But i’m stupid, mum

Why does your kid keep saying she’s dumb? DR RICHARD C. WOOLFSON shows you how to approach this sensitive issue.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Why does your kid keep saying she’s dumb? DR RICHARD C. WOOLFSON shows you how to approach this sensitive issue.

My Reading Room

It’s heartbreaking to hear your eight-year-old tearfully insist that she’s stupid. You know she’s a bright, capable child and yet she seems to have become overwhelmed by the demands of school. Her confidence has sagged, the gauge on her self-esteem tank reads zero and, before you know it, she’s redefined herself as someone who is untalented, incapable and destined to fail. There are many possible causes of this temporary slump in her self-belief. For instance, she could have failed a class test when she expected to gain good marks, and this one-off episode has thrown her off-balance completely. She may be overwhelmed by the amount of study she has to do for the forthcoming exam, and so she starts to doubt herself. Or, she is being teased and bullied by some of her classmates, and their unkind taunts are beginning to dent her self-belief.

Don’t give up

It’s time for you to turn things around. If you don’t, you’ll find that her “I’m stupid” comments become more frequent and intensify to the point where she is afraid to tackle new assignments in school. She’ll expect to fail, so she’ll give up even before she starts. And she may try to make herself invisible in the classroom. When her teacher directs a question to the whole class, your child may avoid making eye-contact with her because she thinks that is the best way to avoid embarrassing herself in front of her peers. In addition, a child who lacks confidence often becomes highly critical of her accomplishments, even if others genuinely think they are wonderful. The only way forward is for your tween to start believing in herself and her learning abilities once again. And the process of recovery begins with you. If she thinks that you care for her because of who she is, that you are interested in her because she is a wonderful child, that you love her and value her no matter how good or bad her educational achievements are, then her self-belief will start to rise. stupid” downward spiral by reminding her that every pupil gets poor grades once in a while, and it’s normal to find class work very challenging sometimes. Let her know that you accept she doesn’t understand some of the material taught to her in school, but explain that you know she has the ability to grasp it eventually. Look at the class work she struggles with and do your best to help her learn it by breaking it down into small stages, with easy steps bridging the gap from one stage to the next. Here are some other techniques to help her improve her outlook:

Treat her seriously

Her minor crisis in confidence may seem very trivial from your point of view, but it matters to her. Listen to her, be sympathetic, and offer practical advice. Value her effort Some children will always achieve less than others. However, remind her that you will always be pleased with her as long as she tries her best.

Highlight the positives, not the negatives

Point out that although she has not succeeded on this particular occasion, there are plenty of times when she did achieve other things.

Encourage her to try again

The fact that she finds class work difficult at the moment doesn’t mean she should give up. Persuade her to keep trying.

Check that she is not being bullied

Tactfully enquire if her peers are making fun of her, or are making negative comments about her ability.

Have a chat with the teacher

It’s important for her teacher to know she has those self-doubts so that she can give her extra support and encouragement.

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