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They may say things like, “I’m so stupid!” or “I’m such a bad kid!”
Introverted sensitive kiddos don’t need much to make themselves feel like the worst kid ever when they mess up.
They often feel emotions much more intensely than other personalities.
It can be hard for us parents to know how to respond to such statements and help them move past the feelings of guilt and shame that they’re experiencing.
But don’t worry! We want to give you 5 ways to help your kiddo navigate through their big emotions after making a mistake that is effective for them and their sensitive natures. Ready?
#1 : Stay calm and connected
The last thing a kiddo who naturally beats themselves up needs is a parent yelling at them.
Yelling causes disconnection and their already-sensitive emotions to go haywire when there’s disconnection.
This makes it even more difficult for them to recover from what they did wrong.
It’s easier said than done right?! But it’s vital.
One of my favorite quotes is, “Between stimulus and response there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Vikto Frankl
If you need a minute to calm down, tell your kiddo, “I need a minute to think about my words before I say them. I’m going to go in my room to think and when I come back, we’ll talk through this together.”
Take a few minutes to breathe and CHOOSE how you want to respond.
Think about how you want your kiddos to feel after they’ve listened to your words and tone of voice.
How do you want them to feel? Connected? or Disconnected? Safe or unsafe? Valued or shamed?
These will help you determine your response.
If you make their mess bigger with your own overreaction, your kiddo now has TWO problems to process through – the disconnection they feel from you + their mistake.
But if you remain calm and use words that keep you connected, two things will most likely happen; first, you’ll be successful in helping them learn from their mistake rather than beating themselves up for not being perfect.
Secondly, you are keeping the connection between you and building trust. This will help them feel more comfortable coming back to you the next time they make a mistake.
#2 : Use empathy, not guilt
Guilt (NOT shame!) can be an effective tool to help kiddos understand that their actions have consequences for themselves and those around them.
However, when working with an introverted child who is sensitive by nature – be aware that this emotion is already something they feel consistently.
These kiddos probably feel guilty about things they have thought about doing but haven’t actually done. (Seriously! Ask them!)
Generally, these kiddos genuinely want to do the right thing and can be really hard on themselves.
So while it is important to make sure they understand the consequences of their actions, be gentle and come alongside them as best as you can. Avoid using shame language.
#3 : Walk them through it
Depending on the situation, your sensitive kiddo’s brain is likely flooded each time they make a mistake.
As their parent, you are their primary educator and get to walk them through the steps of how-to-make-it-right after a mistake is made.
Recently, our 7-year-old sensitive Meerkat son was feeling really ashamed about accidentally breaking our neighbor’s window with a baseball bat.
Right after it had happened, all he wanted to do was hide because he felt so ashamed.
The thought of walking over to apologize was incredibly scary to him.
So I told him we would go together and I would help him find the right words to say.
His brown eyes were cloudy with tears until they softened by our neighbor’s calm, comfort, and forgiveness.
When our sensitive kiddos are flooded by emotion, the best thing you can do is allow them to borrow your calm.
Which means you have to be calm first.
#4 : Hugs + Love
Hugs, hugs, and more hugs while repeating these magical words: “Mistakes are just mistakes. I will always love you.”
Help them view mistakes as a way to learn.
This kind of posture is essential to helping them navigate through feelings of guilt and shame.
It reaffirms that they have a safe person in their corner who can handle it when they feel scared.
#5 : Combating Shame
They need to learn the skill of how to give themselves grace, which starts with how you respond to them as their caregiver.
Model and teach them the difference between making a “bad choice” (guilt) and being a “bad kid” (shame).
So when they say…
“I’m so stupid!” you say…”Making mistakes is a part of learning. All of us make mistakes!”
“I am a bad kid!” you say…”Sounds like you may be feeling angry at yourself. Can I help you forgive yourself?” (I make our Meerkat kiddo apologize to himself out loud in a 3rd person voice so he can hear the words, “I forgive you, [insert child’s name]“)
His brain is able to hear it better when it’s said in 3rd person!
Don’t leave your child’s emotional growth up to chance. Teach them that mistakes are an important part of life, and you’re always there for support especially when flooded with big feelings!
Every kiddo is worthy of love – even when they make mistakes!