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Sometimes children start to define themselves by momentary feelings. If children feel frustrated or lonely, for example, they can be tempted to generalize this temporary feeling. Instead of saying “I feel frustrated,” they say “I am frustrated.” Instead of saying “I feel lonely,” they say “I am lonely. In the process, they start defining themselves by these temporary feeling states of mind. Kids need to understand that they are simply having a feeling in the moment. The feeling is not a permanent part of who they are.

Parents can help by reminding children and providing feedback when the situation presents itself. For example, if a second grader is having trouble doing a math worksheet at home, listen to what is said. If you hear statements like “Homework is too hard for me” or “I’m no good at math,” provide some feedback. You might say, “Sounds like you are feeling frustrated. This particular assignment must be really hard” or “Well, we know you found last night’s assignment to be easy, so maybe this assignment is just a bit harder. Are you feeling frustrated?” Even children who don’t normally struggle at school may have moments of frustration. Help them realize it is just a feeling—not a defining characteristic.

As a parent, you can help your child understand the difference between a fleeting feeling and a defining characteristic.