Is your child more likely to say, “I think I can” or “It’s impossible, I can’t”?
If it’s the latter, worry not!
This article will take you through the why and how’s of nurturing positive self-talk in your children.
What is positivity and positive self-talk?
Let’s first clear up what positivity is.
Positivity is a mental attitude that children can learn which opens their mind to possibility and potential. A positive mental attitude can be developed through positive self-talk, which is the internal dialogue that influences mood and outcome. Positive self-talk can greatly improve children’s (and adult’s!) mental and physical wellbeing.
Positivity and positive self-talk is not about teaching our children to suppress negative/sad emotions, or falsely smile in difficult situations. That’s just unhealthy!
Why is it important?
Simply (and poetically) stated, positivity is the key to the door of opportunity!
Barbara Fredrickson, psychology professor and positive emotions researcher, found positivity makes a person more open to experiencing new things. This exposure to new fosters the opportunity to gain new skills. More significantly, positivity is a powerful coping tool that increases resilience. An essential virtue in this ever-changing uncertain world.
Tipping the positive negative scale
As parents and teachers, we want nothing more than for our kids to be happy, but it’s important to realise there are no “bad” emotions. It is perfectly natural for everyone, including children, to feel anxious in new situations and dwell on sad emotions.
Psychological research indicates that trying to suppress negative emotions can have harmful mental and physical effects. Therefore, what we should aim to do is tip the scale towards positive self-talk, while still recognising negative feelings.
What age can we start teaching positive-self talk?
Research has found that children as young as five can grasp the concept of positive thinking. Before then, children have two basic emotions (happy and sad) which are influenced by external factors. For example, happy at a party, sad at the dentist.
At the age of 5+ kids start to develop an awareness of how their emotions can be influenced by their internal thoughts. Therefore one key skill we can teach children is positive self-talk.
Why positive self-talk?
A popular advocate of positive self-talk is Douglas Bloch, author, teacher, and mental health coach. His belief is if we can teach a child to face a challenging obstacle with a positive internal monologue, they are more likely to engage a growth mindset; therefore persist in tackling a problem and so be more like to achieve their desired results.
“When you expect the best, you literally create a thought field that magnetizes that which you desire. Like attracts like” says Bloch.
When a child gets a positive result from their internal dialogue the cycle will continue; instead of facing future hurdles with just anxiety or fear, they will also feel optimistic and willingness to try.
Spot negative self-talk
Even us mum’s aren’t mind-readers, so it can be hard to know what conversations are going on in your child’s mind. Therefore, it is important to actively listen to your child in order to spot signs of negative self-talk.
At the beginning of this article I asked if your child commonly says “I can’t”. This is a negative self-talk flag, as well as:
“I am always the slowest person, no one will ever want me on their team.”
“I am so bad at science I never want to go to school again”
Negative self-talk alerts are typically sweeping generalising statements that jump to conclusions without fact or thought.
How to nurture positive self-talk – for older children
There is an ancient tool that has an array of scientifically proven health benefits beyond positivity; including stress reduction, improved attention, and better memory! All essential assets for children facing exam and social pressures!
The tool I am suggesting is meditation. Specifically the ‘Loving Kindness Mediation’.
Before you discount it as airy-fairy…here’s a little research that might have you convinced.
A study by Shahar et al (2014) found that the Loving Kindness Meditation effectively reduced self-criticism and improved self-compassion and positive emotions. Most significantly, her participants retained this improved state when assessed 3 months post-intervention.
How to do it:
This meditation involves thinking of themselves and their loved ones and sending positive thoughts.
The specific mantra’s your child mentally repeats while meditating doesn’t matter too much. Its more about producing kind and warm thoughts.
The most traditional phrases are,
“May I/you feel safe”
“May I/you feel happy”
“May I/you feel healthy”
“May I/you live with ease”
Your child should close their eyes and be in a relaxed seated position – don’t worry about straight spines, flat feet, or head position. Relaxed and comfortable is key!
There are also many free guided Loving Kindness mediations online aimed at children – YouTube is the best resource out there for this.
How to nurture positive self-talk – for younger children
Sitting still and mediating may not be the right solution for your child, particularly if they are younger. In this situation you can start the journey of positive-self talk in these following ways:
1. Make it a topic of every-day conversation
Have simple conversations about what self-talk is and how it can affect situations positively and negatively. Ask them about what thoughts they have had that day, and tell them about your thoughts too. Awareness is a simple but effective first step to take.
2. Model positive self-talk
Practice spoken positive self-talk when in front of your children. In the mornings you could try telling yourself (out loud remember!) “today is going to be a great day” or “I am ready to take on the day!”. You could encourage your children to make statements like this too, for example “I am going to have fun and try my best in today’s sports race”.
It might feel silly to begin with, but it is effective – for you as much as your child!
3. Create a list of positive self-talk statements
In this activity ask your child to create a list of positive self-talk statements. You can help them by searching online for “example positive self-talk statements” (there are loads!) and have them pick their favourites. Write them on a big piece of card and have your child decorate it. Hang the poster on the wall as a daily reminder. Take it a step further by setting time every night to pick one to repeat and reflect on.
We all know from personal experience that positive self-talk is not always easy. But by bringing awareness of the subject to our kids and nurturing it at a young age it will become an incredible coping tool for them throughout their lives.