Inside: When your tween feels sorry for themselves, help your tween get past the poor me mentality and strengthen their mental health. This is especially important for our special needs tweens.
My son padded downstairs in his footy pajamas and before I could get frustrated with him for coming downstairs yet again, he had something he had to tell me.
His big sister was just in his room and she was crying. She told him she has a really hard life. She told him that he didn’t understand how hard her life was. That she has the hardest life.
Woah. I stopped what I was in the middle of and headed up to her room.
Now my daughter’s statement wasn’t fully unfounded. She was dealt a rougher hand than most kids.
She has a rare genetic condition that drastically impairs her vision. Because of her low vision, and her very innocent, naive nature, she gets taken advantage by kids. She gets teased. And she gets bullied.
But this day that she declared she had “the hardest life ever” should have been a great day for her. It was the last day before winter break. She had a holiday party in her class that both her dad and I attended. And, Christmas was in four days.
But she wasn’t excited for any of it. She didn’t have what could have been and what should have been a great day. She wasn’t able to see the good stuff.
Instead, she was focused on the fact that after the class party, something very important to her–but of no monetary value–was stolen out of her desk.
She was focused on the fact that because she had to sit close to the board to watch a video, the teacher didn’t see the girl who kept jabbing her in the back with her the heel of her shoe.
And she was focused on her disability being the cause of all of her problems. Her declaration of “I have the hardest life” was followed up with “because of my special needs.”
And I can’t lie. Some days, I do feel sorry for her.
Life isn’t fair, and if I could take away her vision impairment, I would. I want her to see the world as others see it. I want her to pick up a regular book and be able to read it. And I want her to not have to sit in the front of movie theaters and classrooms.
But I will not–and can not–let her feel sorry for herself.
But she doesn’t yet have the emotional skills to pull herself out of her pity party. And it can quickly lead to a dark, and depressive spiral.
Protecting My Daughter’s Mental Health by Changing her Self-Talk
To ensure the safety of her mental health, we have to make sure that this negative self-talk about how hard her life is because she has special needs does not become her inner thoughts and daily self-talk.
The hard days cannot get the spotlight in her life and become her reality.
She has to learn how to focus on the good stuff. The good things in her life. The truly remarkable parts of her life.
She has to realize how lucky she is:
- Her hearing is perfect so she can listen to her favorite music.
- Her legs work and allow her to twirl and dance and leap around the house.
- Her hands work so she can draw and hold my hand and make her craft projects.
- She is healthy. She has never been hospitalized, never had surgery and never had a broken bone or a stitch in her body.
And even though her eyes don’t work “perfectly,” she can see the world around her. She can read books, and see art, and watch movies.
So I can’t let her have a poor me mentality. She has way too much going for her in life to let her think her life is too hard.
Being in a cushy suburban home surrounded by the things she needs and wants has shielded her from understanding what “hard” really means.
- Hard is not having a home or food to fill your belly.
- Hard is being sick and fighting daily for your life.
- Hard is watching your parents fight a terminal illness and saying goodbye way too early.
- Hard is living in a place or time where you can’t live the life you want because of what you look like.
My daughter’s life is not hard. Far from it.
And I need to help her see that. I need her to know it down to her core.
It has to become her new inner monologue.
How to Shift Kids’ Focus to Be More Grateful for Their Life
Here are six things we’re doing to help my tween focus on the good in her life rather than feeling sorry for herself.
1. Allow her to be sad, but not to pity herself.
We talk often how it’s okay to be sad about her eyes and low vision and not being able to see something we can all see.
It’s okay to be mad about the bullies in her life or when kids treat her poorly.
And it’s okay to cry about it.
But it’s not okay to feel like the world is an awful place and her life sucks because of it. It’s not okay to think or say the words: “My life is so hard because of my special needs.”
That shite has to stop now.
2. Gratitude Journal
To focus on all the good things in her life, we’ve started a Gratitude Journal.
Every night, she writes three things that she’s grateful for.
Yes, that day something was stolen and a kid was physically hurting her. But it was also the first day of winter break. And she had her class party which she loved. And Santa was coming in four days.
There were definitely crummy parts of her day. But she is in control of what she focuses on. She could focus on the bad. OR, she could focus on all the good and great in her life.
3. Teach her to advocate for herself.
I don’t want my daughter to suffer. No mom does. So my instinct is to sweep in and fix the problems for her.
I wanted to write the teacher five minutes into winter break and demand that this new bullying situation be addressed immediately. I wanted my daughter’s stolen item returned and the class reprimanded and lectured about trustworthiness and honesty.
But instead, I took a deep breath to calm my Mama Bear fury and we came up with a plan. I pushed past my overwhelming desire to punch the kid who was kicking her and I helped my daughter craft an email to her teacher.
My daughter asked her teacher to help her find her stolen item and wants to be moved away from the girl who was kicking her. She wrote the words. And she will send the email in a few days.
We also talked about taking better care of things that are important to her and to keep things that she values in a safe place.
Having something stolen when the stakes are low will teach her now to keep her adult wallet and car keys somewhere safe when she’s older.
But most importantly, I want to empower her to take control of her crummy days and crummy situations.
I want her to feel like she can dig herself out of bad moments rather than being a passive victim on this rollercoaster of life.
4. Tell her a story that showcases how lucky she is.
I told my daughter about the day my husband and I took her to the Children’s Hospital at three months old to be diagnosed.
We had no idea what was going on, but we knew something was wrong. As my husband and I walked through the lobby of the hospital, we looked at our daughter and looked at each other and whispered that no matter what her diagnosis was, we were lucky.
The medical issues and conditions other kids and their parents face on a daily basis put it all in perspective for us. And perspective is everything.
We’ll take low vision over another diagnosis any day.
5. Encourage her to participate in volunteering or a service project.
Helping others who have less can be a visceral reminder that we have more than most.
She has a home. She has food. She has an incredible school with tons of supplies and art and music. We are all healthy. She has everything she needs and most of what she wants.
If she wants for nothing, it’s time to give to others.
She volunteers and gives service to others in several ways:
- collects food and Girl Scout cookies for our local food bank
- collects soda pop tabs for the Ronald McDonald House to pay for families to stay
- picks out toys for kids at the holidays on angel trees
- collects books and art supplies and donates them to kids in lower income neighborhoods
- gives her dinner leftovers to the man sitting on the corner
Helping others allows her to see just how lucky she is. Feeling lucky and grateful vaccinates her against self-doubt, negative self-talk, and self-pity.
6. Give her extra special time to connect and do something you rarely do together
After talking with her last night, and holding her hand, and wiping away her tears, I did something I almost never do with her.
I kicked off my slippers and crawled into bed with her.
We snuggled and I let her fall asleep with her lanky body draped over mine. And that would’ve been enough because I rarely stay with her until she falls asleep.
I crept out of her room once she finally fell asleep. But two hours later when I was headed to bed, I went back into her room and crawled into bed with her.
She would want to wake up next to me. She would want to know that I was there next to her all night.
And I was right.
When she woke up, she rolled over and draped her arm back over me with a wide smile. I thanked her for our Mommy-Daughter sleepover and she beamed.
Today, she’s been singing and twirling and leaping through the house. And she told everyone who would listen about our sleepover.
Mission accomplished. Shift in mindset accomplished. Happiness restored.
But I know that ensuring her strong mental health and positive mindset is going to be a constant and ongoing project.
Bigger kids, bigger problems. So I know that as she gets older, things are going to get tougher.
But if she’s equipped with the right mindset, she’ll overcome it all and thrive in life. She will not get bogged down by the negative parts of her childhood or her disability or let the bullies break her spirit.
And that, plus our Mommy-Daughter sleepovers, will get us through.
How do you help your tween or special needs tween deal with disappointment and mental health?