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Overgeneralization: Defeating a Spectrum of Unhealthy Habits in Kids

Always and never are two words that most people are guilty of using when they probably shouldn’t. It always rains when I want to go for a run. My team never wins when I am watching them.

Obviously, these overgeneralizations are not always true and, while that may not seem like a big deal, their impact can have a major impact on your child’s development. Here are the negative impacts that overgeneralization can have on your child, and ways that you can help.

Mental health

There is no more impactful way that overgeneralizations can affect your child than their mental health. Here are some lines that many parents have heard, each using overgeneralizations:

“I never get good grades in English”

“I always mess up when I try something new”

Everyone thinks I’m weird”

When a child grows up thinking something is never going to happen, or that something bad will always happen, or that everyone has a negative opinion of them, it has a serious impact on their self-esteem and their self-worth.

Conversely, overgeneralizations can lead to a false sense of security. See if you have heard any of these lines from your child before:

No one is as good as me.”

“I always do better than everyone else.”

“They will never be as fast as I am.”

It is important for your child to have a sense of confidence. Their achievements should be praised and they should feel good about themselves. However, overconfidence can lead to an attitude of exclusivity in the future. It can also set your child up to be disappointed, miss deadlines, negatively impact others, and potentially cause physical and emotional harm.

Overgeneralizations work at both extremes and should not be taken lightly.

Character development

Equally important to your child’s mental health is who they grow up to be. When a child thinks it is okay to overgeneralize certain aspects of their life, that mentality easily spreads to overgeneralizing other things.

Specifically, children are at risk of growing up and overgeneralizing people. Whether it be based off ethnicity, sexual orientation, career, education level, socioeconomic standing, or even the clothes they wear, overgeneralization can lead your child to see only stereotypes of others. The danger in that can start as early as their first day of school.

What you can do

Luckily, it is fairly easy for you to work with your child. Here are five easy ways to mitigate the impact of overgeneralization in your child.

1. Ask them to be more specific. Instead of saying that they never have fun at school, ask them what they enjoyed and disliked about their day. Here are some alternatives to overgeneralizations.

2. Temper their overconfidence. We all want our child to be the best at what they do, but it is important to temper overconfidence when it shows. Encourage your child to try new things, include others in their games, and not to put anyone down just to bolster their own ego.

3. Disprove stereotypes. If you catch your child using stereotypes to overgeneralize someone or something, explain to them how each person is unique. If they have a sibling, compare the two of them. Highlight the differences that make a person stronger.

4. Encourage them to read. Reading has a host of benefits for your child, but it also lets them develop a stronger grasp of language. By encouraging your child to read, they will learn words that can replace the ones they used to use to overgeneralize.

5. Don’t overgeneralize with your words. As with most things in your child’s development, you are one of the biggest influencers in how they grow up. Try to mitigate your uses of overgeneralizing terms. You might even see a boost in your own self-esteem, but the impact will be long-lasting for your child.

We know that overgeneralizing – whether it be about ourselves or other people – is wrong. Unfortunately, a lot of parents don’t see the impact that overgeneralizing might have on their children. Luckily, with a bit of work, you can work to overcome the use of overgeneralizations and pave a healthier, happier path for your child’s future.

As a life coach, having the opportunity to work with kids across all ages can help promote and understand methods and though processes associated with overgeneralizations. It is our job to give perspective and to provide resources to recognizing when they occur, why they occur, and generally the outcome of those though processes; and how to change them for the better!!

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