When Kids Punish Themselves

d sitting on rock with peaksI have from time to time, I kid you not, threatened to punish our oldest son for punishing himself.

And here, right at the start, I have to confess something. I don’t know what I’m talking about.

Generally when I write something to share with you good readers, I like to come from a position of some knowledge, personal experience, and understanding. But I simply don’t comprehend where my son’s behavior comes from, and I’m writing this in the hope that by discussing it here (and hopefully eliciting your comments) I can penetrate the murky waters of this – to me -most unfathomable phenomenon.

To be clear, my son does not engage in any form of physical self-abuse – he doesn’t cut, scratch or otherwise physically harm himself. Generally speaking. (He will, on occasion, smack himself on the head.)

He does, however, deny himself pleasure when he feels that he’s done something wrong, and is inappropriately hard on himself for minor, even accidental, behavioral infractions.d tracing foot in sand

For example. After-dinner treats in our household are contingent upon having had a good dinner – not only eating enough of what’s on the plate, but eating a variety of things as well as not making your parents ask, again and again in increasing exasperation, “Will you please eat your dinner?”

So, a fairly typical after-dinner exchange:

D [the son]: Can I have a treat? No, I didn’t finish my soup. [See how he anticipates and then self-imposes denial?]
Me: You ate almost all of it, go ahead and get yourself something.
D: But there’s still a lot left on my plate.
Me: No, D, there’s not. You had a good dinner. You can have a treat.
D: I didn’t eat all of the potatoes.
Me: Oh, fachrissakes, just get yourself a treat you whimpering, sniveling little sod! [No, no, that’s just what I’m thinking. I actually say something more along the lines of…] Well, it’s up to you. I’m telling you that it’s okay for you to have a treat, but if you don’t feel good about it, I’ll leave that decision to you.

All right, so this is a petty bit of self-inflicted atonement for a crime uncommitted. Perhaps it’s nothing more than him fishing for approval and affirmation. A minor martyr complex underpinned by shaky self-esteem.

D and G in costumes cuddlingFor example. While sword-fighting with his little brother, he accidentally cracks the midget on the cranium. Little brother begins to cry. Now here’s the thing. When I was a kid, my mind would have immediately begun spinning out stories, extenuating circumstances, justifications – the sun was in my eyes, I had a muscle spasm and the stick flew from my hand, high winds, planetary convergences, and he started it, anyway.

D, on the other hand, will begin to berate himself and even, on occasion, smack his own head in a febrile fit of self-reproach.

For example. The classic case of spilled milk. D knocks over a full glass at the dining room table, and we all jump up to grab towels and clear the mess.

He’s disconsolate, reviling himself for his stupidity and slobbering abject apologies over and over as though his mother and I are going to burn him with cigars and toss him down a well, when what we’re actually doing is telling him not to worry, accidents happen, it’s no big deal.

At times it becomes almost intolerable, this self-flagellation, and we have to say, “Look, don’t punish yourself. If you’ve done something worthy of punishment [which is almost never], we’ll punish you. That’s our job. So if we’re not punishing you, don’t punish yourself.”D throws confetti

Aha, you say. I think I’ve got it. The boy suffers from low self-esteem. Well yes, I’ve thought this before and this composition confirms in me that yes, of course he does. That’s not the question. The question is why. And the follow-up question, of course, is: How do we fix this?

The why I find difficult to uncover. We’ve never heaped him with undue praise (which actually can act to lower self-esteem). We’ve encouraged him to be independent and to take reasonable risks. We’ve allowed him to follow his own pursuits, accomplish his own tasks. We’ve done almost all of the things that the parenting experts say you’re supposed to do, instinctively and without having read any of the mountain of available advice. (The funny thing is, I only read parenting magazines and sites when I’m doing research for a post. In retrospect, maybe I should seek advice about how to build a barn door before the horse has already escaped.)

Still, as a parent, I can’t but feel that I’ve done something wrong, failed my son in some inscrutable yet important way. Perhaps I have. (But I’m not going to beat myself about the head for it, literally or metaphorically.)

backlit D with seaSo if I can’t really get a grasp on the why, how can I hope to help him? I’ve come up with three specific strategies that I plan to implement.

  1. I’m going to give him more responsibilities around the house. We’ve assigned daily and weekly chores before, but they often slip by the wayside and are forgotten. I think that when kids are given tasks and are able to carry them out, they feel responsible, confident, and accomplished.
  2. I’m going to sit down with him at least a few nights a week to study Spanish together. Not only will studying together provide us with a shared goal, but as his skills improve he will feel good about his few-found abilities.
  3. I’m going to get him into martial arts lessons. While I have a certain antipathy towards pushing kids into doing a million extra-curricular activities and believe that it’s actually detrimental to spread them too thinly, learning a skill thoroughly and performing it at a high level is a great way to feel good about yourself.

Well, I think this little exercise has been useful. If not for you, then certainly for me. Sometimes just laying something out on the page is all it takes to clarify it for you.D on climbing thing

So what do you think? Does this seem reasonable and rational or am I missing something here? Do any of your kids ever punish themselves unnecessarily? If so, what did you do? I’d love to hear your stories and, please, your advice.D jumping from rocks






58 thoughts on “When Kids Punish Themselves

  1. In that example, it’s pretty clear your child just manipulated you into allowing them to have a treat, despite not finishing their food. No offence, but that one seems obvious.

    I was the same way, when I was a kid, still am now. But I quickly learned that trying that more than once was a great GREAT way to get people to start ignoring you, and allowing you to punish yourself.

    Make sure he does it when nobody else is around, before youi make sure he’s punishing himself, and not grabbing for sympathy first. I speak from my own personal experience, because I was that way as a child.

    Yes, I have Asperger’s, but eventually I spent some time with someone who wouldn’t put up with that crap just because I was “special”, and it changed my life.


  2. Interesting, I am 42 and I punish myself physically by punching my head and face if I make a mistake, I do not do this in the presence of others but I will do it if alone. I hold an important position on a ship and I do not tolerate mistakes made by myself. As a child I detested praise and I still do but I do not suffer from feelings of inadequacy, I just do not tolerate mistakes. I do not react when angry with another person but
    I will wait and confront them when I am calm, I can be violent when necessary and I have no time for diplomacy. As a child I was not allowed to make mistakes but if I did I had to repeat whatever I had been doing until I could do it 5 or 6 times perfectly. Beware of putting your son into martial arts, he may begin to enjoy fighting with others and damaging them.


  3. I find your post very interesting because I am now 25 and remember being as young as 4 and punishing myself by not allowing myself dessert, or I would break things I made/ tear things I wrote when they weren’t exactly how I wanted them to be. My parents just laughed about it, particularly the not letting myself have dessert. My mum improved my habit of breaking things by letting me do it and showing me how much it hurt after when I was left without the thing and had to start again.

    In my teens, when I got angry at myself for failing, I began a habit of hitting my head, and now when I’m in relationships and get very stressed during arguments (for example, I can get depressed and then lash out at the person closest to me and feel angry at myself for doing this and for being useless for not being able to control my mood), I sometimes hit my head or other parts of my body or punch the wall until my hands are bruised.

    I’m not saying this to worry you but I feel that, for me personally, the behaviours are linked, since it is about me not being good enough and hating myself for this. When other people try to be nice to me it is almost worse and sometimes I say cruel things just so they will shout at me. Anyway, the idea that this is just a phase, as one person suggested, should be treated with caution. I’m in the process of seeking help but have not yet had the chance to be diagnosed with anything and don’t know if I just struggle with the world and this is part of the effect of being ambitious and an over-achiever, or if I have a mental illness.
    I think the only thing that my parents could have done (and they did try to, I think) was to teach me to love myself a bit more and maybe make me feel good just for being me, rather than that to be a good person I had to achieve something amazing, but that being average and just happy was also ok.
    I also wish that they hadn’t just seen me try to punish myself as some silly childhood thing. They don’t know that I still self-harm and so laugh about it sometimes.

    So, I guess my advice is to take it seriously (but don’t over-worry). Don’t be afraid to talk to your kid about it and be aware that such behaviours might develop into other negative habits when he is older and has to deal with more stress and so to create an environment in which your children feel able to talk to you about these things – be that sexuality to mental illness. But, as a parent, you can’t fix everything. Some of these things we’re born with and so much of our environment is outside of the home (school can be a breeding ground for negative coping mechanisms!).


    • Wow, balooinblue, thanks for sharing that with us. Yours is a really interesting story – I don’t even know where to start. It’s disheartening to hear that this has continued into adulthood for you, and I hope that you get some help if you need it. I think it’s difficult for everyone – but particularly for perfectionists – to ask for help, and that’s something we all struggle with. Thanks so much for your advice and for leaving your thoughts. I really appreciate it. Best of luck, and please report back if you find any coping mechanisms that you could share. Cheers!


  4. Sounds to me like your son has a very rigid and dogmatic interpretation of your generally good intention that it is not healthy to receive reward without doing something first.

    I do not know how many three year olds can read between a parent’s lines, but I would not be surprised if it were less than 100%. So, you may need to explain gently and constructively that you do not literally mean everything you say.

    One wacky possibility is that your son lies somewhere on the autistic spectrum, most likely Aspergers. There was a book written 50 odd years ago by parents of a more severely autistic child who actually responded really well to being spanked hard. The parents were terrified the first time they did it, but found that it stopped the yelling in ways that silence or reasoning never did. And their daughter started opening up much more. So maybe your wacky idea might have legs, in moderation, if your son were Aspergers?


    • Thanks for reading and leaving your thoughts. My son still has this tendency, but it’s certainly not as strong as it once was. I think he’s learning to ease up on himself. I’m pretty sure he’s not on the autistic spectrum, and I definitely have no intention of spanking him. Ever. I appreciate you taking the time to leave your ideas, though!


  5. my three year old daughter puts herself in timeout to avoid having to pick up her toys. We ask her to pick them up, try and make it a game but nothing works. She hates picking up her toys, knows that it will eventually end up in time out, so heads us off by putting herself in timeout. HELP!


  6. My daughter is very similar to how you describe. I found the book “Mindset” by Carol Dweck to be very helpful in reinforcing a growth mindset rather than the fixed mindset that my daughter naturally gravitates towards. I highly recommend the book. It has a lot of great advice, such as avoiding telling her she is “smart” and instead applauding her efforts. We also try to emphasize that failure/mistakes are an important part of learning, and ask her every day to try to think of a mistake she made that allowed her to learn something. It’s an ongoing process for all of us, but the ideas in the book have been tremendously helpful.


  7. My son has been doing this for a couple of years. He started at 4 and in the beginning he would say terrible things like he wanted to die and even went to the extent of wrapping a sweatshirt around his neck and pulling tight. I was am very scared of what, why and how this all came to be I have learned that he would ride the bus home with his sister and some of the kids picked on him and threatened to throw him off the bus. I talked to the driver and stopped any further bullying there. And then we had a boy at the babysitters that was being mean and picking on him. I put a stop to that. He now only punished himself and there is not much talk of harming himself. But his behavior now is to throw his favorite in the garbage. I have tried so many things and still trying. I am going to go see a child psychiatrist now. I am at my wits end.


    • Someone he can talk openly with is probably a good thing if you’ve run out of options and ideas on your own. It’s always a good idea to get help if you’re at a loss. Sounds like he’s headed in the right direction, though. I suppose the best thing to do is give him loads of love and support, from as many sources as possible.
      Best of luck to you and your boy. I’m sure everything will turn out fine. It almost always does.


  8. Hi, I have experienced the same lately with my really bright, thoughtful 8 1/2 year old. Here is our plan in 2 steps
    1) She needs more one on one attention. Thankfully she is outwardly expressing it … which is most likely a cry for help/attention… My husband and I are taking turns giving her at least 10 minutes a day of uninterrupted time… meaning no phones, no laptop.. (this goes for us as well as her) nada. 2) We are teaching and explaining the benefits and need to be “impeccable with your word”… If you have ever read The Four Agreements, I believe it is agreement number 2… this is a quick cliff notes – ish page to the agreement.


    So far it is working… we had a little breakthrough tonight actually where she even talked about why she was feeling the way she was 🙂 Best Luck!!!


    • Hi, thanks for visiting and leaving your own experiences. It’s great to see that you have a plan, and that it seems to be working! Spending time with the kids definitely helps – during the summer I’m with them all day long, and they clearly appreciate it. Our oldest is getting better about dealing with his perfectionism and allowing himself to make mistakes, but it’s a process.

      I’d never heard of the Four Agreements – interesting stuff. I’ll have to give it a more careful read a bit later. Anyway, best of luck to you too, and thanks again for visiting!


  9. Thank you for writing about this. I see a lot of the same thing in my oldest, too. Definitely explore the perfectionist angle. I think your action steps to build his self esteem is spot on, too. And it sounds like you’re appropriately modeling how to deal with your own mistakes, too, from what I’ve read in this post. Thanks for sharing. I look forward to hearing more of the journey!


  10. Perhaps I can say that I understand your son’s behaviour, more because I see it as a reflection of my own old self growing up. Now a dad of a beautiful 1 year old baby girl, I promised that I’ll let her be the way she wants to be, without ever undermining or restricting any of her choices. Not that I wasn’t lucky in my age with any of these, but may be I was late in introspection. I also realised that I was a natural in camouflaging this to avoid parent detection. But you already know and that might be the biggest help your son has received, already. I think all that is required here is some good buddy talks (better than dad-son talks), drives, camping. Anything that he likes doing in particular? Well that’s what he needs to do. And nothing beats when you are with him while he does it.


  11. Thank you for the post.
    I too have a similar issue with my son, now nine years old. Before his two sisters were born it wasn’t much of an issue. Now that he has two little sisters he seems to blow everything he does wrong out of proportion. I really beat myself up at the end of the day and wonder if i am too rough on my son when he does do wrong.
    We also signed up my son for soccer this upcoming fall and hope that maybe he just needs a place to express himself a little more.
    Please update us on how the steps you have taken work out.
    Enjoy the site.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This is a tough one. Perhaps participating in an activity where mistakes can be made and unmade – I was thinking pottery might be useful, because you get multiple attempts to make it just the way you want, and each attempt is a learning experience. I know I was very sensitive as a child, and would break down in tears if I even thought I had disappointed my parents, and then people would ask me why I was crying and then I would cry even harder because they said I was sensitive and I shouldn’t cry.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I have a 2.5 year old son. I have found that bed time is the most calm and serene time for us. We have long chats before he drifts off to sleep. So I kind of blend the message I want to convey into a story, night after night. (So he knows what “Bruno” did when he was in the mall etc) And then one day I find him reminding himself of the moral of the story when opportunity comes..
    I think you must try weaving a story when you have a peaceful one on one time and reiterate that it is ok to fail and that all great people have failed more than once..

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I don’t know how I missed this post until now. I’m sorry to hear you’re have a difficult time with your son. Seems that you’re already moving in the right direction with him, to help in through this stage of his development in the best way possible. As parents, most of us blame ourselves. Of course we must have done something to screw up our kid at some point without realizing it, resulting in the current challenge at hand.

    In my own experience with our son (almost 8 yrs old), we’ve struggled since he was about 3. He’s extremely willful and inflexible. Everything is a HUGE deal at certain moments and my husband and I sort of just blink at each other as if to say What the HELL is happening here? Why is he freaking out? After having him evaluated professionally just to make sure we weren’t missing something important, we came up with this: This is his personality. I do think it’s important to consider that much of a child’s behavior is hard-wired.

    We found the book – Transforming the Difficult Child: The Nurtured Heart Approach by Howard Glasser and Jennifer Easley, very helpful when we adhere to the recommendations. It’s a decent amount of reading but well worth it.

    Also, do you find that he’s behaving this way in school? I often found myself hoping that my son’s teacher would say that he had a meltdown in class and then guide me on how to respond, but in a school setting and amongst his friends he’s as good as you’d hope your kid would be. Sometimes I think kids save certain aspects of their personalities for their parents, which is good bc it means they know how to – and more importantly, how not to – behave. Maybe you’d like to see what his teachers have to say about it?

    Best of luck. It’s not always easy. Either way, all your effort to help him along reinforces how much you love him.


  15. Hello MM. This is intimate stuff and a great conversation you have opened up here.
    Could D be punishing himself to prevent you from doing so? It’s evident from reading you for a while that you have a relaxed, loving parental style and perhaps D values this so much he doesn’t want to have to face the spectre of disapproval from you…or indeed, anyone. He may be one of the legion who don’t like conflict or disapproval.
    I was thinking about an incident in my childhood just a few days ago where I made myself more upset than I was after I accidentally damaged something so that my much-loved mother would not scold me (I realised when I was older that of course she wowuldn’t have anyway). It is a slightly different situation but I throw it into the mix here in case it has some bearing. I like what Amy said about how he is probably much more forgiving of others than of himself. Would it be worth asking him, when he wants to punish himself, how he would respond if a good friend had done what he’d done? Or how that friend would respond.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. My twins are just 3 years old and punishing themselves is not even a concept they know yet. But I don’t know if it is wrong or right may be just mirroring his behaviour for a week or so might help. Like if you start mock punishing yourself for the most ridiculous things, like dropping a fork or something, time and again. May be he will see that you really don’t have to be so perfect. Just saying

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I suspect that someone outside of your immediate unit is or has given him cause to have low self esteem. I think he is telling you by way of third person when speaking out loud to himself or pointing it out to you. Eg soup.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. None of my kids exhibit this behavior – although both my boys frequently bopped themselves on the head for no apparent reason – but I grew up pretty much doing just as your son does. I felt an internal need to be perfect at all times. That didn’t seem to come from anything my parents did, or didn’t do, it came from inside. I was the best at punishing myself for what I saw as failure. I was terrified of failure and the embarrassment I thought it would bring. Heaven forbid anyone figure out I wasn’t perfect. Teaching him, though the activities you have planned, it’s okay to fail, it’s okay to be wrong, it’s okay to not be perfect, is a great route to take. I think you handled the dinner and treat situation perfectly with that in mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, rgemom! Our son is, indeed, absolutely terrified of failure, which makes him avoid activities that are new or difficult. I guess we’ll just keep trying to teach him that we all fail at times, and he’s no different. Thanks for reading the post and sharing your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

  19. I reckon it is a bit of a phase he is going through and certainly nothing to worry about. I have seen similar behaviour with two of my daughters at various times at a similar age. As a secondary (high school) teacher l do come across this behaviour in older kids – but they tend to be on the autistic spectrum. Your son aint autistic,Mat.At their age, understanding where they are coming from is bloody hard!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Autism has never even been a consideration, cravenology, so no worries there. It’s not that I’m so concerned about this, it’s just that I’d like to understand it better and do what I can to ease his obvious distress.

      I would consider it a phase if he hadn’t always been like this. Pensive and purgatorial. Wound tightly and tense. I suppose it’s just his personality, but it just seems a boy of eight should be more easygoing and light-of-heart. But really, he’s a great kid, and my concerns are probably unnecessarily exaggerated.

      Thanks for taking the time to give it a read and share your thoughts – I appreciate it!


  20. I just love the pictures of him, especially the one by the water! My father the child psychologist would probably say he has an “overdeveloped Id”, (I think it’s the Id that makes us feel like we don’t deserve good things etc, may be the ego?) anyway, it does sound like you’re doing the right things – are there any good counselors you could talk to who may have some more concrete advice? It’s hard when we see our kids being so hard on themselves – I am sure he is much more forgiving of others and maybe if you continue to also point that out to him. You seem like a great Dad and I’m very impressed with your willingness so share and seek advice!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Amy! Thanks for appreciating the pictures – it was late at night and I didn’t spend too much time choosing them, but I went for ones that more or less showed him as a brooding, introspective loner. Which, I suppose, he largely is.

      Not much of a Freudian psychoanalyst myself, I couldn’t say much about my son’s ‘id’, but his super-ego – the critical and moralizing bit – seems somewhat overdeveloped. (I, on the other hand, have always had a bit of an out-sized id, falling back mostly on my baser, instinctual self, particularly in university. 🙂 )

      I hate to see D being hard on himself (that’s my job and it steals my thunder), but I don’t think we’re quite ready for professional help or Prozac. The fact is, he’s a sweet, sensitive, intelligent boy who just happens to beat himself up more than is strictly necessary. I feel he’ll grow out of it. If not, I can probably just beat it out of him. A great dad? I aspire to be one. Am I succeeding? Only time will tell. In the meantime, I’ll just keep plugging along, groping my way through this whole parenting thing, and teaching my kids anything and everything I know about the world. Which isn’t much. But it’s a start.


  21. My son is 2 and is already starting to put himself in timeout if he sees Im unhappy about something that has happened, even if I don’t chastise him.. I may have a perfectionist on my hands or a child who needs to make mom proud at all times…I am a big believer in a balance between nature&nurture and I think personality is mostly nature…I will just continue to let him know that time out is not always necessary and that I will always be proud of him & love him…it will be easier for me (I hope) once he becomes more verbal. We will see!


    • Two seems pretty early to be putting himself in timeout, but no need to worry, I should think. Worrying too much about your kids appears to be a common illness these days, but I think your attitude is perfect (for what it’s worth), and from what you’ve written you sound a level-headed and sensible mom.

      Regarding personality traits, you might enjoy reading this one: https://fieldnotesfromfatherhood.com/2013/10/17/happy-sad-shy-glad-is-personality-pre-programmed/

      Thanks for the read and for leaving your thoughts, Ashly. Two is a great age, but it only gets better!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Loved the article! I will have to wait until my kids are a little older but as of my current situation my 2-year old and 10-m old are very different personalities. My oldest having always been mild tempered, never crying or fussing and my youngest is ready (at a moments notice) to scream&cry…my oldest will ask “What’s wrong, sissy?” But if she keeps on he simply leaves the room without any fuss. Lol. I love them both but I can already see I have polar opposites on my hands. Please keep us informed on your journey with your boy..I’m very interested as it looks like I will be dealing with a similar situation!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Well, Tiefsa, there’s nothing like a good whooping to put kids in a remorseful frame of mind. I’m kidding of course. No, really.

      It’s hard when kids are at the red or violet ends of the spectrum. Hey, I’m all for rainbows, but I always aim for yellow, green, or blue. It’s all about balance in all things, I think.


  22. Thanks for sharing this piece of your life. Our 7 year old will berate himself over his writing. His handwriting is poor at best, and we’ve been working on it with him. Backwards letters, no spacing or punctuation, and sloppy as the day is long. We gently direct him as he is writing. But when he realizes his own mistakes he’ll hit himself on the head a few times, growl about, gets visibly frustrated, angry or upset. He’s currently learning to ice skate and he’s the same way. Every time he falls he growls and pounds the ice like it was the ice’s fault he fell. Though I guess that’s a bit different because he’s taking it out on the ice instead of himself. The only thing I can think to do is keep gently reminding him how to do it. Have patience with him. Whenever I read the word “Perfectionist” I read OCD. I have taught many a student who were OCD and if things weren’t exactly so they would be upset. Some would get angry and yell. Some would sit and cry. Some would scold themselves. As their teacher, the only thing I could do would be talk to them and try to help them fix the “problem” or at least calm them down and talk them through fixing it. How does D react when he gets it right? Does he get as excited about doing “perfect” as he gets down about not? (I’m guessing not because “perfect” is his standard so in his mind he’s simply doing what he’s supposed to be doing… but I’m speculating here). Our 7 year old won’t punish himself when he actually does do something wrong, but he will try to punish his 3 year old brother. I have to remind him that he’s not the dad, I’m the dad, he’s not allowed to punish. Sorry for the long comment…. I can relate to your dilemma and I hope you find your way through it together successfully.


    • Hey, Stomperdad. Well, first of all, let me thank you for leaving such thorough and thoughtful comments. Secondly, what the hell is this whole hitting yourself thing? Both of our kids do it – when he was a toddler, our youngest would bang his head on the floor or furniture when he was angry. It was both harrowing and hilarious.
      I don’t imagine D is OCD – he doesn’t exhibit any of the signs, really, but he does get upset when he tries and fails. D is very blase about getting things right – as you say, he’s only doing what he feels he’s supposed to be doing. That is an excellent point I’d not considered. D also bosses his younger brother around – not exactly trying to punish him, but acting as a proxy for what he thinks I would say or do in a given situation.
      No doubt we’ll be fine. It’s not really a big problem, just something I find very curious. I’d like to see him lighten up a bit.
      Again, thanks for sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

  23. This is so interesting, it must be so confusing as a parent to deal with this issue! I don’t have kids, so I can only speak from my own experience, when I was a kid, and from seeing my siblings grow up… I think children go through the weirdest phases, which at the time seem really intense for them and for their parents, but these are usually things that they somehow deal with and move on. I remember having the weirdest issues and thoughts for absolutely no reason when I was a kid&teenager, and then after a while, they were just gone, I got over them, moved onto the next problem 🙂 There is probably no one solution to this, but the things you wrote down sound pretty good… and I agree with others here, he sounds like he is a perfectionist (which is not a bad thing), so he probably needs a chilled, relaxed environment, because he puts enough pressure on himself, he doesn’t need it from outside as well 🙂


    • That’s excellent advice, Greti. We’re a pretty laid back household – I’m a fairly easygoing person as I’m sure you remember, but also prone to getting really stressed out, as I’m sure you also remember. 😉 You make an excellent point that he puts enough pressure on himself. Thanks for the reminder!


  24. Feel your frustration! Matthew (11) goes in spurts with this sort of behavior. Puts me in a RAGE! His “go to” behavior is calling himself stupid. He has, in extream bouts if frustration, been self injurious! Clawing his face and punching his head! I can usually stay calm an discuss rationally…other times not so much! I think for Matt its anxiety!


  25. Everything you’ve said in order to address this sounds great. I think you’re doing all the right things. I have 5 year-old twins. The girl is fun-loving and takes everything in her stride. Her twin brother is much more intense and can be hard on himself… I think he had two ‘accidents’ while potty-training and he cried with disappointment. I don’t know where it came from. Whenever they break something (even something expensive). I stipulate it was accident, let it go. It feels quite unusual to raise a child with a personality type different to your own. My son is more like my husband. I just try to respect what makes him tick and what’s important to him.
    It sounds like your little boy is just unsure about whether he deserves these things right now and I think its great that he can be so open with you.
    Sorry I don’t have any great advice, except when in doubt issue a hug. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hugs are standard issue in this family, but while he’ll let himself he hugged, he’s not much of a hugger-backer. Anyway, hopefully we can boost his confidence a bit and get him to lighten up. He’s the most serious-minded kid I think I’ve ever met.
      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, Olivia!


  26. Thanx for sharing. To me, he is a perfectionist and although this might seem good, sometimes it is not; as he has to learn that it is good the way it is. Sorry for my English. I am from Madrid, Spain. And by the way, if you need help when learning spanish, here I am.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you’re absolutely right – he’s a complete perfectionist. We tell him all the time not to let perfect be the enemy of good, but he gets upset when something isn’t perfect.
      By they way, we live in Sitges, and please do not apologize for your English – It’s far better than my Spanish. But I’m working on it!

      Liked by 1 person

  27. Thank you for sharing. I have no answers or advice, only a sense of gratitude that you are willing to share. This is not easy. Different kids under the same parenting develop different habitual behaviour patterns. Becoming an adult human is a messy process.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. I can relate. My oldest was 2 years old when she put herself on a time out. She’s now 15 and still struggles with “disappointing mom”…but I’m never disappointed. She has such high standards and expectations of everything, Time and time again, we have talks about as long as she’s doing the best that she can, I’m happy. And be a kid…for goodness sake! Get into a little trouble!! LOL


  29. My daughter sounds a lot like your son. She is constantly seeking approval and berates herself if she doesn’t feel she has met “expectations.” I am trying to start a meditation practice with her to help her detach from these negative emotions.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Sounds to me like he might be a perfectionist. Not just in terms of doing tasks the way they are in his head (drawing, building etc) but also in how he views his actions. As if he should be perfect all the time. Maybe do some reading about the perfectionist child amongst the other resources you’re tapping?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh man, FMNZ, he’s a complete perfectionist. Homework time is fraught – he has to do everything perfectly and is reduced to tears if he makes a mistake. I can’t believe I didn’t investigate this line. But that’s what I’m going to do right now. Thanks for the suggestion (and the comments)!


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