Start early, use simple language, teach coping strategies, and lead by example.
Self-talk refers to our inner dialogue or the conversations we have with ourselves in our head. It can greatly impact our overall wellbeing and can shape our beliefs and behaviors. It’s important for us to teach our kids how to recognize and manage their own self-talk at an early age because this plays a critical role in their personal development, and can help them build self-esteem, resilience and confidence as they grow up.
Here are a few tips on how to talk to your children about self-talk!
1. Start early and use simple language.
While young children may not have a fully developed understanding of more complex ideas, such as reframing negative inner dialogue, even toddlers can understand the basic concept of talking to themselves in their heads. Use simple and age-appropriate language to explain to them that everyone has an inner voice in their head that talks to them, and that the voice can either say kind or unkind things as they go about their day.
2. Help them become aware of their own self-talk.
As with most things pertaining to behavior-change, awareness is the first step. Your child needs to be aware of their self-talk in order to change it. So, once they are able to grasp the idea that everyone has an inner voice, help them identify their own by encouraging them to pay attention to their thoughts throughout the day. A great way to do this is by using relatable examples.
Children are often more receptive to learning when they can relate the information to their own experiences. To help them recognize their inner voice and its importance, you can use your own experiences as examples. For instance, if they are nervous about something, you can tell them about a time (real or imagined) when you felt nervous and experienced negative self-talk. Then, explain to them how to used positive self-talk to work through your feelings of anxiety and motivate yourself to overcome whatever was holding you back.
Here is an example:
“I see you are feeling nervous about going to play with that other child on the playground. It’s okay to feel nervous. But let’s try to work through it together. One time, I felt really nervous going to make a new friend, too. My inner voice was saying that they would ignore me or would not like me. But you know what? I reminded myself that I am a fun person and a great friend, and then I felt more confident! What is your inner voice telling you right now?”
3. Teach coping strategies and encourage positive self-talk
Once your child is able to recognize their own inner voice, it’s time to teach them about replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. You can explain to them simply that if their inner voice is making them feel sad or bad about themselves, it’s probably negative self- talk. And instead of being trapped by negative self-talk, we have the power to turn it into positive self-talk!
Again, going back to everyday examples from your own life is a great way to illustrate this process. Think back to a time when you felt similar negative feelings to the ones your child is experiencing. What were your thoughts and how did you reframe them? If you cannot think of something from your own life, don’t feel bad about making something up! The purpose of your little story is simply to provide an example for your child to help them understand the concept.
Another way to encourage positive self-talk is to introduce positive affirmations, such as “I am strong”, “I am smart”, “I am a good friend”, and “I can do anything I put my mind to.” You can even choose a few of your favorite affirmations and make this part of your child’s daily routine! A good way to make this a habit is by writing the affirmations down and hanging them up somewhere you and your child will see every day, such as the refrigerator or a bathroom mirror.
A pro tip for establishing a new habit is to couple it with another daily activity. The existing habit serves as a reminder or cue to complete the new one, and can help to solidify the new habit as part of your routine. For instance, if you tape a set of affirmations to the bathroom mirror, try to make it a point to recite them with your child before or after they brush their teeth every morning. Before long, it will become second nature for your child to do these two activities in tandem on a daily basis!
If you need some ideas, check out our free weekly affirmations or “kind words” chart. Or you can use this free template to create your own!
4. Lead by example
This one just might be the most powerful tip of all. Children learn by example, so it’s important to model positive self-talk for them. When you catch yourself engaging in negative self-talk, take a moment to reframe it. If you’re not sure how to do that, don’t worry — you’re not alone! Check out this article from Psychology Today that goes into more detail about how to reframe negative self-talk.
The key here is to be open and honest about this process with your child, so they can see what positive self-talk looks like in real life. It can be tempting to pretend we have it all together for our kids, but they can actually benefit from seeing that we are human just like them. The best part is you will help your child by helping yourself!
Developing positive self-talk can help children build a healthy self-esteem and become more emotionally intelligent. It’s a skill that will benefit them throughout their lives because they will learn to trust, respect and appreciate themselves even when faced with feelings of doubt or insecurity. As always, praise your child’s efforts as they begin to learn about this concept, as well as whenever they make an attempt at changing their self-talk from negative to positive. It will take time for them to master (it’s tricky even for most adults!), so receiving positive feedback along the way will help keep them motivated.
Looking for more information? Check out these resources I used to help write this post!
For more content like this, follow us on Instagram @theconfidenceloop!
Looking for childhood self-esteem resources? Head over to the Resources section of our site for FREE coloring pages and worksheets, and don't forget that the Proud to Be Me Activity Book is packed with fun activities to help children understand and build confidence. Check it out here!