My daughter thinks she’s undeserving and it breaks my heart

Last night my daughter’s homework was to plan out a letter to Santa.  She’s seven.

Section 1, write what you’d really like (a spider, a phone and an ice lolly – for real).

Section 2 describe them. Done. Watching her write is like pulling teeth or like getting blood from a stone, but she got there with some puffing.

Section 3, why do you DESERVE them?  This is where it got really hard for her.  Don’t know. No idea. She says I can’t write nice things about myself.  I can’t do it.  There’s no reason I deserve anything.  I’m not good.

To hear her talk like is shocking – my heart sinks.  I try telling her all the lovely things that she is, and does.  (She is AMAZING to me).  She says she’s not good enough and can’t write anything.  I look on in absolute terrified amazement that my 7 year old can’t think of anything about herself that is good, or why she is deserving.

Some feelings of failure as a mother creep in, but this is not productive or helpful, so I move towards telling her in practical terms she can understand why all the little things matter. It goes like this:

You bring your dishes to the kitchen sink without me asking when you’ve finished your breakfast and dinner.  You dry up when I’m washing up – that is really helpful and I appreciate it.

When you come to wake me up on a morning, you tiptoe in the room quietly and gently touch my arm or face – it’s the gentlest and nicest possible way for me to wake up and see your lovely face!

You never say mean things about other people and you care about your friends.  You try really hard with your school work even though you don’t find writing easy.  You play in all the sports teams you’re asked to play in even though you don’t always want to, and you try your best to win matches for your school.

You rarely fight with your brother, you’re kind to your brother and he knows you love him.  You’re a very happy, gentle, fun and loving person to live with.

I asked did you get some stars at school this year?  She says I only got 42.  Forty-two, I say?  Forty-two, in less than one term?  That sounds like a lot to me!  She was still a bit downbeat.

I can see that she’s struggling to accept positive feedback, but I tell her anyway and between us she manages to get something written down.  Homework takes a very long time to get through and it feels painful.

Thinking about it the next day, I’m very grateful for the homework, because I know what we need to work on.  I intend to tell her as often as possible all the wonderful things that she is and to be aware of what needs working on – framed as a positive growth mindset.  It’s a timely reminder to work on this with my son, too.

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