It can be hard to watch our children struggle, especially when they resort to negative self-talk. By supporting them through it – but not solving their problems for them, we can help build their confidence and resilience. Here’s a strategy that involves a simple, three-letter word to help.
“I can’t do this.”
“This is so hard!”
“I don’t know how to do this.”
These are common words children say when they’re learning a new task that might be difficult for them. At times, they might get so frustrated they give up.
If this has happened to you, you are not alone. Negative self-talk is as common in children as it is in adults. But there’s a simple three-letter word that can help turn your child’s attitude around, and it can help them believe in themselves again… in their capacity to learn a new task and master it.
This three-letter word has changed our lives. It has taken my children from frustration over not being able to do something to realizing that they can if they keep on trying and have a little patience.
The word is “YET”.
How many times in your life did you want to do something new, and you set your mind to it and you figured it out? By using the word “yet” we can teach our children to do exactly this – to be resilient from the time they are toddlers.
FROM NEGATIVE SELF-TALK TO POSITIVE
We talk to ourselves every single day whether we realize it or not. If we start paying close attention to our thoughts, we start realizing how many of the thoughts we have about ourselves are negative. They say we are our own worst critics, and I tend to agree. I have criticized myself more than anybody else criticizes me and even knowing this, I still strive to reach perfection when I know perfection doesn’t exist.
But I am an adult, and I know I can work on this. Children do not know this so the best thing we can do for them is guide them on how to take their frustration and turn it into something positive.
THE CYCLE OF NEGATIVE SELF-TALK IN CHILDREN
I have noticed many kids, including my own, engaging in negative self-talk. My daughter will be doing something that she’s never done in her life and then she’ll get upset and tell me, “I’m not good at this.”
When my children get into this negative cycle I use the word “yet” to take them from negative to positive.
The reason the word “yet” is helpful is because you’re not dismissing your child’s feelings. Many times when a person is upset they are not ready to hear encouraging words. They are frustrated and possibly ready to give up. That’s why you’ve probably found yourself encouraging your child when they feel like giving up, only for them to dismiss you.
Related: How to Raise a Resilient Child
The power behind the word “yet” is that it helps you connect with your child. When you acknowledge how your children are feeling they are more willing to listen to you. That’s why when you use the word “yet” you should simply add it to the end of your child’s statement.
Let’s say your child is trying to stay inside the lines while coloring a picture and gets frustrated. They yell: “I’m not good at this.” You take those words they’re using and rephrase it using yet: “I am not good at this YET” or “ I can’t do this YET.” You can even add some words like, “Let’s figure it out together” or “Would you like me to help you?”
After saying the same phrase back to them with the added word “yet”, you can remind your child that some things take a lot of practice. Use real life examples to remind them that we all had to learn how to do the things we do.
POINT OUT EXAMPLES OF OTHERS WHO OVERCAME CHALLENGES
For example, my girls love live performances so when we attend events like Disney on Ice, I mention during the show that the performers practiced a lot in order to put on this show for us. I tell my kids that these people have been practicing everything we’re seeing on stage for months and possibly years. And that they are able to do this because they kept on trying until they figured it out.
When your child starts having negative self-talk you can add “yet” to whatever it is they’re saying and use these examples from their own lives as reminders that they just need more practice.
You can even use examples from his own life. Remind him that he didn’t know how to ride a bike but he was able to learn because he kept on trying. This teaches your child to have patience, to be resilient, and to believe in his own potential. It also encourages realistic expectations.
Nobody knows how to do anything the first time they do it and there’s nothing wrong with that. We simply don’t know how to do it “yet”.
This trick works even better if you practice it on a regular basis! You will notice that your child eventually starts using “yet” on her own. And you might even find yourself using too when you’re frustrated.
“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.”
– Peggy O’Mara
How many of your own thoughts – about your life, about what you have accomplished – were beliefs that were set and created when you were a child?
If you analyze your own negative self-talk you will probably realize that a lot of your beliefs and self-talk comes from things your parents told you, you heard from another authority figure or that you internalized after a certain event.
As an adult, you can make a conscious effort to be mindful about what you’re thinking and how you’re talking to yourself. You can stop yourself when you have negative self-talk but this requires a level of self-awareness that children don’t possess at a young age.
As parents, we have the power to fill our child’s brain with positive thoughts that will eventually turn into positive self-talk so when they’re adults and they’re going through a challenging moment or they’re having a hard thing with something, their thought is not going to be: I’m a failure. Their self-talk is going to be: I don’t know this yet (but I’m going to figure it out). They will believe they CAN do it.
I have had the opportunity to meet a lot of successful people in my life and one thing that every single successful person I have met has in common is that they believed in themselves and they never gave up.
They knew the success or whatever they were chasing was not here YET, and they persevered. A very famous example is Thomas Edison, it took him 1000 attempts to invent the lightbulb and when asked about how he felt about those failures, he said: “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”
This is exactly the mindset we want our children to have and it starts with you. You are the one that can give your child the tools to be happy, resilient and courageous.
It doesn’t matter what your child is doing or going to do. They are going to face challenges in life and opportunities that are going to require them to believe in themselves and to have a positive mindset.
5 WAYS TO HELP YOUR CHILD TURN NEGATIVE SELF-TALK AROUND
When your child is upset because she’s having a hard time completing a task, try this.
Stay calm and use a gentle voice. Your child needs your support and to connect with you right now.
Repeat the challenge and add “yet” at the end. This is an important step toward acknowledging how your child feels. If he needs to walk away from the activity because he’s upset, allow him the space to do so. Once he has calmed down you can continue with the following steps.
Remind your child that she doesn’t know how to do this yet, but she will. She just needs more practice or to try different ways of doing it but she will figure it out. Use an example if it comes to mind so your child can remember that they have been in this situation before and they have figured it out.
Help your child if needed, but make sure he’s in the lead and not you. You want him to believe he can solve his own problems.
Once your child feels good again, say something encouraging about the work she’s doing. Don’t focus on the final product, but focus on the effort she is making.
This simple process is easy to implement and it makes a world of difference in your child’s self-esteem. It will help your child develop patience, resilience, and confidence.