One of the greatest problems I notice for both parents and educators is that when kids are not meeting expectations, the focus goes toward finding a solution too quickly. “How can I stop him from…”, “How can I get her to…”, and ultimately “How can I motivate him?”
I get it, we as the adults want to make sure kids are moving in the right direction, progressing toward their goals (or ours?). It is often troublesome and frustrating to see kids not doing as they should and, worse, potentially not working toward their best selves. And, sometimes, we just want things done and believe they “should” be capable of appropriate action.
After all – what are they thinking? I mean really, what are they telling themselves about why they are doing, or not doing, as they are expected to do? And therein lies the clue to why we are often stuck.
Self-Talk is the conversation we have within ourselves – our inner voice.
The technical term is “Metacognition” – Thinking about what you are thinking about.
Self-talk is the guidance system that helps you identify the problem, develop a strategy, and keep yourself on task. It also has a tremendous impact on your mood, your self-image, and your optimism. How you talk to yourself can change your life. Truly, it’s that powerful. The stories you tell yourself all have an impact on the actions you ultimately take. The problem is that Self-talk is a developmental skill – and as soon as I say the work “skill” you must realize that some kids develop skills more naturally and easily than others.
We actually do have a lot of control over this self-talk, and it all starts with being aware of what we are telling ourselves. Even now you might be having an internal conversation about your reaction to what you are reading here.
Helping kids (and adults) develop the skill of using their inner conversation as a positive means of self-regulation is vital toward becoming a successful adult.
So, next time you see your student or child acting in a way that is not, in your view, productive or appropriate, first wonder for yourself “why?”. And then, in a non-judgmental, neutral way, state your observation and ask “what’s up?” No shame, blame, or criticism.
“I notice that getting this assignment done now seems to be a struggle. What’s up?”
“I notice that being ready for the bus lately has been challenging. What’s up?”
I recognize that many kids won’t immediately answer you with tremendous insight, or even at all. But this is where it must start. I offer plenty of support to parents and teachers on how to help kids communicate more – but that is a different topic.
For now, recognize that sometimes our focus should not be compliance but rather skill building. This will go a lot further in building a healthy connected relationship and helping those we care about learn to face their challenges in a more productive manner.