Because of children’s developing brains and lack of life experience, they are prone to becoming easily frustrated with themselves and to saying negative statements. Many a parent has heard their child say, “I can’t do it, I will never do it, or I hate myself”, etc.
We can spend time intentionally helping our children and ourselves learn to be kinder to ourselves. When children learn positive self-talk, they have higher self-esteem, less chance of depression and improved relationships. Children are not the only people that struggle with negative thoughts.
It is important that we monitor our own thoughts and self-talk, which can help us manage our anger and frustration and help us feel happier.
How do we help our children?
1) Say positive things to children at young ages such as “you tried so hard on that puzzle,” “you shared with our sister and look how good that made her feel,” and when they are older, “you helped me clean the house and are such an important part of our family” or “I have so much fun spending time with you.”
These will become their inner dialogue. Think about how powerful the positive things were that were said to you as a child, and how you may still repeat them to yourself. This can also be called specific praise, which helps improve behavior, but even more importantly becomes our children’s automatic self-talk.
2) Say positive statements about yourself. It may feel weird or uncomfortable at first, but your children will learn to compliment themselves when they hear you model this type of speech.
For example, you can say things like “I spilled that milk but I am proud of myself that I stayed calm and cleaned it up” or “I am helping my friend move and feel good about myself that I am such a good friend.” Of course, as our children get a little older, we can talk to them about saying these statements internally because others might see them as bragging.
3) Say positive statements to your spouse, partner, other family and friends. When children hear their mother say to their father, “you are such a great help to me” or a dad says to his father “you have taught me so many great things,” they witness the value of complimenting others and it again reinforces that pointing out the good things they and others do makes them feel good. On the flip side, it is crucial that we watch our self-criticism and model this for our children.
4) Don’t call your children or anyone names. “Using negative names with our children such as “you’re a tattle-tale, baby, lazy, brat, whiner, etc…” does not encourage better behavior and can often lead to children seeing themselves as this label. How many of us are still thinking of ourselves in terms of labels that were assigned to us when we were very young children? It can often teach children to call others names as well.
5) Don’t jump in too fast to correct the negative self-talk children express. When our children say “I am stupid because I couldn’t do my math” or “no one wants to be my friend,” we may be quick to tell them it’s not true and try to make them feel better.
The better option is to offer empathy rather than the quick fix first and say something like, “you feel really sad because you can’t do your math” or “you are feeling lonely because your friends haven’t called.” When children feel heard, they are able to better process their feelings and later may be able to work on improving their self-talk with our help.
Once they express themselves, we can ask “are their things in math you need help with?” or gently coach them to adjust their language, such as “can you say ‘I can’t do my math right now and I am working on getter better at it?’” We can discuss with them that the extreme language they tend to use often makes them feel worse and explore with them how they can change phrases that make them defeated into words that empower them.
How do we help ourselves?
1) Become aware of our thoughts. We often say upsetting thoughts to ourselves, which are not only unproductive but make us angry and less patient with our children. Statements such as “my child is the only one who has tantrums like this” or “I am the worst parent, I can’t handle this” are commonplace and often automatic.
2) Replace the upsetting thoughts with constructive thoughts. Phrases such as “tantrums are normal in children of this age and I am working on different strategies to manage them,” “this will pass if I work on my reactions to the tantrum” and “I am a good parent and I am getting better every day” can serve to balance the negative thoughts parents get stuck thinking.
It will certainly take practice to get out of the habit of jumping to catastrophic thinking, but it is well worth the effort. Parents can reinforce their teaching of positive self-talk to their children by saying their own constructive thoughts out loud. Gandhi said, “a man is but the product of his thoughts – what he thinks, he becomes.”
While it takes more effort to focus on improving our children’s self-talk and our own, the results are life-changing and far-reaching. When children grow up in an environment where positive self-talk is common, this becomes how they talk to themselves for the rest of their lives.
When we work on constantly improving our own thoughts, we become more of the parents we want to be – calmer, more understanding and happier. For more information on ways to improve relationships with your children, parent coaching, workshops and classes, contact Julia at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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