Whenever I have to punish or even reprimand my 6-year-old son, he gets upset and says 'Everyone hates me,' or 'Everyone thinks I'm stupid.' He also blames bad situations and his unhappy feelings on everyone else, like 'Everyone is making me cry,' 'Everyone is making me be mean.' How do I help him stop seeing himself as a victim? I have to admit, he reminds me a little of my wife...
One of the best and worst things about having a child is that they are impeccable in their ability to show us parts of ourselves we might prefer not to notice. Here are my thoughts about your little boy:
Avoid finger pointing. When you make a mistake, admit it -- without trying to say it was because of what someone did or didn't do. When we show our children what it looks like to take full responsibility for our actions, they are much more likely to freely admit when they've made a mistake. Say, "Whoops! Sorry about that, honey" if you spill something, without adding on, "But you shouldn't have put your glass so close to the edge of the table." Simply own your mistakes. In so doing, you'll help your son learn that we don't have to be perfect to be lovable.
Look beneath his words. When a child adapts a position of "poor me," it can be tempting to try to convince him of the ways that he contributed to the problem that is causing him to feel hurt. Resist the urge! Instead, look for the root of what might be upsetting him. if he says, "Everyone thinks I'm stupid" when he doesn't make a goal in soccer, you might say, "Are you a little worried about whether your friends are mad?" If he says, "Everyone is making me cry", just acknowledge that he's sad or frustrated, without debating with him about the cause.
Be gentle with your "orchid." Some kids are thick-skinned; unpleasant experiences roll off their back without making much of an impact. But other children (and adults!) are more sensitive. A harsh look or unkind remark can penetrate to their core, hurting them deeply. Psychologists even talk about children as being either "dandelions" (able to manage difficulties without much fuss) or "orchids" who wilt when they are not treated with care. Sensitive children can be less flexible and more easily stressed, making it harder to cope when life isn't going their way -- and easier to step into the victim role.
Avoid setting unrealistic expectations. Sometimes, children feel they cannot measure up to what is expected of them -- they can't be fast enough, or quiet enough, or thorough enough. As a result, they take the easiest way out -- blaming others. Make sure that you help your little boy feel successful in living up to what is expected of him. That way he will be less inclined to give up and "wilt" in the face of challenges.
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