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Help! My Child Thinks They are a “Bad Kid”

 Written by John Danial, Ph.D.



As a parent, you dread the reports from school. It seems like every day you hear how your child kept blurting out in class, hit another kid, needed to be put on timeout, or whatever else the issue of the day may be. There’s so much you’ve tried already: you’ve already had countless conversations, taken away screen time, yelled from exasperation, but nothing seems to work. What’s worse, teachers, other kids and sometimes even family all seem fed up with your child.


You see how much your child wants to connect and please others, but they just end up in trouble or feeling left out. You are starting to notice how much negative feedback your child gets. Kids stay away, adults have low patience, and consequences happen daily. You may even have heard your child refer to themselves as a “bad” kid.


The truth is many kids with developmental differences, learning challenges, or struggles with impulse control often get the message they are “bad,” when in fact the environment and people around them aren’t set up to best meet their needs.


Luckily, there are many things you can do as a parent to help address challenges your child may be facing while highlighting all of the strengths and positive qualities that make them so unique. Here are some tips that can help!


  1. Behavior is overrated!

This may be controversial to say. Of course, behavior is so important, and kids need to learn what behaviors are acceptable and what behaviors are not acceptable in different circumstances. However, as adults, we have a tendency to overly focus on behavior. If the child can just “act right” then there is no problem. Good behaviors get lots of positive attention and “bad” behaviors get scoldings, consequences, eyerolls and scoffs. It is easy to see how children who have trouble managing their behavior often end up feeling that they themselves are “bad.”


The problem with solely focusing on behavior is that kids rarely learn to attune to the internal responses, thoughts, and emotions that often lead to their behaviors in the first place. It can often feel much easier to tell our kids what to do than it is to help them learn to recognize and name their emotions.


As a parent, it can be important to give yourself permission to not correct each behavior. Especially for kids with behavioral difficulties, constant correction quickly adds up and can lead kids to either “check out” or can contribute to low self-esteem. Instead of lecturing about why not to do a certain behavior or scolding for what they are doing, you can try finding appropriate moments to redirect your child to another activity or conversation.


Of course, some behaviors are more easily redirectable while others need to be addressed more directly. The tip here is to pause and reflect on which approach will be best in a given situation.


  1. Connection before correction


As mentioned above, there will be plenty of times where behavior needs to be corrected or addressed directly. However, the best way to do that effectively is to first connect to the way your child is feeling. This can be done for things that may have happened earlier in the day (ex. what you were told happened at school), or things that are happening right now in the moment. By connecting to your child’s emotions and experience, you are helping foster two important messages. First, you are helping your child learn how to recognize and express emotions. Secondly, you are modeling that you don’t just care about what they “do,” but instead value supporting them in how they are feeling.


So how can you do this? One great way to start is practicing narrating how your child may be feeling (or may have felt if the situation is over). For example, a parent discussing an incident where their child hit a peer after the peer said a mean comment: the parent may first start by saying, “wow, that must have made you feel really upset when ____ said that to you. It’s so hard to hear mean things like that.” Spending some time ensuring your child knows you understand what they are going through can help them feel heard and encourage more participation in exploring ways to better cope in the future.


  1. Consider a psychoeducational evaluation and therapy services


Many times, a child struggling with managing behaviors and emotions is really dealing with a deeper root cause. Understanding how your child’s unique development is progressing, including information about their cognitive, social, academic, and executive functioning can help you better connect with why these behaviors may be occurring. When you can put the behaviors you are observing in this context, it can help you as a parent shift from thinking, “they are so rude, being stubborn and oppositional” to “they need more time to process when it’s time to change activities.” This will help you feel more confident in supporting your child’s growth and development. Importantly, it can also help inform their school on ways they can best accommodate your child. Considering psychological testing can be an important way to better understand your child’s unique needs. 


Therapy services can be another helpful resource to better support your child as well as your whole family. Finding a therapist that provides child therapy and emphasizes the importance of fostering self-esteem and working with the whole family can provide a meaningful way to help you and your child build confidence in managing behavioral struggles.


I hope you find these tips helpful. Remember, you are exactly the parent your child needs!

Written by,

John Danial, Ph.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist




Dr Danial is the Clinical Director at Simi Psychological Group is a psychology group practice in Simi Valley. Dr. Danial specializes in Child therapy, and offers a social skills group for kids ages 9 through 11.

Simi Psychological Group offers an array of therapy services including Teen therapy, Trauma Therapy, and Group Therapy and much more. Their mission is to reach the true root of your struggles so you can create real lasting change in you and your family’s lives. They know you have full control to live the life you want and deserve, which will then ripple into our community and the world.  Contact Simi Psychological Group today for more information: (805) 842-1994.

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