Whether we realize it or not, most of us have an internal dialogue. This dialogue, sometimes called “self-talk” is both shaped by, and shapes, the way we experience the world. Think about the last time you had to do something you’re not very good at; did you find yourself thinking something like, “This is tricky but I’ll take it slow and do my best,” or something more like, “I’m never going to be good at this, I’m so dumb!” It’s no surprise that if you had a thought more like the first, you probably ended up finishing the task feeling better about yourself than if you had a thought more like the second.
Just like adults, teens and tweens have self-talk that can be either positive or negative. While it’s normal to have negative thoughts from time to time, lots of negative self-talk can hurt kids’ confidence, make them less willing to try new things, and lead to feelings of inadequacy and disappointment. Read on to learn how to combat your kid’s negative self-talk and help them feel strong and confident.
Be aware of how you talk about yourself
How many of us have casually said things in front of our kids like “I’m no good at cooking” or, “I just don’t look good in the color red!’” While these statements can seem innocent enough our kids are listening to everything we say about ourselves as they learn to think about themselves. Next time you make a mistake or find yourself feeling bad about something, be mindful of how you express your feelings about yourself.
Talk to your kids about combatting negative self-talk
Many kids don’t know what self-talk is, let alone know that it’s something they can control. Talk with your kids about self-talk and how important it can be to talk positively to yourself. Sometimes a prompt as simple as, “What would you say to your best friend about that,” can help them recognize negative self-talk in the moment.
Don’t brush aside their negative thoughts or feelings
As parents, we often want to fix our kids’ negative feelings as quickly as possible. That can sometimes make us want to tell them that their negative thoughts are untrue. Ovia Health Coach, Lilly Schott, elaborates, “We hate to see our kids in pain or dealing with self-doubt. But endless positivity from parents ignores a teen’s very real feelings, and doesn’t teach them how to cope independently.”
Next time your kid shares something negative, get curious about their feelings instead of refuting them. For example, your tween reports that everyone at school is smarter than them. Instead of immediately replying, “No they’re not! You’re a genius!” try, “That sounds really hard. What does smart mean to you?” Building emotional skills starts with learning to trust that both you and your kids can handle processing their toughest feelings without a quick fix. Remember that those feelings of inadequacy and worry are real for your teen — even if they are literally the smartest kid around!
Encourage them to practice positive self-talk
All kids have the ability to learn positive self-talk. Encourage them to practice positive phrases and to share positive beliefs about themselves. Modeling this behavior can help them understand how to turn a negative belief about themselves into a positive one. That might sound like saying, “I felt frustrated when I forgot dinner was in the oven and it burned. I know that everyone makes mistakes though and that I’ll get it right next time,” instead of, “Oh no, I ruined dinner again! I’m no good at cooking!”
Although daily positive affirmations may not feel natural at first, they are another excellent way to promote healthy internal dialogue. You can help your tween get going (and show your love) by putting a few starter phrases on their bathroom mirror. Encourage them to use your words and their own as they start their day. While no kid (or adult!) is positive all of the time, we can help our kids train their brains to manage negative feelings and self-talk. With a little practice, you’ll be a pro at helping combat your kid’s negative self-talk and building their self-confidence!
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team