Dr. Emily Upshur joins me again this week to help a mom whose son is getting frustrated and calling himself “stupid” and “bad.” If you’ve been there, you may have felt yourself start to panic when you hear your son or daughter say similar words.

 We’ll offer you tools to help you regulate your own nervous system in these stressful moments, allowing you to stay calm (or at least calmer) so you can more effectively help your child navigate their big emotions. Next, we review different approaches based on a child’s age and how frequently this behavior occurs, and discuss ways that parents can use scaffolding and a growth mindset to build your child’s resilience and distress tolerance.


Dr. Emily (00:00):

When they say these big things, or even hurtful things, we have to learn that our first thought is, what are they trying to tell me? What’s going on? You’re telling me something so important that you’re using these, this kind of language.

Dr. Sarah (00:19):

When we hear our children say things like I’m a bad kid, I’m stupid. Or I hate myself. It’s natural for us to feel flooded with a wave of emotion. And our first instinct might be either to shut it down quickly or to emphatically, try to convince them that that’s not true. And while it’s perfectly understandable, why a parent would initially react in such a way, psychology teaches us that it isn’t the most helpful approach actually to containing our child’s big emotions. So what can we do when our child engages in really negative self-talk so that we can support their needs without feeding into their dysregulation? Joining me today, again is my partner from Upshur Bren Psychology Group, Dr. Emily Upshur. Back in episode 4 we got together and helped a mom whose struggle was knowing how to parent her son. When he’d say that he hated her.

Dr. Sarah (01:10):

And if you haven’t listened to that one yet, go back and check it out after this one. But what happens when the tables are turned and your child is directing that negativity at themselves? That’s exactly the situation one listener found herself in with her four-year-old son. So today we’re going to help this mom and any listener who’s experiencing similar situations in their own home by offering specific strategies that we can implement based on our child’s age, we’re going to suggest new new tactics to try if, and when this becomes a repeated behavior and we’re going to help you build up your child’s self-confidence to target the underlying feelings beneath these words.

New Speaker (01:47):

Hi, I’m Dr. Sarah Bren, a clinical psychologist and mom of two. In this podcast, I’ve taken all of my clinical experience, current research on brain science and child psychology and the insights I’ve gained on my own parenting journey and distilled everything down into easy to understand and actionable parenting insights. So you can tune out the noise and tune into your own authentic parenting voice with confidence and calm. This is Securely Attached.

Dr. Sarah (02:20):

Hello, Emily, welcome to the podcast!

Dr. Emily (02:23):

Hi Sarah. Good to see you again.

Dr. Sarah (02:25):

So nice to have you back. So today we’re answering a question that came in from a single mom of a four and a half year old boy. So this is what she wrote. She said lately, my son’s been saying things like I’m a stupid kid when he gets corrected, he woke up one morning and said, I hate myself, I’m a bad kid. And I’m not sure where this is coming from or how to guide his developing consciousness. Please advise.

New Speaker (02:48):

Ugh, that’s a rough one.

New Speaker (02:48):

I know it is. What do we want to, what do we want to share with this mom and all of our listeners today, who I’m sure experienced something similar to this?

Dr. Emily (02:58):

Right. Exactly. I guess right off the bat, I’m thinking, oh, haven’t we all had a little bit of this happen, right? Just a little, it’s not the thing we share with our mom friends or peers at drop off, but it is something that comes up a lot. And so just to start off with, it’s not the end of the world, right?

Dr. Emily (03:15):

We of course want to address this and help you address this, but it’s not something that is shocking or terrible or something that we don’t want to, we want to tip toe around. I think we can have this addressed head-on.

Dr. Sarah (03:31):

Yeah. And I think, yeah, in the sense too, that like, you know, we’ve done an episode, we even were talking about this before. Like, is this the same or different? We did an episode on what do you do when my child says, I hate you, right? When you’ve done something. And they don’t like it. And they say, I hate you. Or you hate me how this has like a different flavor to it. Right. This is like, when a child is being corrected and they say, I’m so stupid, or I’m a bad kid or, nobody, you know, I can’t do anything. Right. Or when they’re saying, you know, I want to die. Cause that’s also something that I hear kids say non-suicidal children to be very clear, say, I’m just going to kill myself or I want to die. And that’s very alarming for parents. And it does elicit a really different concern, I think in parents when they hear their kids utter these kinds of like kind of scary things or very sad things.

Dr. Emily (04:29):

Definitely. Yeah. I mean, I think in the same way that it gets us off our best mom game, when they say stuff like, I hate you, this gets us, this makes us panic a little too, right? Like this makes us feel a difference to your point, a different sort of flavor of panic, but it also sort of gets us off our game. And I think what we want to help you do is get back on your game so that you feel like you can say the right thing. This is totally destabilizing. So you need to first reorient yourself and say like, okay, what is my child trying to tell me right now? And that I think is where we’re at all is going to come from. We, we believe, you know, in our work that the child is trying to communicate something to us when they say these big things or even hurtful things or hurtful to themselves to self disparaging things.

Dr. Emily (05:17):

Our first thought we have to learn that our first thought is, what are they trying to tell me what’s going on? And I always say to parents, because this comes up really, it does come up so much. I say, Ugh, I say, what could you say to your kid that says, oh, you’re telling me something so important that you’re using these, this kind of language that you’re telling me, this is so, so important. This isn’t just like, you know, or I’m upset. This is so important, you’ve figured out how to show me. And that’s really important. And so you don’t want to take that away from them by saying, don’t say that, or you don’t mean that because truly deep down, you know, look the majority of these kids don’t. But they do mean that it’s really important and they do mean they want you to take it super seriously. And so I think that’s where we have to start from.

Dr. Sarah (06:07):

Yes, yes. And I think that’s a really appropriate way to respond in the moment. And I think, you know, this idea of like, okay, that kind of in most situations, when our kids throw us off our game in parenting, there is the, in the moment response. And then there is the debrief, the thing that we want to be doing after everything has cooled off and calmed down and we’re back to like baseline. And we can go in and say, that was a hard moment that we had. And now we have to, now we can, when we’re calm and connected can kind of reflect back on it in a really clear mind. And that’s hard in the moment to do, because if a child is saying these things, there’s a good chance that they’re feeling out of sorts, maybe dysregulated, maybe really flooded with affect in that moment. And their thinking probably isn’t going to be able to handle long complex debrief in that moment.

Dr. Emily (06:59):

And neither are we right. We’re sort of off our game too. So I think that’s a really good point. So I do think there’s the, in the moment reaction, which, which we’ll review in a second, there’s the debrief as what you’re saying. And then I think also this mom might be asking, how do I build confidence in my kid too, like all the time. Maybe not in these hot moments or in the reflective around the hot moments, but how can I promote better self-esteem maybe, or a stronger sense of self? So I think we can talk about those three categories as we go through this. And I think I’d start with in the moment, right? Your reaction. Cause I have a hot, hot blooded eight year old who loves to tell me things like I don’t even belong in this family or I shouldn’t live in this world.

Dr. Emily (07:45):

Right. And these very dramatic terms and it does it, it really does even get me off my kilter, you know, and I do this all the time to hear these types of things. But my, I think my go-to in the moment reaction is always, oh, you’re having such a hard time. And you’re really showing me something really is upsetting you, not just an average upset, like a big one big, big feeling. Right. Sometimes I just leave it there. Right. And that’s pretty, it can be all that he could tolerate in that moment, for example.

Dr. Sarah (08:21):

Yeah. I think that there’s something really beautiful about remembering we don’t have to fix it in the moment. So like a small nugget of ICU is kind of, it, that’s all we really have to do in those moments. I think the more complex conversations come after in the debrief, which is frankly better, because then we have time to think about what we want to say and calm our bodies and clear our minds. And so to our kids, and then those are more effective conversations anyway.

Dr. Emily (08:49):

Yeah and I think that’s so important because our instinct is sometimes to say, you know, knee jerk reaction is to say you don’t mean, or don’t say those things, that’s a really big deal. Or do you really mean that, you know, like our knee jerk reactions, which is totally natural, is to address it like it’s a fact, like it’s true.

Dr. Sarah (09:10):

Right, right. Or to try to soothe them deeply in that moment. Like, let’s talk about why you feel this way right now in the heat of this moment. That’s like, I could see it going one or the other direction, depending on your own tolerance as a parent for this kind of a statement, if you’re like, holy crap, don’t say that, then you’re going to be pretty quick to shut it down. If you’re like, oh no, this is terrible. I have to help them not feel this way. And then you might engage in a really kind of like too long conversation about going too deep in that moment with them about like, what does that mean? And why do you like both parents in those scenarios are taking it too literally.

Dr. Emily (09:49):

Yes. And also we have to remember that the way kid’s brains work. Right. So they’re looking in that moment for a flash of reassurance to be seen. They don’t necessarily, and that reassurance. Oh, you’re having a really hard time. Sort of takes it down a notch for them. Right. It’s like an exhale and that’s often it there that’s it. Right. That’s not it for us. And that’s not it, you know, over for the conversation in general, particularly if they’re this dysregulated, but that might be in that moment enough. And I think the other piece that we’re that we perhaps this mom was touching upon this, if this is like a one-time occurrence, you know, I think we’ve given you some tools for that, right, in terms of how to respond in the moment. But then if this is something that you’re, you find your kid saying a lot, right. It becomes a little bit repeated. You know, how do we handle that? You know, I think parents often come to me after it’s been said a few times, and they’re like, all right, enough’s enough. You know, and they’re not sure how to go forward from there.

Dr. Sarah (10:55):

Right. And so, like, when we’re thinking about whether it’s, you know, whether this is a one-off, in which case we’re probably going to just say, what is my kid really trying to communicate to me in this moment? And how can I sort of give them that flash of reassurance that I see how big this feels to you and kind of leave it there until you can debrief later. But then if you’re recognizing, okay, this is happening, you’re saying this a lot. Every time you get frustrated, you’re saying I’m really stupid. Or every time something is not, is kind of feeling like a loss to you, you’re saying that you hate yourself, or you’re a bad kid. Or you’re saying, every time we have a really big conflict, you’re saying I want to die. What are the things, looking at that pattern, that a parent can do to kind of address the pattern?

Dr. Emily (11:45):

Yeah. So I think of this, of course in age-appropriate terms, right? So we really have to be mindful of how the child is and what developmental stage they are when we sort of try to address this repeated sort of pattern thing, the younger, the child, and this applies for older too, but the younger, the child, I always like to say, you know, lead with what we’ve discussed. You know, you’re trying to tell me something’s really upsetting, really bothering you, but let’s think of other ways you can tell me that. And I brainstorm, like, what can they do? So instead of saying, don’t say that say, okay, you can say that you’re really angry, or you can squeeze your fist, or you can stomp your feet. You know, again, that goes back to what can they do in those moments instead of something away, how can we replace that behavior? Even those practice, other terminology with them so that they start to grasp that.

Dr. Sarah (12:40):

I also think one of the things you’re making me think of is like, you kind of have in that moment, when you’re offering them an alternative to kind of be under their hood a little bit, to be able to identify the source of the emotion of the emotion, that’s triggering the statement. So for example, if you’re a child, who’s saying I’m a stupid kid, what are they feeling? They might not be feeling angry. They might be feeling frustrated, or they might be feeling helpless. Like in which case, the alternative statement is going to be something that articulates that, right. I need help with this. This is feeling too hard for me. I don’t feel like I can do this all by myself. Can you help me, right. That might help in when a kid is saying, I’m so stupid when the kid is saying, I hate myself.

Dr. Sarah (13:25):

And again, there’s nuance to this cause it could be lots of different reasons. And you, the parent have to get kind of good and be that detective of like, what is my kid feeling? And try to help them articulate that emotion. That’s more accurate for them, but also in a way that’s more effective in getting their needs met. Because if you say, I hate myself that doesn’t solve a whole lot of problems and it doesn’t help other people help you solve a lot of problems. It kind of frazzles people. And so you can end up feeling more alone in your distress because you’re not eliciting help in the way that you actually get what you need. When you, so a kid who’s saying I’m a bad kid. I hate myself. Maybe they’re, I’m giving an example again, this is, it might not be why your kid might be saying that, but I’m thinking of a scenario where like a kid might say, I’m a bad kid because they got in trouble.

Dr. Sarah (14:16):

Right? Like they did something they know they shouldn’t do, they got a consequence. And now they’re saying I’m a bad kid. Maybe they’re feeling guilty. Right. Maybe they’re feeling ashamed of a behavior. In which case, I think it’s helpful to reassure them. You’re not a bad kid. You made a choice that didn’t, that didn’t work. Right. And there was a consequence of that choice. Good kids do, you know, thoughtless things, good kids make mistakes. And that’s, you know, it’s okay. You’re not a bad kid, just because there’s a consequence to this behavior. So like, I think going under the expression, if you think of the expression as the behavior, and if you’re going to go under the behavior to the emotion that’s driving the behavior, there’s a lot of rich information there and it’s going to sort of dictate the response you have.

Dr. Sarah (15:09):

I think the template of saying, what’s my kid trying to communicate, what might they be feeling and what tools can I give them to articulate that more effectively so that they actually get their needs met more often, if they’re really angry and they’re saying, I want to die then saying, you can say I’m really, really angry. And I need to, you know, stop my feet or I need to take a break. I need some space, like all. And again, like you kind of have to figure out what your, not only what your child’s feeling, but what your child actually wants and needs.

Dr. Emily (15:40):

Yeah. And I think this is where I think we’ve said this before. On here, this is where it’s, I think your first line of their, you know, keeping what they’re intending to communicate with you on the top level. But the next step down is a little messy. Like you’re, I call it throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks. You’re sort of, you know, as a parent, especially of a younger child, you’re saying, ugh, maybe you’re having a really hard time with X skill, you know? Oh, you know, maybe you’re angry. Oh, you know about the, you know, so you’re sort of seeing what lands, you’re looking under the hood, you’re sort of poking around and you’re trying to see what lands. There’s no specific art to that, however.

Dr. Sarah (16:21):

Right. And no particular formula either. Like there’s a, you know, you have to learn your kid. And I think…

Dr. Emily (16:30):

But it’s a bit trial and error in that way.

Dr. Sarah (16:34):

Absolutely. Yeah. But I think this also makes me think of the whole idea of like, okay, resilience building and confidence building, because kids, it’s not uncommon for a kid to struggle with something and say, I’m stupid. And that’s not a sign that they’re not confident or not resilient either. It’s just, it’s that peak frustration moment that’s, what’s coming out of their mouths. I think it’s really code for I’m really frustrated.

Dr. Emily (17:02):


Dr. Sarah (17:02):

Um okay. So we talked about what happens when a much younger kid is saying something like this, which is again, very common. At what age do you shift that narrative and get a little bit more specific?

Dr. Emily (17:15):

Yeah. I mean, I’d say, you know, so what we’ve been discussing, I say, you know, of course every child’s different, but that’s appropriate for zero to eight at least. Right. some, some eight year olds to 10 year olds can use, could, could benefit from a little bit more like you’re telling, you’ve been saying this and I, and I hear you, you’re having a really hard time. But sometimes I do go into a little bit of a, that’s a really big thing to say, and you’re putting up the five alarms. And if it means a fire alarm I’m here, but is it a five alarm? Like let’s scale a little bit so that we can get you to see that maybe it’s a seven out of 10, not a 10 out of 10 and the grownups around you, I often been known to say, when you say something like I hate myself or I want to kill myself, or I want to die, It makes grownups, you know, get a little bit antennas up, you know. And it doesn’t really necessarily get you what your needs are. And I’ll say that to a ten-year-old right? Because sometimes it’s a little jazz hands over here. I think when those things happen and we get all get distracted from the source that we’ve been talking about, right? Like what’s the underlying reasoning behind these feelings and how can we address them? So if they’re, if they’re certainly around 10 years old, I will talk about what are, again, circling back to for little kids. I don’t explain to them that it’s a five alarm fire when they say those things, but we do give them other things to say, and I will have that, listen, this, these are big words and that can get the grownups a little bit riled up and not addressing the needs you want. What are other things? How are other ways you can communicate that because you do want to foster advocacy self-advocacy and how to appropriately do that, which is part of resilience. Without shutting it down, obviously. But, you know, it’s very important that we show them which something they already know, which is if they say that big ears, you know, come up and, and sometimes that can not get the intended response.

Dr. Sarah (19:16):

No, which I think can actually reinforce it becoming a habit. Right? Like, especially, especially with younger kids. I see this a lot where they’ll say something once that’s provocative, not intending for it to be provocative. It’s just it matched their affect in the moment. They didn’t have anything better to say that they said something really, that we were provoked by. And in that provocation, we have a really intense affective response to their statement. And then it shifts for the kid. Then it starts to be, whoa. Mom had a big reaction to that. Ooh. Now I’m feeling a little unsettled. Like my sturdy person just got shaken by me. So now what else is going to make them shaken? What, what happens if I do this? And like, what happens if I say this? And then they start to just test and push for cracks in your foundation, because they’re not pushing buttons, actually not testing boundaries, but actually seeking safety. They’re trying to see how stable is this figure in my life. If I, this, this dependent person of theirs can shake them. And so that’s where I think you start to get habits forming around like provocative statements. If, if they start to learn that when I say this thing, this certain way, like chaos, erupts, and now every time I’m anxious, I kind of need to kind of go there and see what I what’s going to happen. If I say this. And that’s very different than what we were talking about before, where it’s like, this is just, I hit this apex frustration, and this is just what came out of my mouth versus I’m actually feeling a little unsettled and I kind of want to see how sturdy are you. So now I’m going to start saying provocative things a little bit to test how then it becomes more of a dance. And I think the best way for us to stop a dance with our kids, that’s not productive is to stop dancing is to just really shift the way we’re responding and be kind of nonchalant in our affect. Addressing, like we were saying before, like address the address, the statement, address the big feeling, address what they’re communicating, but doing it from a really calm sort of neutral place, because that doesn’t trigger their anxiety response that can keep that, that habit running. I see that more with younger kids,

Dr. Emily (21:34):

But I think that that habit is a really good point that a lot of us miss. I miss it all the time as a parent. Because I think even, particularly for anxious kids, what you’re talking about, it could be destabilizing, right? Like see how much I pushed my parent. And let me see if they’re still okay. If I say these things, but the other piece is reassurance seeking, right. And that is a habit. And that’s a sort of anxious, anxiety driven habit that can be very difficult to get out of. But guess what feeds that habit when we reassurance, we give that reassurance over and over again with back of mind, without, you know, pausing and saying like, do they really, what are they communicating to me at this moment? Right. So it really is about trying, like the best. If we do find that it’s a habit or it’s, you know, reassurance seeking and we’re teasing out sort of what this is about. It’s just important that we respond accordingly. Right? We want to be able to what you’re saying. Sometimes that warrants not giving a big reaction, acknowledging validating it and moving on, right? Because we don’t want to draw more attention to something unproductive and that we’re not addressing actively.

Dr. Sarah (22:46):

Right. Which is very different from ignoring. Right. I want to make that distinction. Like I never recommend ignoring statements like this. Not having a big, affective response while acknowledging validating and, you know, supporting is very different than ignoring. Saying and pretending not to hear that.

Dr. Emily (23:09):

100% percent. I also think one thing we haven’t touched upon is nonverbal communication from the parent. You know, I think that’s a really important piece. Like you can give your kid a little, you can validate your kid and then give your kid a little side eye look like, how are we doing what’s going on? Where are we? You know, like we can hover a child in that moment or sit closer to them in that moment so that you’re not necessarily saying all these things out loud, but you’re showing them that you’re there for them. Or you’re, you are giving some reassurance in that sort of non-verbal response, which I think is also an important piece of this.

Dr. Sarah (23:45):

We’ve talked about how to respond in the moment, whether they’re little, whether they’re bigger, we’ve talked about how to respond. If it’s becoming a pattern, let’s talk a little bit about the debrief, you know, what do we do after the heat of the moment? Right? Your kid said something. You’ve kind of validated them, acknowledge them, co-regulate a little bit, maybe even giving them some new tools. But maybe later that day or that evening, how do you go back and give them something more comprehensive?

Dr. Emily (24:18):

Yeah. I mean, I think what you’re trying to do then is, you know, I’m famous for saying strike when the iron is cold, right? So then even if you soothe in the moment, it’s sometimes hard to take in a lot of information, right. They might be able to take in the soothing and the validating, but that their cup is probably fall at that point. So the going back and sort of doing the debrief allows us to get a little bit, little bit more in depth and look a little bit more under the hood in your terms, right? Like what we want to do is say, Ooh, that was a rough day. Or that was a rough moment. You know, what do you think happened? And if they are sort of like, I don’t know, which does happen sometimes, this is goes back to, again, what we were talking about touched upon earlier, which is throwing a little bit of that spaghetti on the wall and seeing what it is. Like giving your, like, giving your best parent hypothesis about what it might be and saying, I’m not sure if I’m right about this, but do you think that it was just a bad day at school? Do you think that you’ve been struggling with math? You know, were you having any trouble with friends? You know, like you’re really just trying to ask specific questions, right? Not this global what’s wrong, how was your day? You know, cause kids have a really hard time. We have a really hard time coming up with that, but really imagining pieces of their day areas that they might have struggled with and throwing them out there and seeing if something lands.

Dr. Sarah (25:44):

And I think, I think parents sometimes feel like if they’ve had a successful response in the moment that they don’t necessarily even think to go back and do this. And I would say whether you felt like you stumbled a little bit or were off your parenting, you know, your rug got pulled out from under you and your kid had the statement or you felt like, oh man, I handled that. That’s an a plus for me on that parenting moment, I got that one, right. Either way I would always debrief and it doesn’t have to be even that day. But I think depending on the age of the kid, I think you want it to be, it can be later that day, even at night. I’m a big fan of the before bedtime debrief, because I think that’s when, at least in, I know my kids, that’s a time when we’re, we are calm, connected together. There’s there’s space to talk. Like we’re usually sitting in a chair, reading a book together. And that’s a time when I think they’re most receptive to having like a little bit of a convo about the day.

Dr. Emily (26:51):

Yeah. And I think that you have to find that for your family and depending on the needs of your, of your ages of your children and the needs. But I think you’re hitting upon the most important thing, which is a time when it’s calm, connected, and you have the space to do that. That’s really what you’re looking for. Whether that’s before bed, whether that’s after snack, when they get home from school, you know, when the other siblings are out, potentially, you know, like whenever that is that you feel those things calm, connected, and attuned to your child, that’s the time to debrief it. And I do agree that I think it should be closer than longer, you know, like if it can be within the same day I think that’s helpful. Because you know, it’s just so fresh for them.

Dr. Sarah (27:33):

True. But I say more that like, don’t think the window ever closes. Like if you, if you’re like, I couldn’t find a good time today to do it. I guess I lost my window. You didn’t lose your window. You can talk about this a week later. Kids remember this stuff, especially things as profound as this they, the chances are, if they’re saying something like I’m stupid kid, or I’m a bad kid, or I hate myself out loud to you and in the heat of a moment, they also might be thoughts that they’ve had alone to themselves in their mind that they don’t articulate too. So it’s not, it’s like if you bring up the fact, Hey, you know, when you said I’m a stupid kid, I’m really been thinking about that a lot. And I want to check in with you and, you know, see how you’re feeling. It doesn’t matter if it’s obviously yeah. You, if you can get that window close, that’s fine. But I really want parents to know that there’s no expiration date on these debriefs. You can always have them and your kid’s going to know what you’re talking about.

Dr. Emily (28:32):

I think, yeah. And I think that’s really important. It could be the next day. It could be within a couple of days. I think that’s extremely important. You never lose that chance. And it also sort of spins into the sort of the authority category of content that I wanted to get into today, which is how do you more consistently build a resilient child or more confident child? Like how, what are ways that you can sort of insert those teaching moments all the time? And I think, you know, one of the biggest things that a lot of us are familiar with both from, you know, schools and is a sort of like a growth mindset or a fixed mindset, right. It’s really important that we revisit those things all the time with kids. And also language is important as we can see, like when they bring up this language is important, but it’s also important on more subtle examples. Like I often when kids say things like I’ll never get this, or I hate myself for this because I never, I’m a failure at math, I’ll never. You know, I always try to reframe, well, right now it’s hard or haven’t learned it yet, or you haven’t mastered it yet. Right. And if we, as parents, it’s not constant correcting, that’s not really what we’re looking for. But if we, them to sort of shift a little into this, like I failed, done, I suck it’s over, you know, try to get them more to, it was really hard learning addition. I might be better at learning subtraction. Borrowing is really difficult for me. I’m just trying to give these concrete examples because they come up all the time. And I think those are opportunities for building confidence in children, you know, over time that that is sort of, I think this rounds out this person, this mom’s question, right. Like I imagine she’s like, how do I deal with this in the moment? But like, how do I foster confidence in my kid ongoing?

Dr. Sarah (30:25):

Yeah. Yeah. And I think too, like, okay, so this, your examples of it being like addition, subtraction, borrowing, that’s where we start to see it a lot. I think this tends to come up more, as school gets more challenging for kids. But even like this child’s four and a half, my son’s four. And I see this a lot, you know, where he’ll get frustrated. He’ll just be like, I can’t do this. Like I can’t, this isn’t something I can do. And I think in those moments, my focus tends to go first on being like, it is hard. It doesn’t, this is tricky. And then I, if I feel like he has the bandwidth to hear something like this, I might say, like, why don’t we try it together? And then I’m doing scaffolding. I’m doing things, and if you’re not familiar with the concept of scaffolding, it’s this idea of like giving you just enough support that you can cross the finish line by yourself. But I want him to cross the finish line. So I might say, you know, this is an opportunity for me to say, let’s try it together and I can help. But my goal in that moment is not, is to it sort of like a surreptitious helping, right? Like, I’m gonna say to him, I’m helping and I am going to help. But my goal in that moment is to help just enough that he feels like, oh, wait, hold on. I can cross the finish line by myself. And I think that self completion is actually the key here. Like him being able to say, I don’t, even if I did 99.9% of the thing for him for him to kind of finish the task and have that sense that like he did it, he did do that is a way to help challenge this idea, these, these sort of definitive statements. Like I cannot do something or I’m bad at this.

Dr. Emily (32:17):

Yeah, no, I think that’s, that’s, I think that’s the scaffolding of parents is really helpful and the scaffolding can also go in the emotional direction. Right? Like sometimes I’ll say, oh, this is really tough, but you know what let’s stretch. Maybe we’ll together, let’s just take a breather. Let’s just take a few deep breaths. Let’s get some fresh air and then let’s come back and try it again. Right. Like we didn’t have to do it that first time. That’s sort of, self-regulate, you’re scaffolding self-regulation and appropriate coping really, you know, of distress tolerance in those moments.

Dr. Sarah (32:48):

Yes. Yes. Because I think there’s like, yeah, there’s, there’s skill-building, which is part of, you know, building a sense of mastery building self-confidence you need resilience and perseverance to be able to build skills. And it’s going to be, it’s not as clear, like, you know, it’s not a perfect clear line, direct line up of skill acquisition, like it’s rocky, it’s ups and downs and ups and downs. And we want the, the sort of graph to trend upward. But ultimately there’s definitely times where I feel like we’re going down the scale. Right. and that’s the same with emotion regulation, right? Like it’s, things are hard. I want to quit. I have the desire to, you know, to stop doing this thing because doing it is making me agitated, frustrated, feeling helpless, like I’m getting activated in my frustration and how well not, well, this feels like it’s going and to be able to take a break and return, to be able to cool down, to get space versus to say, like, I quit, I’m done, I’m walking away. Like I can’t tolerate going back to revisit that. And I think a lot of times kids need parents to model that with them sort of scaffold, like doing it together. Like, I like that idea of like, Hey, let’s take a break together.

Dr. Emily (34:06):

And modeling it. Right. You know, with younger kids and with older kids, I, you know, doing eight year old math is no fun. You know, so sometimes modeling it yourself like, oh, this is really getting me confused. I better take a break. Right. Let me get myself together so that I can focus refocus on this and rally my skills instead of being a little harried and frazzled by being confused. And that helps.

Dr. Sarah (34:32):

I think it’s funny. Cause I once had someone ask me, they’re like, should we like make up mistakes and like act out being upset. And I was like, you don’t need to make them up. You’ll make them, you make them all the time, like life’s hard. I struggle opening up jars in the kitchen and I don’t have to like, make it up. I don’t have to like put on a show for my kids. I just like if we start to pay attention to the times when we really do actually struggle with something, which I’m sure if we started paying attention, we’ll see that it’s very regular. And to just narrate that process authentically in the moment with, you know, out loud. So our kids can sort of participate in that process with us and see that we do it and see how we do it. I think that’s a great strategy.

Dr. Emily (35:15):

Yeah, no, I totally, I think all of these things are showing all the multilayers of how we get through these tough events, right? How do we get through them and how do we thrive really and grow. And that’s really all of these different things are really ways that we hope that it won’t just be surviving, but that you’ll be able to grow. Your kid will be able to grow and you’ll be able to grow. And then that resilience really.

Dr. Sarah (35:39):

Yeah. Well, I hope that this helps this mom and any other parent who is experiencing these, these moments of self deprecation or hopelessness or helplessness, or just really intense frustration or anger or sadness with their kids when they’re saying these statements that are surprising or scary or shocking to us, to think about it in a little bit more of a peaceful, calm, I’ve got this kind of way.

Dr. Emily (36:07):

Yes, definitely. And I, and I think that’s important because some of these things are ooph, they’re surprise factor for us. So we have to figure out how to find that best parenting part of ourselves in the face of this really difficult context.

Dr. Sarah (36:20):

Right. Which comes, I think with practice and also permission to not always have the exact right thing to say. And sometimes you can just say, I need a moment to think about what you just said, you know, like I’m going to take a minute. Like that was a big thing. Oh, give me a sec. Let me get my bearings here. Because also models from the reality of like, that is a big statement. And I can still stay here and support you, but I might need a moment to think about how I want to respond to that. And you can say that to your kid. Oh, you know what? I need a minute to think about how I wanna respond to that. I hear you. That’s a big deal.

Dr. Emily (36:55):


Dr. Sarah (36:57):

All right. Well, this was a very enlightening conversation. Thank you so much for joining us, Emily, and we’ll have you back soon for some more Q and A’s.

Dr. Emily (37:05):

Sounds great. Thanks for having me, Sarah

Dr. Sarah (37:13):Thank you so much for listening. If you found this episode helpful, one of the best things that you can do to support us and allow us to keep bringing more shows like this one to you is to subscribe to Securely Attached on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you stream your podcasts. And if you want to be really helpful, take a moment to leave a quick review. It just takes a few seconds of your time, but it has a massive impact on where and how often we show up when people search for parenting podcasts and get our word out more effectively. So I encourage you. If you haven’t already, please hit follow and leave a review and we can continue creating more of this podcast and helping parents to feel empowered, confident, and connected. Thank you so much for your support. And until next week, don’t be a stranger.


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27. What do you do when your child says “I’m stupid,” “I hate myself,” “I’m a bad kid,” or worse with Dr. Emily Upshur