Would you like to help guide your child’s inner life to a happy one? Teaching children positive self-talk is a great way to help them live happier lives.
Studies show that there are many powerful impacts of positive self-talk.
Helps to cope with stress
Allows for risk-taking
Helps a child work through challenges
What is the connection between self-talk and a person’s experiences in life?
A quick explanation – everyone has core beliefs. These are the beliefs that are so much a part of us that we often think they must be evident to everyone else. They are the beliefs behind your thoughts that you never question.
Core beliefs are what all of our thoughts are created from or filtered through. Our thoughts, negative and positive are the source of our emotions, behaviors, and attitudes. The problem is that often our core beliefs are based on our own, faulty interpretation of the world. For a more detailed discussion of this go to my blog on Self-talk.
Self- talk in Children
As parents, we are in the position of contributing to many of our children’s core beliefs. You can identify what many of them are by listening to what your child says.
Example: One of my daughters heard that the world had a northern and a southern hemisphere and she took that to mean that there was a space between the 2 so that the world wasn’t a solid ball but one split in half. When she got older she realized her mistake.
That is an example of how a young child hears something and tries to make sense of it. This happens with issues about how the world and the people in it relate to each other. A child (and many do) will come up with the idea that you must perform well to be loved.
We all want our children to be brave, take appropriate risks, feel good about themselves, be bully-proof because of their positive sense of self. That takes a person with core beliefs that are true and not just based on a limited observation of the world.
Before we start on how we can guide our children into positive self-talk let’s discuss the development of self-talk in children.
Dr. Ravi Samuel, a psychotherapist, says,
“Self-talk is essentially a child’s ‘judgment’ of his own self, others and the world. It can be either an accurate assessment of one’s self, exaggerated or downplayed.”
Children typically begin to talk aloud to themselves by the age of three. This is when thoughts and language begin to merge. As they grow older this out loud speech develops into an inner voice. You will find that by the time your child is 6 or 7 their oral self-talk is decreasing and is fully internalized by the age of 10 in most children.
What is the purpose of self-talk?
There is a natural purpose for positive self-talk in children and adults alike.
Some of the purposes it serves are:
- A way to organize thoughts when overwhelmed by a difficult situation
- Relieving stress
- A means to deal with anxiety
- Helps a person recognize what is troubling them
People (children and adults) who talk to themselves positively have a better chance of remaining optimistic even if things don’t go their way initially. It can help an individual to cope with negative emotions like anger or frustration.
Negative self-talk is used to try to explain the world around a person:
- Rejection – I must have done something wrong.
- Failure – I must be stupid.
- Abandonment – I am unlovable.
You get the idea.
Teaching your children positive self-talk by introducing the importance and impact of thoughts
Teach them to learn to identify their thoughts
Before you can help your child integrate positive self-talk in their life, they must first become aware that there different types of thoughts that arise depending on the circumstances. You will need to begin helping your child verbalize their thoughts when they are anxious, scared, excited, etc. This will make them aware of the thoughts that are always going through their mind.
Another part of the learning to identify their thoughts is to gently point out what they are saying to themselves aloud. Introduce the idea of negative and positive thoughts and help them evaluate their thoughts and words they say to themselves.
Teach them how thoughts affect their feelings
Now they are beginning to see the difference in negative and positive thoughts show them how negative thoughts can impact their feelings.
Ex. Situation – they are in line at an amusement park for a ride. Ask them what would they feel if they were thinking that the ride looked fun? They could answer – I feel happy and excited.
Now ask them what they would be feeling if they thought that the ride looked dangerous? They might answer – I feel scared.
Once you have introduced this idea of how thoughts influence emotions, look for natural ways to bring it up in daily life.
Brainstorm together to make a list of positive statements
This is a great way to raise their awareness of what positive statements sound like. Have them write them down and post somewhere in the house so that together you can add to it. This list could become a help to them when they learn to refocus their thinking.
Activities for parents to teach children positive self-talk
You must model positive self-talk.
As a parent, this is an area of your life that you need to be working on before you can effectively help your child.
Don’t critique every statement your child makes!
This is a slow learning process and you don’t want to overwhelm them or make them feel bad about themselves because you are always finding fault with what they are saying.
When you hear a negative self-deprecating statement there are several ways to approach it all the while NEVER SHAME THEM FOR THEIR FEELINGS OR DEVALUE WHAT THEY ARE FEELING:
You can ask them, is that statement true?
What could you have done differently?
Remind them of something else that was hard at first and now they have it mastered.
Help them determine if the frustrating situation is in their control.
Ask how they are feeling; help them put a name to the emotion.
At a later time, you could help them reflect on the situation from the distance of time and see what they learned from the circumstances.
Show them that your love is unconditional.
which means that their behavior good or bad does not change how much you love and accept them. Illustration 4
Include them in decision makings
Ex. Let your child select their outfit for the day. If it matters what they wear offer them a choice between 2 or 3 mom-approved outfits.
Adding the word Yet to many negative statements changes it to a positive one.
The reason adding Yet is helpful is because you aren’t dismissing your child’s feelings. Many times when a person is upset they aren’t in the emotional or mental place to take in encouraging words. They actually will dismiss the effort to help them feel better because they are stuck in the ‘bad’ mood.
Using the word Yet allows you to connect with your child. You are acknowledging their emotions and that can help them be more open to what you have to say.
“You just simply add the word Yet at the end of their statement,” says Caroline King, founder of Mama Instincts.
Ex. “I can’t do this. Yet. This may give you an opening to offer help, let’s see if we can figure this out together.”
This is a teaching moment that most things take lots of practice to get learn, conquer, or get right.
Here are 5 ways to use Yet in these teaching moments.
- Stay calm and use a gentle voice
- Repeat their statement and add Yet at the end.
- Reassure them – you are just beginning with this, it is a new skill. It takes some practice to or a different way to get it accomplished.
- Let them lead, help them if they ask for it, or need it. This a time for them to figure out how to solve problems on their own.
- Be encouraging. When they start feeling hopeful you can something encouraging about their efforts.
The Power of a Parent’s Words – Your words can encourage positive self-talk
Your words, as a parent, have a very powerful impact on your child. Your words can influence your child for their lifetime. You have the power of “life and death” over your child’s view of themselves, the world and other people.
Your words can help develop their self-esteem
You are so important to me.
I really appreciate what you did.
I love spending time with you.
I believe you can do that.
Your words can encourage their effort
You are learning so quickly.
You got this!
You are doing a great job.
I can really see an improvement.
Your words can encourage asking questions.
Your question shows me you have been listening.
That is a great question.
I can see you are really interested in learning.
Your words can teach them to express gratitude.
Thank you _________ (child’s name)
Thank you. I really appreciate your help ___________ (child’s name)
How great that you helped! It means a lot to me.
Your words can encourage empathy.
That was very generous of you.
I see that you thought of someone else’s needs.
That was a very kind thing to do.
Your words can encourage resilience.
You are working very hard.
Keep up the good work, it will finally get done.
Just a little bit every day will get you results.
Your words can encourage creativity.
I love your creativity in this project.
You have wonderful ideas.
Your imagination is inspiring.
Your words can encourage communication.
What do you think about it?
Tell me more about it. I
I love hearing about your day.
How to offer genuine praise that encourages
Offer genuine and appropriate compliments or praise. Here are some thoughts on how to effectively and honestly praise your child.
DON’T – Person praise- which means avoid ability oriented praise ex. You are very good at solving puzzles.
DO – Focus on progress, strategies, and effort ex. You are using great puzzle solving thinking.
DON’T – Praise as a reward – ex. Child in a play they were nervous and stumbled on their lines, to tell them that their performance was wonderful in disingenuous and they know it!
DO – Praise with informational feedback – ex. The child could be praised on their perseverance or courage in the situation.
DON’T – Social compare- avoid comparing your child to others
DO – Praise personal mastery – focus on the child’s individual performance
DON’T – Have too low or too high expectations – ex. Low, could be great job you wrote a story, High, That is the best story I’ve ever read.
DO – Have reasonable expectations – this means the praise should reflect standards that could be realistically be met.
DON’T – Evaluate – avoid judgment statements like I like how clean your room is.
DO – Encourage – give encouragement like, Your room looks clean.
EXAMPLES OF NEGATIVE AND POSITIVE STATEMENTS
Negative statements to be on the alert for:
I’m not good at this.
I give up
This is too hard.
I made a mistake.
I will never be that smart.
It’s good enough.
That’s not fair.
This is impossible.
POSITIVE STATEMENTS TO REPLACE NEGATIVE ONES
What am I missing?
I’m on the right track.
Mistakes help me learn better.
I will try my best.
I’ve got this.
I am brave.
I am getting better at this.
Yes, I can.
I have learned new things before, so I can do it again.
I can do hard things.
Learning is in my superpower.
This might take time and effort.
I am a problem solver.
So to sum it up for you to help your child build positive self-talk, you will need:
To practice positive self-talk yourself.
Deliberately speak positive and loving words to your child.
Never shame or downplay their feelings.
Add Yet to their negative statements when appropriate.
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