My six year old and I were cooking together the other day when he accidentally spilled a significant amount of flour.
"I am horrible." he moaned. The self-degradation surprised me, but I recognized the sentiment. I, too, had been known to ward off reprimand or rejection by beating my critics to the punch. I felt it was important to address this self-talk with him, but I found myself blanking on exactly how.
This came as a surprise, too, because I know so much about the psychology of the inner critic. I have so much experience, myself, with rooting out these echoes of shame and failure. But if there is any real test of how well you understand something, it would be how you explain it to a child.
For a parent, there is an added pressure and realization that you cannot control what your child does with this information. You are really only an influencer in their growth.
My first inclination was to make it a rule. "No negative self talk allowed." While that may be a short-term solution, it doesn't give us any real insight into the mechanism.
I spent several days thinking about this. Maybe it is just a hang up for me, personally, but I really struggled with putting into age appropriate words why this was important and how I could make an impact without being able to "enforce" it.
As with most explanations I've had to come up with for my children, I settled on basic, simple honesty. But it really took me a while to get to the phrase I felt captured this.
"The way you speak to yourself is really important."
When I boil down all the implications of self talk and the fears I have for him as I watch him begin to make this negative outlook a habitual response, this is the message that it really comes down to:
The way you speak to yourself is really important.
I think our children get a lot of messaging from their parents and society about how to behave towards other people. But for some reason, we don't spend a lot of time on self-respect. Not surprising, then, that many adults struggle later with the concept of self-care.
How we speak to ourselves reinforces our emotional first hand experiences. It makes all the difference between how we approach the future. If I fail, I fail two fold when my inner critic speaks negatively of my failure. If I fail but my inner voice maintains a healthy self-respect, I can learn from my failure and do better next time. I can move forward with confidence.
I think our children are capable of understanding there is a conversation going on internally and we, both parent and child, have a role in how the dialogue goes.
I have two young sons, ages six and four. From pregnancy and beyond, they have been mirroring back to me more than I ever could have dreamed of learning about myself and my own growth. As we grow together through this life, I hope to always mirror back to them the same inspiration, strength, and wonder they have shown me.