Step 4: Managing Self Talk

Managing Self Talk

Self-talk is the voice in our heads which can be positive or negative and has a great impact on whether your child has a positive or negative sense of self. Your child’s self-talk is largely formed by what they hear about themselves from their parents.

You can help your child form a positive sense of self by helping them to develop positive self-talk.

This strategy is focused on how you, as the parent, talk about and describe your child. Your aim is to ensure your language is promoting a positive sense of self in your child.

Psychology Fun Facts

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  • Children’s sense of self is broken into three distinct components.
    1. Self-Image or Sense of Self – How I see myself.
    2. Ideal Self – How I would like to be.
    3. Image held by others – How others see me.

  • During childhood, a child can take the view that the image held by others is actually correct. If a teacher tells a child he is no good at spelling, he may simply accept this as fact and sub-consciously decide there is nothing that can be done about it. Therefore, forming a limiting belief about themselves.

  • Using Positive Language to Manage Self Talk
    Parents, grandparents and teachers can help a child overcome limiting beliefs by helping them manage their self-talk. Speaking positively about children is vitally important as they can simply choose to accept your image of them whether positive or negative.

  • Choosing words carelessly when describing a child and disciplining a child can have a damaging effect. Commenting on their character can backfire by reinforcing the image held by others and making children feel powerless to change. The more you repeat this, the more a child believes it as reality. Children live up to images they hear people use to describe them.

    Describing their character:
    Mum regularly says in front of her child “He is a fussy eater, he won’t eat anything but pizza”. (The child will take this as fact and will live up to it).

    Instead describe their behavior:
    Mum says, “My child loves pizza and sometimes tries new foods”.

  • A clear sign to watch for is your child making generalisations about themselves.

    A common example of this is, “I can’t help it, I’m a naughty child. My teacher and my mum both told me so!”

    It is likely that the child is starting to adopt the teacher’s view of them and feels they are ‘the naughty kid’ and that’s just how it is. Helping them alter their self-talk can reverse this.

Activity Time

In this activity, you are going to focus on ensuring you describe your child’s behaviours and not their character.

  • Step 1: Reflecting Back

    Take a few minutes to reflect on how you communicate with your child. Ask yourself the following questions:

    • What you are saying to your child?
    • How do you describe them to others?
    • Are you are typically describing their character or their behavior?
    • What could you have said as a behaviour focused response?

    Here’s some examples to help you:

    SituationWhat you saidDescribes Character or BehaviourThe behavior focused response
    Child breaks a glass.“You are really clumsy and careless”.Character“You broke that because you weren’t paying attention. Let’s pay more attention please.”
    Child leaves a big mess.“You are the messiest kid I know”.Character“You have made a big mess today, time to clean up.”
    Preparing a meal and worrying about your children being fussy,“My kids are really fussy, I can never find them anything they like”.Character“My kids like 5 different meals and I am helping them find more yummy things they enjoy.”

WeParent Top Tip

Not sure if you describe your child’s behaviour or character? Take a few days to observe your communication with your child.

  • Step 2: Fostering Positive Self Talk

    Once you’ve reflected back on how you communicate with your child, you can pinpoint where you may have been focusing on giving character feedback.

    Focus on these situations you’ve outlined and approach them by using behavioral feedback and start eliminating character feedback.

    By now, you have some great ideas built up on what you can say instead by using behavioral feedback.

    Work on choosing to use language that describes the good behavior you want your child to show.

  • Step 3: Going forwards

    The great news is, a change in your behavior will cause a change in your child’s behavior. Eliminating negative talk about your child’s character will help them eliminate negative self-talk about themselves.

    Put this into practice for 3 weeks and you will start to see a positive change in how your child talks about self and acts.

    Ask your child periodically what they think and monitor the change in self-talk you are helping them create.

WeParent Top Tip

This approach should show results after 3 weeks. If you feel your child is still struggling with negative self-talk, it is worth discussing this approach with others who care for your child. E.g.teachers, child carers and grandparents.

Where to next?

Well done on completing this strategy in teaching your child to have a positive sense of self.  It’s time to head back to the Module of The Week section on our Categories Page to continue on with the final two strategies – “Finding Positive Skills” and “Mindful Relection”.

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