I have a 6-year-old daughter who is wonderful and basically your normal 6-year-old. One behavior that she has been exhibiting that scares her mother and me a bit is that she will occasionally talk down to herself.

This typically happens when she's having a big drawn out argument with her mother or me. For example if she's being mean to her younger brothers over and over again or doing something that she isn't supposed to and ends up going on time out. Once she's on time out I'll hear her saying things like:

"You can't do anything right!"

or

"You are always bad {her name}"

It doesn't happen every day - maybe once a month? And it only seems to be on the days where she misbehaves over and over again. I suspect that it has to do with the fact that she's being told her behavior isn't acceptable over and over again, but no one has ever said anything like that to her. We've made it clear to her that no one is perfect and that we all make mistakes from time to time and that no matter what happens we will always love her.

Time outs are usually 2-3 minutes. Afterwards we talk about why it happened and what we should do next time instead ("Instead of hitting your brother come and tell daddy that he took your toy" etc.) We give each other a hug and go back to our day.

It really has her mother and I freaked out. There is some depression on my mother's side and I worry about this being some sort of early sign of that.

I've never really heard of this type of thing in children this young before. Is anyone aware of reputable sources that discuss why this might happen and how to address it? Should we consider taking her to see a child psychiatrist? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  • How does she respond to the positive versions of these? If you emphasize "well done, you did a good job" when she succeeds at something, does she disagree with you or is she happy about it? How does she respond to "good girl?" Emphasizing positive thought patterns when she does succeed will give her more to work with for the times when she doesn't ("you don't do everything wrong, remember when you did x this morning! Or "you're not bad, sometimes you just do bad things, this morning you were good when you did x!"). People are not bad, their actions are bad. – Stacey May 19 at 23:10
  • When she's getting positive feed back in the moment she loves it. But if she's already talking herself down and you remind her about all of the wonderful things she's done it doesn't seem to get through to her. – brh May 21 at 13:33

Throughout my entire life, every time I say something self-deprecating ("I'm an idiot", etc.) around my dad, he just looks at me and says something along the lines of, "Don't talk to my daughter like that! I love her and she's great!"

I don't know that that's much of an answer, but it's always been helpful to my self-esteem and discouraged that sort of talk and thinking. That might not mean a ton, since obviously I'm older than 6, but it might be worth a try. I've watched him use this same tactic on my little brother- he used to fake punch himself or talk down to himself sort of playfully- and he stopped doing and saying bad things about himself over time. I don't know if that applies exactly, since my brother was more playing, but maybe something similar to this coupled with what you're already doing will help.

I don't really know anything about depression or have any sources or studies or anything, but there's my experience. Sorry it's not much of an answer, wish I could help more. I'm not even a parent, so maybe take it all with a grain of salt.

Good luck!

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