Too often, as teachers and parents, we hear our kids speak negatively about themselves. It’s frustrating and hurtful to hear. It can leave you feeling like a failure. The immediate reaction is to encourage your downtrodden student with positive words and upliftment. This is an important step, but it’s only half of the solution. Inspiration that yields no tangible results can do more harm than good in the long run. The good news is, there are ways to utilize both word and action to help your kids eliminate negative thinking for good and step on the path of positive self-talk.
What is Negative Self-Talk
Before addressing the solution, let’s take a good look at the problem at hand: Negative Self-Talk. We all have an inner critic. It plays quite an important role in our thinking processes. Interestingly enough, the inner critic can motivate us in positive ways. For example, cautioning us not to over-eat. Or reminding us before making an unwise decision.
The problem develops once this inner voice becomes the first authority for most of life’s situations. For instance: “I can’t do it!”, “It’s too hard,” “it’s not good enough,” and worst of all, “I give up.” Negative self-talk is any inner dialogue within yourself that limits your abilities of self-belief and self-encouragement. It diminishes your capacity to make or see a positive change in your life. Negative self-talk is stressful and the biggest demotivator in the world.
Consequences of Negative Self-Talk
Unfortunately, excessive negative self-talk can have lasting detrimental effects. These destructive dialogues promote feelings of depression and helplessness. One large-scale study found that rumination and self-blame over negative life events were actually linked to a greater risk of mental health problems. Some other negative self-talk consequences include limited thinking, perfectionism (never being satisfied), and relationship challenges. At its worst, these negative thoughts can be impressed upon our peers, classmates, and those who support us the most.
Tips on How to Stop Negative Self-Talk
Now that we comprehend the problem let’s look at how to solve it. Luckily, there are several ways to encourage more positive talk in our kids, our friends, and ourselves. The first and most imminent step is awareness. Before adding the good, we need to address the bad. This list focuses on helping younger learners, but everyone can use the techniques. Here’s a short step-by-step guide on how to confront negative self-talk with your kids:
When a child reacts verbally or physically negatively toward any task, the first step is to remind them to breathe. Help them come back to their center before that panicky feeling kicks in, which precedes overwhelm.
- Confront the thought
The moment you have the opportunity, confront the negative thought that is hindering the youngster. Ask the child how they feel and listen to each of their frustrations. Your job is to determine the principal negative feeling. Keep it short and simple — no more than a sentence.
- Write it Down
If possible, encourage the child to write down their feelings. Writing itself is a great centering practice, and oftentimes kids will feel better after consoling themselves. Another great exercise parents and kids can do together is writing down negative self-talk patterns and then writing the positive self-talk equivalent.
- Determine the trigger
As a leader, it’s important to note what’s triggering the child and carefully bring it to their attention. It’s almost always a deeper issue of some sort, and not ‘what’s happening right now.’ This can be hard for children to discover alone. Again, take note of the underlying patterns to form conclusions.
- Replace with positivity
Reinforce the positive equivalent of negative expressions. For example, if a child says, “I just can’t do it!”, encourage them that they can do it and that you’ll help them learn how. Tell them to speak to themselves as if they’re speaking to a close friend. In a classroom, this will also promote community and emotional teamwork.
Helping With Positive Self-Talk for Kids
Before students can change their self-talk habits, they have to change their belief system. The goal is to move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. When a student says, “I give up,” step forward with a new strategy to keep them going. Or when a child says, “I’ll never be smart,” remind them that being smart is an acquired skill and that you’ll help them learn it! When they compare their failures to their friend’s success, ask them how their friend went about succeeding.
Addressing negative thinking is not enough. Saying “don’t think like that” or “keep trying” is not enough. Once teachers and adults begin showing kids how to achieve results, their mindsets will become more positive. Their words will naturally follow.