I was relieved to see that this new video from Jean Tracy’s KidsDiscuss.com project steers clear of advising parents to capitulate to their children’s self-pity parties (say, on grounds that self-esteem is my child’s greatest asset). But it doesn’t exactly stop self-pity in its tracks, either—or at least, Tracy and I disagree on what effectively halts self-pity. Cutting a middle road, Character Building: How Parents Help Kids Rise Above Self-Pity identifies “grumpiness,” “sadness,” “whining,” and viewing oneself as a victim as marks of self-pity before prescribing five steps to curtailing such “mind monsters”:
Talk with your child (ask questions to understand, listen well, show you care about feelings).
Acknowledge that being upset is normal, and tell them to try to stop the culprit thoughts.
Explain that self-pity feels good in the moment but hurts as a habit.
Break the sad daydreams.
Read, memorize, or draw the poem “Self-Pity Isn’t Pretty.”
There’s much good here, although by itself this medicine misses the cancer. My wife’s and my approach toward our children’s self-pity is slightly more, well, Puritan. It includes reminders from Scripture that all children, men, and women (including daddy and mommy) are born with rebellious hearts that (i) set ourselves on thrones we were never meant to occupy, (ii) mistake ourselves for the main characters in a much broader, divinely authored narrative, and (iii) will be restless until we trust completely in the Author. If we grasped how pitiable each of us is upon entering the world, we would look beyond rhymes for something or someone to straighten us out.