Their inner voice is always talking to them ... Here's how to help make sure those words are KIND.
I'm such an idiot!!! ... I can't believe I locked the keys in the car. I'm so stupid!! What am I going to do now? How am I going to get home? I can't even call my husband because my phone's in the car! ... (gasps) ... MY PURSE!! Now, I'm totally stuck. I have no idea what to do. I'm so useless!"
While I'd like to say that this is a purely fictional situation — that I've never locked my keys, purse and phone in the car. And that I'd never address myself in such a negative way. But, unfortunately, I cannot.
I've found myself in this exact situation.
Lets face it, we ALL end up in these exact situations. Mistakes happen time and time again, throughout our lives — but how we react in these situations matters — especially when our children are watching. How they see us behave in response to our own mistakes, becomes how they respond to their own mistakes when they, inevitably, mess up.
My children watched me flip out and berate myself in the aforementioned incident and the impacts of that, according to researchers, isn't positive.
"Monkey See, Monkey Do"
Laura Berk, a child psychologist at the University of Southern Illinois (and her team) found a clear correlation between parents' self-talk and how their children then speak to themselves.
Children whose caregivers (teachers, parents, nanny, etc.) teach them, directly or indirectly, to use: calm, pragmatic, logical language when learning mastery of a task, go on to use that positive language on their own (when teaching themselves new skills).
Conversely, if a child's caregiver is stormy, angry, negative and impatient in character — children inherently learn that same type of self-defeating "self-talk." This negativity becomes all they know. As a result, it usually results in frustration when anything requires extra effort; consequently, they're not likely to master nearly as many tasks as their, well-taught, positive-minded counterparts.
Here's how to help your child master positive self-talk:
1. Let your child know they have an "inner voice"
The first, most important step in teaching our children how to address themselves positively is teaching them that they have an inner monologue in the first place. It may seem self-evident, but most children aren't consciously aware of the fact that they're talking to themselves — particularly once it's truly internalized.
Encourage awareness of what they're saying to themselves by setting up scenarios that actively translate that "inner voice" aloud.
One way I like to do this involves assigning two roles to every child in a play or imaginary scenario, and requiring their characters to interact with each other. Although, the personas are make-believe, it brings "talking to yourself" out into the open and can spur some interesting conversations.
At the very least, it creates a dialogue between you and your child that helps make them aware of their ability to "self-talk."
2. Make space for imaginary friends
Berk's studies also found that the more "self-talk" children use during make-believe play the more likely they are to effectively use their inner monologues as adults. She says, "children who talk to imaginary friends engage in more 'self-talk' as adults, and that makes them more self-controlled."
The time that children spend mapping out and animating their imaginary friends/scenarios, internally creates proportionately strengthened ability to distance themselves (psychologically) from their everyday lives. According to Berk, it's precisely this distance, which provides them with psychic "space" that they need to control their emotions and impulses.
3. Teach them to use their name when talking to themselves
"George is getting upset!" — It turns out, the Seinfeld character George Costanza's famous example of "self-talk" models what makes or breaks the success of our inner monologues.
Working closely with the University of Michigan's Emotion & Self-Control Laboratory, Psychologist Ethan Kross, found that by using one's first name while addressing oneself, there's a tremendous reduction in social anxiety — before, during and after a stressful event.
Kross has discovered, through experimentation, that people who use the personal pronouns "I," "me," and "my" when talking to themselves, are more likely to fail and fall apart in stressful situations, than those who address themselves by name.
It comes down to distance. We're likely to act more harshly with ourselves than with others; we're also far more likely to help others succeed than ourselves.
The less personal inner monologue is, the greater the chances of success. So teach your child to say to himself, "Sam, you can do it! You'll figure it out, Sam." rather than "I can't do it, I don't know how."
4. Encourage your child to use their "inner voice" constructively
Once they're aware of their inner monologue, start to teach your child how to have constructive conversations with themselves.
Of course the most important thing you can do is practice what you preach. Regularly model reacting calmly and logically to situations, without freaking out and crumbling into a puddle of self-reproach and presumed failure.
Set your kids up for success by teaching them to break down large challenges into their component parts. Encourage them to talk themselves through each part of the task, as though they were talking to a stranger or a grandparent — anyone they're unlikely to disrespect or criticize.
Give your child the confidence-boosting habit of referring to themselves by name — which is really a lot more fun than saying "I." Ask them to catch themselves whenever they feel frustrated and think about how they're addressing themselves.
Over time, this becomes second nature.
Who knows ... when they're older and lock their own keys in the car, perhaps they'll have the proper mindset to calmly analyze the situation, saying "Renee, you've locked yourself out of the car. How are you going to get yourself out of this? You don't have your phone, or your money, what do you need the most right now to help get you home?"
Responding calmly with positive "self-talk" creates space for the brain to remember — Oh yeah, I've got a friend who lives two streets over. I bet she'll loan me her phone or give me a ride.
Join Renee and learn to how to boost your child's resilience and coping skills at www.gozen.com.