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My 3rd son, who is 4, is having a hard time finding words for his feelings. He says things like he's stupid or an idiot. And sometimes calls someone else that. But mostly about himself. I know he doesn't mean it. He also hits his little brother a lot. I'm wondering if you all have any advice on how I can help him. I'm going to get the book Non-violent Communication.
My son had problems with calling himself names, he even went so far as to bang his head against things.
With him I would try to guess how he was feeling and I would give him the words. He would say "I'm so stupid" and I would reply with "<description of situation> is very frustrating for you" or "It makes you <sad, angry, frustrated> when <person> does <situation>."
I tried not to argue with him by saying things like "No you're not stupid" because at that point he would say "Yes I am stupid because I <situation>" and I found it just made him internalize the word stupid as opposed moving on.
We also found that being physical helped. He would get in the back of the van (we had a big area without seats) and run around banging into the sides of things (big physical movement) or we would provide pillows to punch on (smaller controlled movement). Draven wasn't ready to put words to it for a long time. Once he was ready he needed to get it out verbally in a big way so I would encourage him to walk away from the situation and scream "THIS IS SO FRUSTRATING" as opposed to hitting someone or screaming at someone.
Arguing didn't help either of my kids, either. With Ray, it helped to shift the focus onto his imediate needs rather than whatever it was he was saying/doing -and in his case the most imediate need was generally more attention and engagement. Actually, now that I think about it, that's been true of Mo, too, although she didn't go through quite the same phase of calling herself names. She was more likely to lash out at the cat and that was my cue that I had dropped the ball and gotten wrapped up in something else.
If you do read Non-violent Communication, its important to focus on the principles rather than the specific tactics, per se, especially with little kids. For instance, lots of "I statements" can leave little ones feeling disregarded, but you can apply the principle of separating what You think and feel from what your child needs/is expressing.
My 5 year old just seems to be finishing a phase where every time he was angry/frustrated he would yell, "You are stupid, pathetic and I hate you!" The first time he did it I was so shocked and surprised, mainly with his use of the word "pathetic" that I laughed. Not a good choice as that just made him angrier. I would tell him that it is OK to be mad but calling other people names is NOT ok. I try to get both my boys to use words ex: "I do not like it when......" "Please stop...." Of course they can't control the response of the other party so then I tell them they always have the choice to remove themselves from the person/situation. Thankfully, with my 5 year old the phase seems to be petering out. :-)