I recently attended a conference where attendees were candidly talking about their behaviors. One man said, “I don’t know if I’m crazy, but I talk to myself all the time.” Another raised his hand and said, “I didn’t want to say anything, but I do, too.”
We all talk to ourselves. We carry on an internal running conversation most of our waking hours. Our words can be positive or negative. Sadly, many of the statements we make are negative or filled with self-doubt. They contain phrases like I should have, I wish I had, I can’t, and I could never. These are messages that set us up for failure or less than ideal performance.
Children use negative self-talk as much as adults. It inhibits their joy, erodes self-esteem and interferes with their abilities. Parents can help their children learn to use positive self-messages.
When your child utters a negative statement like “I’ll never be able to finish my math,” stop her. Gently tell her that when saying she cannot finish, she probably won’t. Remind her of a time when the task was finished successfully. Say something like “I remember that you finished your math homework just last night. How about saying to yourself ‘I know I can finish my math.’ If it’s hard, I’ll ask for help.”
Ask her to create a picture in her mind, seeing the homework finished. Have her create a positive statement about the picture such as “I finish my math easily.” Ask her to tell the phrase. Then make a game out of the situation. “Let’s say that together as loud as we can (or using a funny voice or jumping up and down).” When you do that, her mood lightens, and she can begin her math with positive words and a happier attitude.
This step requires 20-to-30 minutes, so start only when you have enough time. First, say “You know, I hear you saying things that you don’t think you can do very well.” More than likely she will respond with something like “I do not.” or “Like what?” Kindly repeat something you have heard her say.
Next, ask her to think of some ways that she is successful. Write down anything she says, even if you think it’s not worthy. For instance, a child might say, “I can make my sister cry.” After brainstorming several things, go back over the list and have her cross out the things that are not kind (or honest, or real). Let her make the decisions.
After this step is complete, assure her that the list is a positive picture of what she does successfully. Now guide her toward creating some affirming statements based on what she has said about herself. For example, “I know how to put my stuff in my backpack.” Finally, read the statements out loud together.
Talk to your child about how to use the positive statements. When she is feeling bad, remember one of the things from her list that she does well. Picture herself doing it. Say the strong words to herself.
Effective parents learn the skill of assisting their children in recognizing their strengths and building on them. It is not an easy process. It takes time and practice. Commitment and consistency increase your skills, and you will see progress.
As you practice using the positive self-talk tools with your children, use them with yourself. You will begin to increase your own affirmative internal statements. Parents who feel good about themselves serve as positive models for their children. And, they find it easier to help their children toward healthy self-images.