We can all be prone to negative thinking, and children are no exception with their often black and white perspective on things.
If a child struggles or fails at something it can lead to blanket statements like: “I’m dumb”, “I can’t do anything right”, “I’m a failure”.
I have seen this in my own children, particularly my 11 year old son, who is very hard on himself if he doesn’t get things right the first time, doesn’t excel at something or if he thinks people will think less of him.
Personally, I know the pitfalls of negative self-talk and the traps you can get into. It is damaging to your self-esteem and to your motivation.
Ironically, having someone tell you that what you are thinking about yourself isn’t true can make you feel even worse!
Teaching your child how to switch out of negative self talk and overcome challenges is an important part of building their resilience and teaching them how to regulate their emotions.
Here are some tips for dealing with a child’s negative self-talk:
Show them empathy & name their feelings
Validating their emotions is a good way to get them to do the next step – regulating them. Rather than echoing their words, label the emotion for them, for example, “I know it can be frustrating when you can’t work something out”.
Teach them to challenge their thoughts and emotions
After all, our feelings are valid but not necessarily the truth. Get them to recall times they have successfully overcome challenges and how they felt when they persevered. Getting them to reflect on their positive traits and strengths is also a good reflective practice.
Change their script
Teach them to flip their negative self-talk to more constructive patterns of thinking. For example:
“I’m not good at this” = “What am I missing?”
“This is too hard” = “This may take some time”
“I give up” = “I’ll try another way”
“I made a mistake” = “It’s ok, mistakes help me to learn”
Help them problem solve
This doesn’t mean you fix their problem for them, but help them work through things to find a solution.
Watch your criticism
Our reactions to situations and the words we use can really stick with our kids. Getting angry and yelling “You are so clumsy!” when your child knocks a drink over can become part of their negative self-talk. A spilt drink is nothing compared to your child’s self-worth.
Model positive self-talk
Or at least watch your own negative self-talk. I have a very bad habit of saying “I’m such an idiot” when I make mistakes. It’s easy to forget that you have little sponges around you who soak up all the little things you do and say. Often our internal dialogue is a script from our own childhood.
If you think about your own negative self-talk and where it might have come from, it can help you guide your child (and your inner child!) to a more positive place.