We all have an inner critic who feeds on negative self-talk, unkind unsupportive words from others and criticism. While most of us have developed ways to cope with this harsh inner voice, kids and teens often lack the tools to effectively deal with it.
As a result, they are often too hard on themselves, highlighting their (real or perceived) faults and flaws and spending lots of time dwelling on the negatives. They take criticism to heart, compare themselves with others and keep thinking they just can’t do anything well.
Left unchecked, the inner critic’s voice can become so loud it drowns out everything else. Laden with crippling self-doubt, low confidence, poor self-esteem and lack of trust in their abilities, your child might opt to quit trying in order to avoid the sting of failure or rejection. They might procrastinate or give up whenever challenges crop up. As they keep up the negative self-talk, they continue ignoring or discouraging their dreams or aspirations which, in turn, sabotages their happiness and success in life.
It’s a vicious cycle that’s guaranteed to make your child sad and miserable.
The good news is we can help our children break out of this nasty habit. Here are some practical tips to help them silence their inner critic and banish it from their world:
Help Them Identify and Name Those Feelings
Your first reaction when your kids says “I’m so dumb” or “I can’t do this” is probably to swoop in and flood them with positivity. However, this might have the unintended effect of making your child feel unheard or send the message that their feelings are somehow wrong.
A much better tactic is to listen and explore the situation together. Put yourself in their shoes, empathize and help them identify what they’re feeling. You can try saying something like “Wow, sounds like you’re really frustrated/angry/upset/etc.” Then go further to find out what’s really bugging them. For instance, if your kid says they’re dumb for not being able to read something ask, “Is the whole paragraph difficult or some words in particular?” This will help you isolate the problem, making it easier to tackle.
Flip the Script and Talk Back
Once you’ve identified the problem, work together with your child to figure out a solution together. This way, your child won’t feel so alone anymore because their parent is right there with them. You can start by showing your child that they have a choice — they can flip the script, talk back at those mean inner voices and make that voice more positive.
Flipping the script involves some positive thinking. For example, if your kid is used to saying they are stupid for not getting something right the first time, teach them to say, “I didn’t get it this time but I’ll keep working at it.” Showing your child that they’re the ones who control their thoughts and not the other way around, empowers them to fight their inner critic.
Create a Supportive and Encouraging Environment
Another great way of empowering your child is to give them choices. Let them have a say in some decisions affecting their lives from an early age, e.g., what outfit to wear to school or what should be made for dinner. As they grow older, gradually give them a larger role in making family decisions. Doing this will help them gain confidence in their strengths and abilities as well as trusting their intuition. Then they won’t feel so overwhelmed or anxious whenever they have to make decisions.
Learn to Embrace Imperfection
Your child is always watching and emulating what you do. Embracing your own imperfections shows them that you’re not infallible and that it’s ok to make mistakes. There are several ways you can do this including modeling healthy ways to handle your frustration, acknowledging your part in a misunderstanding and even apologizing when you realize you were in the wrong.
Additionally, whenever your child messes up and starts beating himself up about it, share a story about how you did the same in your life and how things turned out. It will make them understand that mistakes and failure are part of life.
Watch Your Criticism
If you want your child to break free from negative self-talk, don’t feed their inner critic. Don’t be that parent who constantly nitpicks or focuses on things that haven’t been done or haven’t been done the “proper way.” While it’s good to correct your child, pointing out their flaws all the time only makes them feel like they’re not good enough. So learn to let some things go.
Most of all, don’t compare your child to others. Your kid is a unique person who should be respected as such and comparing him to others diminishes his individuality.
It might take a while to banish your child’s inner critic, but the earlier you teach your kid to quit their negative self-talk, the better chance they’ll have to live a happy and fulfilling life.
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