What is self-talk
Self-talk is speaking to oneself either inside the head (covertly) or out loud (overtly). It involves statements that are made to oneself rather than to others, usually for self-regulation rather than communication.
Though we aren’t always aware of it, we all talk to ourselves from time to time1.
This internal dialogue can be positive or negative. They often express thoughts, beliefs, values, and attitudes about the world and about ourselves.
Self-talk is a central aspect of our mental health. It is associated with higher mental functions, including reasoning, problem-solving, planning, paying attention, and being motivated2.
What is positive self-talk for kids
Positive self-talk is when you talk to yourself in a positive way, also known as encouraging words or positive mantras. It is important because it helps children perform at their best even in challenging situation.
A study has found that having positive self-talk is related to higher self-esteem in children. Children who have more positive narratives tend to have less irrational, negative thoughts and fewer depressive symptoms. Talking positively to oneself seems to have a greater impact on self-esteem, rational thinking, and mood than negative talk3.
Positivity promotes a child’s confidence and reduces their anxiety4.
Children who speak positively about themselves are more likely to believe in themselves. They develop a more positive outlook on life. Even in difficult situations, they learn to look past their mistakes, focus on what they have to offer, and how to do better next time.
By positively encouraging themselves, these kids are motivated to work toward their goals.
How positive self-talk develops
Self-talking comes naturally to us. Parents don’t teach their kids to talk to themselves.
Children naturally use a variety of gestures to convey information to others and themselves even before they start speaking5.
Self-talk develops through internalizing social interaction. Children talk to themselves the way people speak to them.
For instance, a mother warns her son not to touch the stove. Later, when he feels drawn toward the stove, he stops himself by heeding his mother’s words: “Don’t touch the stove!”.”
Interactive conversations like this become the child’s self-talk, which initially is overt, but is gradually internalized as an inner voice.
Self-talk is used overtly by children from around aged 3 to 8, after which it is internalized and transformed to become a more adult-like dialogue6.
The way other people talk to and judge a child is a powerful influence on the way they view themselves and talk to themselves.
In elementary school children, studies showed that the amount of positive self-talk statements is significantly related to how they perceive positive or negative statements from others7.
How to help children develop positive self-talk
Focus on the positive
Self-talk is not born, but nurtured, especially by primary caregivers.
Positive interactions and statements made by significant people in a child’s life are related to high self-esteem and positive thoughts8.
So, developing positive thinking in children begins with the statements their parents make to them every day.
A crucial part of parenting is providing guidance to our children so that they can grow and learn. We are often too focused on what needs improvement and forget to celebrate what has already been accomplished.
One great way to nurture positive inner talks is to include more positive comments about your child, provide more positive interactions in daily lives, and not focus on the negative things.
Help them come up with positive statements
To have a positive attitude, you have to have experienced positivity.
Most children equate positivity with successes such as winning a medal or getting an A grade in a math test. But there are many things and qualities that are positive around them besides big achievements.
Encourage them to write, draw, and share any positive things in their lives as a daily practice. For example, helping another person pick up what they have dropped is kindness. Telling the truth is honesty. Working hard on a homework problem and not giving up until they solve it is perseverance.
These daily affirmations help children see positive aspects of their lives they haven’t recognized before after some probing and discussing9.
Replace negative self-talk
Sometimes children get into a negative self-talk trap. Using phrases such as “I’m stupid,” “I’m never going to be good at math,” or “Everyone but me can handle this.”, they are talking down to themselves.
Teach kids positive thinking skills by replacing negative thinking patterns with positive phrases10.
Have your child practice doing it.
Here are some examples.
Replace “I cannot do” with “I will do my best.”
Replace “I am so stupid” with “I am patient and hardworking.”
Replace “I don’t like myself” with “I accept and love myself just the way I am.”
When they hear themselves veer into negative thinking, say “Stop. Stop,” and then replace it with a positive one.
The new coping skill requires consistent practice, but it is a truly effective strategy.
Teach growth mindset
A growth mindset is the belief that one’s abilities are malleable and not fixed. Ability can be developed through learning and practicing11.
With a growth mindset, students believe that they can be successful as learners. They will not be deterred by failure and they will face hard times with resilience.
Help them master a new skill
Encourage them to participate and develop skills in activities that align with their interests.
Mastering a new skill can be a huge confidence booster. It generates a positive mindset and narrative. Being good at something is a powerful tool for building confidence12. It can make you feel more competent and feel good about yourself generating a positive attitude naturally.
A kid can spend an entire day in school without ever receiving positive attention. When they get home, give them the space to talk and share their feelings.
Parents can coach them on how to identify and handle negative feelings during challenging situation to build a healthy self-regulation strategy. Being able to handle stressful situations is a crucial coping skill. It is also a vital step in developing emotional resilience13.
Provide your own positive affirmations to yourself to model positive self talk.
Final thoughts on positive self-talk for kids
Developing a healthy habit of positive self-talk is a gradual process that takes deliberate practice. Parents play a huge role in children developing this crucial life skill.
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