THE PROBLEM: My 12 yo daughter is sooo sensitive. She takes everything personally and is easily defeated. Last week she got a C on a math test and has now decided she’s ‘no good in math,’ which isn’t even remotely true. And when she tries out for something and doesn’t make it, she’s in a funk for weeks. Every obstacle seems to set her back and lower her self-esteem. Sometimes, I think she’s looking for obstacles so she doesn’t have to push herself through hard things. I try to be her cheerleader, but that only seems to annoy her, like: “Of course you’re going to say that. You’re my mom.” And yet, she keeps trying to get me to see her (gloomy) side of things. I don’t know how to get her out of this.
MARY SAYS: Although your daughter may appear to be defeated, her negative outlook is actually a cry for help. She’s feeling insecure, so at every turn, she wants reassurance from you (and most likely her friends) that everything is going to be okay. We all need a bit of that—encouragement from the people we care about—but your daughter seems to be overly dependent upon it, and it’s having the opposite effect.
She has become so used to soliciting sympathy, she now expects nothing to work out and wants everyone else to see it that way, too.
As someone living on this planet in a human body, your daughter will always face obstacles, and she will also need someone to lift her spirits when things don’t go her way. But the most resilient children—who inevitably grow into resilient adults—make it a habit to turn inward for encouragement rather than seeking assurance from everybody else.
So how do you help your daughter become the first person she turns to when she needs a boost in confidence? After all, you’ve played that role for her from the time she was born. How do you break a twelve-year habit?
As the grownup, you’ll need to go first.
The next time your daughter tells you she’s sure she won’t get invited to Abby’s party, rather than telling her you’re ‘sure she will’ or that it’s ‘not the end of the world if she doesn’t,’ try six simple words:
“What do you think about that?” (Remember this. You’ll need to use it a lot.)
When she describes a devastating scenario about hurt feelings and no one liking her, ask:
“Is that true?”
“Yes! It’s TOTALLY true!”
“Okay then, what are you going to do about it?” Or “What can you tell yourself that will make you feel better about the situation?”
Then, let her do the rest. If she comes up with a clever way to think about it, keep going! Ask her to tell you more. She might say something like: “Well, I guess it’s not the only party. I’m already going to Marc’s this weekend.” Or: “I’m getting together with Celia at the mall this afternoon, so why am I thinking about something that hasn’t even happened?” (Resist the temptation to offer her ideas; let your daughter work this out on her own.)
If she refuses to put a positive spin on it, tell her to give it some thought and get back to you. Then change the subject. Over time, she’ll notice that you’re far more interested in her stories of resilience, and those worst-case scenarios will no longer be quite so entertaining to either of you.
Erika Guerrero is away this week.
ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising a small child (Erika). If you’re looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn’t around to ask, drop in!
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Mary Follin is author of the award-winning children’s book ETHYRand Teach Your Child to Read™, an online phonics program for children ages 3-6. She is mom to two grown kids. Follow Mary on Instagram at @advice_mom.
Erika Guerrero is a freelance hair and makeup artist, Erika K. Beauty, single-mama to one amazing boy, and author of She’s Not Shaken, a blog offering hope and encouragement to women in all walks of life.
Suzanne Johnson, mom of five children and grandma of eight, is an illustrator, book cover designer, and author of Realms of Edenocht.