up in an instant and show them compassion when they feel down. But our own big beautiful brain will find it hard to do that for ourself. Unfortunately, that is a normal part of us. Developmentally, it's our protection. But learning the skill of talking to yourself like you would a friend is the power we all have within.
Combating the inner critic with compassion helps us care for ourselves in times of need and allows us to step into the amazing authentic person we are today, flaws and all.
In moments of comparison, judgment or even shame, flip the script. Have your child close their eyes and think to themselves: if my friend was in this struggle, what would I say to them? Notice how it's different than the words they say to themselves.
#3 Feel Your Feelings Now
A lot of our negative thoughts come from believing that we should be something or should be somewhere that we are not. And while I won't take away form the importance of growth and goal-getting for children's development, from a mindset perspective, I have learnt that we won't ever reach the next step successfully without acknowledging the feelings have in the current moment.
Knowing that life experiences are lessons that lead you up the ladder, focusing on the now opportunity can offer a lot of value and natural motivation.
So, if your child has received a bad grade, messed-up with a friend or just feels less than than their peers, meet them where they are at, feel it with them. Even when the feels are hard. That can look like sitting still, listening, spending time by their side.
For a short time, allow them to learn from the feelings. Let them invite the feelings in with curiosity, and allow emotional expression to come out without judgment.
When they are on solid footing, they will have real, personal insight to take that next step forward with confidence.
#4 Shift Weakness into Strength
On a similar note, we can find a ton of strength by leaning into the struggle. One major power move kids can take is to turn their weak point and into a strength. If they can shift their thoughts into positive action, their energy will shift positively too!
What does that look like? A few examples:
If you find that your child is stuck in a social media rut, can they take that knowledge and advocate for stronger controls, clean-up their following list or put out their own positive content up to elevate their newsfeed
If your child feels like they aren't academically achieving in a subject, can they start a study group amongst their peers? It's likely that they aren't the only one feeling the pressure
If your child is playing up perfectionism, they can schedule failure time once a week where they do anything messy and unexpected just so that they know they can make mistakes and nothing bad will happen
I'll end with this, telling yourself that you are not good enough won't make you good enough.
You are enough just as you are. Remembering that, repeating that, for life will make a huge difference within.