Does it break your heart when you see the sadness in your child’s eyes when they say they’re sorry for being such a “bad kid”?

For children who have BIG feelings, shame is a blanket that wraps around all other emotions. A child experiencing guilt may think “I did something bad.” Therefore shame would have them believe “I am bad.” 

Children who experience big emotions are often not understood by others. They hear demands to “get over it” or “stop being so dramatic.” Then over time, they learn to stop trusting themselves. As a result they develop intense shame and begin to believe they are a “bad kid.” Why else would they think, do, or feel these things? This kind of belief system develops beneath the surface over time. Consequently visible cues can include meltdowns, explosive behaviors, poor self-esteem, anxiety, etc. 

What now?

First, acknowledge your child’s feelings. Validate them with focused attention, showing you care enough to listen. It’s tempting to swoop into “fix it” mode. Take time to listen first. 

Ok, check. What’s next?

Second, encourage your child that doing bad things does not make them a “bad kid.” Making mistakes is human. Sometimes the most important thing is not what you’ve done, but what you choose to do next. Listen to their ideas and help them brainstorm solutions when appropriate. Then remind them of their strengths as needed.

Why bother?

Think of self-fulfilling prophecies. A child who builds their sense of self around being the “bad kid” will continue to make choices to fit the role. 

Things to remember:

Be mindful of your relationship with your child. This means paying attention to the emotions, thoughts, and behaviors you bring. Be sure to notice your immediate reaction to hearing your child say they are a “bad kid.” What emotion is there? Fear? Anger? Disappointment? More shame? Don’t push it away. Allow the feeling or thought to exist and choose to accept it. Because when we accept ourselves, can we be present for others.

Final ingredients:

Patience & Time. Building a positive sense of self doesn’t happen in one day. 

To learn more about helping your child cope with their big emotions, check out our Parents of Highly Sensitive Child Workshop starting Friday, June 19th.

This blog post was written by Sarena Ferguson, LGPC.  She co-leads our Sensitive Superhero Group for young children and leads our Sensitive Superhero Group for middle schoolers.