How To React When Your Child Says, "I'm Dumb"
A parent’s heart breaks a little bit when their child slumps home from being with their friends, throws their backpack on the floor and declares how “dumb” they are. From the parent’s perspective, the child is wonderful and it is strange that they would doubt that. From the child’s perspective, they are feeling like they can’t compare to their friends or siblings, and so they must be permanently flawed.
An impulse to rush over to your child, cuddle them and tell them that they are NOT dumb is a natural response, but what is the best reaction for when your child says, “I’m dumb”? When your sweet little one needs his or her confidence restored, here are some steps you can take to help them:
1. Get the facts:
Talk about the events that lead to the “dumb” comment – who were they playing with, talking to or watching? Did the child actually do something that was labeled “dumb”? Or did they see another child do something remarkable and they just determined they could not achieve it themselves? The facts will structure the context for the rest of discussion.
2. Identify why the child has concluded that he or she is “dumb”:
It may be that the child feels that he or she will never successfully compete with others. The message from you is that the child isn’t expected to be good at everything. It’s okay to recognize that others will always have different skills and abilities that will be perceived as “better” than theirs. Point out clearly that there is no reason to compare him- or herself to anyone, ever. Other people’s success is not a measurement of their capacity or ability.
3. Talk about the child's special talents, skills and abilities:
Children sometimes have a hard time evaluating their own capacities. Often times, parents are excellent identifiers and can communicate where the child excels. Be as comprehensive as possible: they make their bed well; they help with dishes; they are kind to their siblings and friends; they can throw a baseball; they can sing; they make their grandparents laugh out loud. The point is to help the child put today’s frustration into proper context and focus on their strengths and how to develop them. Yes, basketball may not be their thing, but baseball/piano/swimming/baking/caring for others sure is, and they are great at that.
4. Focus on the long-term goal:
When the goal is shifted from today to the long-term, the child’s belief about him- or herself goes from one of despair (“I’m dumb”) to one of hopefulness (“What a bad day – tomorrow will be better”). The child is learning “resiliency” – the ability to accept existing external circumstances, and recover from distress.
Our message should be consistent throughout childhood: “you are not dumb; today was just one bad day”. Remind the child that they are still young and not finished growing yet. Between now and adulthood, their minds, bodies, attitudes and abilities will change; they will become really good at many things, and not so good at others. And that is okay.
5. Remind Them to Trust God:
Finally, assure them that, even though they might not understand everything now, they can trust that God does. Let them know that what happened on this day will not matter compared to who they eventually become. God has plans for them; great, wonderful plans to prosper them (Jeremiah 29:11).
It is hard to know how to react when your child says, ‘I’m dumb’. However, this is an opportunity to provide truly meaningful support for your child. Childhood is the “school” for adulthood, and lessons learned then will be carried forward into the rest of their lives. However, the childs brain isn’t mature enough to properly evaluate life’s circumstances. It is the parent’s job to give the child the tools he or she needs to manage the day-to-day stresses of childhood, and not let those difficult days color their internal belief about themselves. The child can be reminded that God created him or her as a special, unique and wonderful person. There is no ‘dumb’ in there.
“But now, O Lord, thou art our Father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.” Isaiah 64:8