Teaching Your Children to Use Positive Self-Talk
By Mary Ann Benson, M.S.W., L.S.W.
It’s critical that we teach our children that we’re all imperfect creatures who need to recognize that our mistakes do not define us. Think good thoughts about yourself and others and you’ll find an inner peace that brings true happiness to you and your family.
As an outpatient mental health counselor, I’ve noted that many of the clients I’ve encountered are unaware of the impact of their daily self-talk on their mental health, their feelings, and their behavior. Self-talk has been defined as “the act or practice of talking to oneself, either aloud or silently and mentally.” (Collins, 2009). Our self-talk is a key indicator of our self-esteem, which has been defined as “a realistic, appreciative opinion of oneself. Realistic means accurate and honest. Appreciative implies positive feelings and liking.” (Schiraldi, 2001).
Parents Set the Self-Talk Example
Parents model positive or negative self-talk by the way they speak about themselves in front of their children. If they insult themselves when they make a mistake or constantly talk about their perceived flaws, they send the message that they view themselves as inferior people. Children listen to those negative messages repeatedly and often mimic the same self-deprecating thought patterns they’ve seen in their parents. I don’t believe that parents intentionally plan to adversely affect their children’s self- concept, but that’s exactly what they’re doing. I once read a quote that said, “I can’t hear a word you’re saying because your example is screaming in my ears.” This applies to the example we set in how we accept our own weaknesses. We work diligently to reinforce our children’s sense of self but verbally express our dissatisfaction with our own performance. We contradict ourselves!
It’s critical that we teach our children that we’re all imperfect creatures who need to recognize that our mistakes do not define us. When we slip up, we need to gently remind ourselves that our behavior was out of character, and we need to resolve not to repeat it. Our self-talk should not be “You’re an idiot!”, but rather, “Next time I’ll do that differently. Everyone makes mistakes.”
Change The Way You Talk To Yourself
I view our self-talk as a tape that starts playing in our head the day we are born. On that tape is a great deal of information, some of it good, but a lot of it not. We need to rewind the tape and edit out the patterns of self-talk that undermine our ability to have an emotionally healthy life. The first step in doing this is to gain an awareness of how you talk to yourself. Would you think of speaking to another person the way you speak to yourself? Consider this carefully: the reality is that most people would not. Recording your negative thinking patterns helps you to identify your loop. Then you can work to replace those harsh, critical thoughts with positive, realistic statements about your imperfections, which we all share.
Alfred A. Montapert said, “The environment you fashion out of your thoughts, your beliefs, your ideals, your philosophy is the only climate you will ever live in.” Think good thoughts about yourself and others and you’ll find an inner peace that brings true happiness to you and your family.
For more information on this and many other subjects to help you raise a strong child, check out our book 30 Days to a Stronger Child.
Collins (2009) Self-talk. In Collins English dictionary (10th ed.).
Schiraldi, G. (2001). The self-esteem workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc., pp. 20.