Let's face it, change, challenges, failure, mess-ups - it's all is hard. Even more so for children who have not yet realized that all of it comes with beautiful lessons in life.
And yeah - there have been a lot of changes happening in life right now. From restrictions changing, to isolating periods, to classroom closures and more. Our kids have taken resilience to a new level.
But let me ask you this: When changes happen, things don't go your kid's way, when your child makes a mistake, what do you say to them? Better yet, what do they say to themselves?
As parents we want to support our children in these moments, and the best way to do this is by helping them learn about their inner dialogue.
Self-talk, our inner voice, is the way we process the world. We all have a little voice inside our head. Can't avoid it. We even have many voices that pop-up at different moments (think of the movie Inside Out!). And unfortunately, because of our human makeup, self-talk is very often on the side of negativity. I'm sure it's not surprising to hear that the majority of people say things to themselves that they wouldn't say to anyone else, for it would be hurtful and just plain wrong.
Things like: "I am not good enough" or "I am a total failure" or "My mistakes make me not likeable."
Interesting fact here is that sometimes these words are completely untrue - a story we are telling ourself - and a lot of the time these words aren't meant to hurt us but instead protect us and bring awareness to the real feelings we have inside. AWARENESS is key here.
So when you are worried, saying things like "I am not doing this right" your inner voice may be signalling something different, albeit in not the best way, like: "this is tough, I could really use some help right now." This shift is major, but not always so easy to recognize...Which is why most children (and adults!) are ignore or push aside the negative chatter, only to be held back by it later in life.
And I am sure you can guess what will happen if we don't teach our kids how to navigate their internal chatter with compassion...Well, simply, they will begin to believe what they are telling themselves is true.
If they do that, their self-esteem, self-worth and self-doubt will limit their ability to feel powerful, smart and amazing, which in turn will effect their confidence, ability to take risks, motivate themselves and work through changes and challenges.
On the other hand, when we empower our children to mindfully become aware of their internal chatter and talk back to their negative voice with kindness, love and compassion, incredible things can happen. Our children will begin to build a relationship within themselves that is not guided by the outside world's opinions of them, but rather their own opinion of self. Their inner voice will know how to find the good in all situations, and that will motivate action that feels authentic and right to them.
So how can we help our children become aware of negative self-talk and fight back with mindful, self-guided action? Here are three steps to empower your kids to trust themselves, love themselves and lead with their true self, even when changes or challenges got them down.
First Step: spot the patterns of self-talk in our children.
I got some questions:
When your child isn't understanding their homework assignment, what do they say out loud? Is it that "I am not as smart as my friends?" or are they throwing their hands up and walking out of the room in frustration? Or, are they motivating themselves, asking you questions to help them better understand the subject? Are they asking for help or looking for support?
When your child is crafting or playing a sport, are they comparing their work to someone else's? Are they putting down what they did? Or are they excited and boasting about their piece?
When your child is working through a challenge, are they looking within to get guidance, trusting their supportive voice inside? Or are they doubting themselves and their ability to make a decision? Are they looking to others for their opinions?
When there is a setback, either in a daily plan or in a goal they are reaching for, how do they respond? Instant disappointment or anger is acceptable but longterm dialogue, how are they speaking about the challenge or change? What story are they telling themselves about what's happened, are they being kind or being hard on themselves?
If you notice that your child is leaning on the side of negativity, know first that this is normal. Some say fight or flight response. Some say we are wired to notice contrast. Whatever it is that causes the negative response doesn't matter. We want to help our kids spot specific times when the negative chatter is loud, and in these moments, you can help them flip these words into love.
How do we do move from doubt, fear, disappointment into love? Second Step is to remain present.
In these moments of doubt, fear, self-criticism, we are likely worried about our future or thinking about our past, or in other words, something that is outside of our control. When this happens, our thoughts become jumbled, our body starts to react (heart racing, breath pauses and even gets more rapid) and we can't focus on the good right in front of us. Ever had that out of body, spiral experience before? Yeah - me too. Here's what we can teach our kids: the one moment that matters and the only moment that can help them get through to the other side is RIGHT NOW.
Here's what you gotta do when negative chatter gets us down - start trusting that right now, we have so much power. We have power to accept how we are feeling. We have the power to make ourselves feel better. And with a deep breath, we have the power to just let it go. The breath is an anchor to the here and now. A tool always with us.
Simple Release Exercise: Take a deep breath into your belly, on the inhale breathing in calming energy, and on the out breath releasing any negative thoughts coming on strong. Focus on this 5x. If visualization works well for your child, they can release the words through their mouth on a hard out breath, or even imaging the words filling up a balloon above their head. When they are read to release the balloon, sigh it out and push it away.
We want our body and mind to become connected with the breath. We want to help them focus on the power in this moment to make a decision that will help them, right now. And when we can do this, we can then help them learn the art of self-compassion. That's how we can talk back to our negative voice with kindness, love and get some motivation to move forward.
Moving onto Step Three, talk to yourself in the third-person!
Telling your child to talk to themselves, at first, may be a battle. But let them in on the science and maybe they will believe in the benefits. It has been proven in many studies that when you speak to yourself in third-person, using your name, you can actually calm your nervous system and motivate yourself into doing something you didn't believe was possible. Cool, right? It actually makes a lot of sense. We are often really good at supporting and motivating others, and less likely to share these words to ourselves. But we can! In fact, to get pumped-up, athletes use this method all the time, as do public speakers.
So the next time your child turns-up the negative talk-box, ask them a simple question: If your friend was in the same situation, what would you say to them? And then, have them say that phrase or words of motivation to themself using their name!
There is power in what I am preaching and I can't wait for you to try it out. In fact, say your name right now! Pat yourself on the back. See how it feels to support yourself.
I want to offer you an example. I child I work with can be really hard on herself at school. She often looks around at her classmates and thinks that they are smarter than she is. She at times feels lost in homework and does not believe that she can get through the work in the 'perfect' way she wants to. Not in every subject but in certain ones, her negative chatter comes on strong. When working through her latest math homework, we talked through her worksheet and mindset together. Here's how it went down.
We spent 20 minutes learning the lesson. I allowed her to make mistakes. She learnt from it. And she wen't back to try again.
Allow her alone time to process the work and solve problems on her own.
Look back at the progress she made in just 30 minutes - Celebrate effort! How much she was able to learn in a 1:1 environment, getting a little more support.
Talk about the words she said before she started "My friends know this better than me," "Everyone in my class gets this and I don't."
Reflect on what she really needed, how she can ask for extra support when she feels this way.
Fight back negative self-talk with compassion. I let her come up with a phrase she wanted to repeat and write in her notebook to remind herself that she's got this!
So simple, little effort, big gains to shifting her mindset from being externally motivated to internally supportive.
You can help shift self-talk, too!
And if you need some extra support - I got you.
Here are 10 phrases to help our kids when negative chatter gets loud.
Failure is part of my success
All of my thoughts matter, I need to listen closely and act compassionately
Magic is within me, I have the power to shift my mindset and shine my light
A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new, and that's not me!
It's safe and okay to try again
Asking for help is a power move
I may not have it all figured out, yet, but I am on my way
Comparing myself to someone else isn't a winners mindset, but cheering for someone else is
I speak to myself with kindness when it rains and when it shines
My words matter, words I say to myself and others will be loving and accepting
And you for an additional resource, check out my Mini Pep-Talk Card Deck designed to support your children in moments like this throughout their day.