Parenting Dilemmas: Tom and Kathy

Ready to Call Time-Out

"My son is too hard on himself. He puts too much pressure on himself," says Tom of his 8-year-old. "In every sport we have trouble."


Kathy, Tom's wife, agrees that their son is a perfectionist when it comes to sports. "When he was in baseball, if he struck out, he would hang his head and drag his bat like he had been defeated. In the basketball game, the first one of the season that they lost, he would not high-five the other team," she shares. "[He] will make faces where you can see that he's angry. It is very wrenching for me to see him, at a young age, be so upset over a game."


Tom feels that his son's desire to always come out on top is putting a strain on the whole family. "[He] is so competitive you don't want to sit down and play a board game with him," he says. "Even when Kathy and I are driving home in separate vehicles, [he'll say], â€˜Dad, get ahead of Mom. Dad, get ahead of Mom. We've got to beat Mom.' Everything is like that, really highly competitive."


Kathy worries that her son's need to be number one affects his self-esteem. "Two days ago, I found a notebook where he had written that he was stupid, and that he was dumb, and it continued for 22 pages. It broke my heart. It did. I felt like I had failed him," she reveals.  


Tom says he was floored when he read the writings. "My jaw was hanging. I couldn't believe it. He wrote, ‘I'm dumb. I'm stupid. I don't know what zero plus zero is.' I was stunned," he shares. "The boy is excellent in school, and he's an excellent athlete, and for some reason, he thinks he isn't, and that scares me."


Tom acknowledges that his actions may be influencing his son's behavior. "It's partially, if not all, my fault," he admits. "I put myself down a lot. I'm overweight, I've pretty much lost my hair, and I'm always saying bad things about myself. I'm setting a bad example. I know I am, and I can't help it. I've done that my whole life."

Dr. Phil reminds the couple that the most important role model in a child's life is the same-sex parent. "You have an amazing young man here," he says. "Let's just not focus on the negatives. Let's recognize that we just have a category of behavior here that is causing him some pain and you some pain." Dr. Phil asks Tom about the behavior he models in front of his son.

"I do put myself down too much," he admits, explaining that he often calls himself stupid. "I don't mean it literally, but I think he takes it as such."

Dr. Phil explains that kids hear what their parents say, and they're always watching their actions. "They don't miss a thing, and if they see you getting exasperated, then because you're their role model, they start to internalize the things that they see you do," he says. "Words are very powerful things, and kids that age don't have a great ability to separate reality and fantasy. It just kind of all blurs together for them. Kids tend to learn to live their labels."


Dr. Phil tells the couple that their son's internal dialogue is probably very similar to what Tom says to himself. They should have a good sense of what he repeats in his head now that they have seen what he has written in his notebook. "That's what he says to himself. Those are the labels that he lives to," he says. Addressing Tom, he says, "Don't think that just because you don't really think you're stupid, just because you don't really think you have a 45 I.Q., that saying it doesn't impair your ability to function and model it for him."

Dr. Phil suggests the parents sit down with their son and try and change his internal dialogue. They must make sure they have the conversation at a calm time, not after he has lost a game. "You've got to do more than tell your child what not to do," he explains. "You've got to tell him what to do." If he has lost a game, they should discuss with
him three things he did well and two things they can work on to do better. He tells the couple that he coached his sons in basketball for 14 years. "When they came off the court, I would always say, ‘You should be really proud of yourself, and Dad's proud of you, but you should proud of yourself. You worked hard, you played hard. You should be proud of that.' Teach them to not validate themselves by your approval," he explains. Dr. Phil also suggests that they role play with their son, asking him to act as if he lost a game. "Get him to behave his way to success," he says.


Dr. Phil repeats the steps Tom and Kathy can take to help their son change his attitude. "Change

his internal dialogue, model different things and get him to validate himself from the inside out instead of the outside in." He assures the couple that he will respond quickly to their new plan. He also suggests Tom read Self Matters, so that he can change his internal dialogue as well.