Few words strike fear in your heart like your kids saying, “I hate myself!” and “I’m so stupid” or lying blatantly. Your anxiety kicks in–how can he feel that way after all we’ve done for him, have I done something wrong, is he destined to be unhappy? Instead of lecturing or overreacting, we stay connected, discover the underlying root of the issue, and then address that issue. Some Moms on our Facebook page asked me to address this yesterday…so I am, below!

Changing A Generation of Family Dysfunction-Cool, huh?!
Kirk, I bought your CDs…and began listening. Slowly my life changed for the better. I found new techniques to gain strength after a long day. I would leave the CDs on so when my wife took my car, they would be playing. She began to listen, we talked about it, and guess what happened…our family’s life improved. We don’t fight before church or school, we don’t push our anxieties on to our children, and we take time to learn lessons, not punish. Thank you for your courage to show me how to change my life and my family’s life by getting out of a generation of family dysfunction.

Lying isn’t the real issue–it’s a fig leaf to cover shame. Watch how this works. I’m a toddler or a teen. I don’t have much self-control so I impulsively do something wrong. Now I realize it was wrong, I am ashamed and fear my parents are going to be mad at me. What’s my first instinct? Lie! That’s why lecturing or punishing doesn’t work. But if you actively show your child how to control himself and create an environment where boldly saying, “I messed up!” is met with calm, you will stop the lying. Do you and your spouse know how to control your own anxiety, perfectionism and constant lecturing/yelling? Have you physically shown and practiced how to control impulses at the store and with annoying siblings? Can you listen, discipline, forgive and give meaningful consequences without freaking out?
(If you need personal mentoring to control your anxiety, join the Calm Challenge.)

So what do you do when your child proclaims, “I hate myself,” “I wish I hadn’t been born” or even “You’re stupid!”? Always discuss such statements with your child’s doctor or therapist, especially if you have a family history of depression, bipolar disorder, etc. In 99.9% of cases, what the child is really saying is this:

“I am so frustrated with myself. I keep messing up and that makes me stupid. My brother and sister don’t get in trouble like I do. I don’t even feel like I can control myself and I’m tired of always being yelled at and in trouble. I need some help! I need tools to change!”

Lectures, threats and punishment will not work. The real problem is the underlying lack of self-control and resulting shame that fuel such frightening statements. The child doesn’t hate himself or you–he hates messing up, getting yelled at and being in trouble. Try this next time.

1) Hear the screaming as a cry for help. Sit down. It’s calming.

2) Practice acknowledgement. “Jacob, I can understand why you would be so frustrated. Sometimes it feels like the whole world is against you, doesn’t it?”

3) Listen. Let him talk and get the frustration, anger and pain out.

4) “Jacob, I can understand why you’d want to lie or scream like that. It makes sense to me. I have felt frustrated and angry before. Do you feel frustrated with yourself, like you wish you were a different person or could control yourself?”

5) Listen more. Yeah, this takes time. But it’s worth it.

6) Offer reassurance. “Here’s the deal, Jacob. I like who you are. I like your intensity. I like your imagination and ideas and energy. I like that you’re a hurricane sometimes. I want to use that energy in positive ways to that it’s creative and not destructive.”

7) Move to problem solving. “So what can we begin doing the next time you feel frustrated or angry?” Another great question: “What can *I* do next time you’re upset to help you calm down?”

8) Physically practice a new calming routine. What is it that calms your child? Coloring, listening to or playing music, jumping on a mini-trampoline, doing push-ups with Dad, doing a silly dance, playing with the dog? Make this your new routine.

9) Build your child’s self-confidence. Competence breeds confidence so make sure your child has opportunities to use his unique gifts and passions. Many kids feel bad about themselves because adults only focus on their weaknesses.

10) Teach your child self-control. Have you practiced self-control with your kids? Have you physically shown them how to practice impulse control? Do they know how to keep from blurting out in class, from whining for that candy at Target? As the Dad above wrote, it takes work to change a generation of family dysfunction and negative patterns. But once Mom and Dad can control their own anxiety, yelling, perfectionism, fear and lecturing…and once you teach your children how to control themselves, EVERYTHING begins to change. No lying, siblings learning how to handle conflict, fewer meltdowns, no more “I hate myself!”, etc.

Give your kids tools to change. Get the tools 40,000 other parents use daily to change. They are even on sale right now. And you can start a new family tree…free of the yelling, screaming and defiance.