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Q: Our seven-year-old son is having problems with his self-esteem. He's doing well academically, is well liked by his peers, and excels in athletics. His teacher has told me that he is afraid to give an answer for fear of getting it wrong -- he becomes teary-eyed and red-faced. His teacher thinks this fear is because my son is the first-born and he could be afraid to disappoint someone.
At home I hear a lot of negative self-talk such as, "I'm stupid. I can't do this. I'm so dumb." I always reassure him and point out how well he's doing. Why is he doing this and what can I do to help him?
A: Many second-graders seem to go through a period of being perfectionists. You don't indicate how long you've been seeing this in your son, but your description sounds as if his behavior goes beyond simple perfectionism. The first-born theory is a possibility, but doesn't explain the extremes that you are seeing.
Talk with the school counselor. He may be able to give your son some individual time or include him in a small group. You will probably want to get additional help for him outside the school, and the school counselor or your pediatrician can refer you to a therapist in your community.
Be sure that you talk with your pediatrician about the behaviors you're seeing. You will want to rule out the possibility that your son may be depressed. If that is the case, however, the doctor can talk with you about addressing the depression with medication and/or therapy.
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Barbara Potts has worked as an elementary school counselor for many years. She has a BA in psychology from Wake Forest University, and an M.Ed. in Guidance and Counseling from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.