“I’m not good at this.”
“It’s too frustrating.”
“It’s too hard.”
Sound familiar? These comments, whether our kids verbalize their thoughts or they show their emotions in their body language, can send most parents into a combination of sadness, worry, frustration, and sometimes anger.
We each have a belief about ourselves concerning the challenges and opportunities we face. And each of these challenges and opportunities congers up different emotions: fear, excitement, boredom, anxiety, frustration, nervousness, etc.
Helping our children become aware of how they are feeling is the first step toward helping them feel that they have some control and some choice as to how they approach what faces them.
“Metacognition” and “self-talk” are two related and important concepts that we want to teach all children. “Metacognition” is the concept thinking about what you are thinking about. It is being aware of your thoughts. “Self-talk” is the story we tell ourselves. Sometimes it’s the guiding thoughts such as “first I have to … then I will…”. It is also how we talk to ourselves about our abilities, our opportunities, our responsibilities, etc. And the language that our kids use when they do speak to themselves can make all the difference in their mood, their effort, and the goals they set for themselves.
Improving Your Child’s Self Talk
Here are the essential steps to take to shift how your child approaches their challenges and opportunities:
1. Teach your children the language of emotion.
The words we use to tell ourselves how we feel is the first step toward helping us understand our emotions. There are so many words in our language to express emotions. It is very helpful to dig a little past the basic words we often use: angry, sad, happy, surprised, scared, etc. For example, a more vibrant, more accurate word for anger in a situation may be hurt, frustrated, embarrassed, devasted, violated, enraged, resentful, or furious, to name a few.
In order to take positive action given our feelings, we must be aware and conscious about how we feel. Especially when we are feeling very triggered or emotional about something, we are not always able to think logically or rationally to help move us past our feelings into positive action. The expression I use “Name it to tame it.” We must acknowledge how we feel so that we can then problem solve, if necessary, to help us move forward. Actively teach your children the vocabulary of emotions and help them label how they are feeling as fully and accurately as possible.
2. Catch them in the act of their thinking.
Whether you take the cues from their verbal statements, from their facial expression, or their body language, notice what they seem to be communicating. See if you can reflect what you are noticing. Your goal is to raise their awareness of their self-talk. Help them with their own metacognition. Caution– be careful about assuming your own assumptions and beliefs are true. Ask or reflect on what you see: “You seem frustrated, am I correct?”, “It sounds like you are feeling overwhelmed, am I correct?”
3. Explore their beliefs with them.
There is a difference between exploring and challenging. Too often, because of our own anxiety, fear, or sadness, we try to tell others not to feel the way they are feeling. Or we may try to convince them that they are wrong or unjustified in their feelings. This usually does little to shift their self-talk. Furthermore, we run the risk of being shut out or dismissed as someone who does not understand or believe them.
Instead, believe their experience and gently explore what is making them feel as they do. As you do, you will then be able to help them deal with whatever they are facing with honesty and empathy. For example, if they are feeling pessimistic about their ability to do their work, you can acknowledge, empathize, and then help them explore what their options are when they get stuck, what might happen if they don’t do the work (which is not always the disaster they imaging), and support they would like from you.
4. Help them write the story they want
It’s not easy staying, or even becoming, optimistic. But in most situations, it is the choice we make how we think about our circumstances that makes all the difference. I can choose to fear, or I can choose determination. I can choose pessimism, or I can choose to take on the challenge. As parents, we must strike a balance between robotic encouragement and planful support. We do that best when we have a genuine, connected relationship with our children.
For more insights into helping our children use positive self-talk, please view my talk: Skills for Success
And here is an article by Rosalind Wiseman (author of Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boys, and the New Realities of Girl World) that you may also find helpful: https://culturesofdignity.com/blog/blog-cultures-of-dignity/10-tips-for-the-perfect-parent/