When Your Kid Says They’re Bad at Something, Stop Telling Them They’re Wrong (and What to Say Instead)

Your 8-year-old makes a mistake on the picture she’s drawing, and you hear her say, “I suck at art! I’m throwing this away!” Your heart breaks a little and you rush to correct her negative self-talk: “That’s not true, honey. I think you’re a great artist.” While it’s pretty natural to want to make your child feel better when they start getting down on themselves, child psychologist and parenting expert Dr. Becky explains that this instinct isn’t actually all that helpful.

In her video on the subject, Dr. Becky makes an important point about what it means to be confident—namely, that confidence has nothing to do with believing you’re great at everything, but rather comes from self-trust (i.e., feeling like it’s OK to be you).

What Not to Say

Although you mean well when you try to banish your kid’s negative feelings, you could unintentionally be undermining their self-trust. Per Dr. Becky, when a kid says they’re not good at something, they aren’t looking for a parent to tell them they’re wrong or to throw them a compliment. Instead, “they’re looking for us to be less afraid of this reality than they are.”

In other words, you might think you’re giving your kid a confidence boost when you tell them that they’re actually a super-fast runner/great at reading/just as good as everyone else on the soccer team, but you’re really just wearing your own discomfort on your sleeve and it’s doing nothing for their confidence at all.

And What to Say Instead

According to the expert, the more constructive approach is one that validates your child’s perspective and allows them to feel more at home with themselves. To do this, simply acknowledge your child’s emotions and ask to know more.

Here’s a sample script: “That feels bad, huh? Tell me more about it” or “You’re noticing that difference, huh? I’m so glad you’re sharing this with me—keep going.”

By responding in this way, you’re showing that you can tolerate your kid’s feelings—and if you can do it then they can, too. “When we show our kid that we’re not scared of their experience, they learn not to be scared of their experiences,” Dr. Becky explains. And that, friends, is what builds lifelong confidence.

purewow author

Freelance PureWow Editor

Emma Singer is a freelance contributing editor and writer at PureWow who has over 7 years of professional proofreading, copyediting and writing experience. At PureWow, she covers...