Praise, perspective and headspace: How to stop your child from speaking negatively to themselves

Have you ever caught your child being too hard on themselves? Talk down about themselves when discussing a recent failure or mistake they have made?

Negative talk isn’t uncommon in children but it’s something to keep an eye on as they grow older. What can start as annoyance with themselves for spilling something can turn into something more serious as the stakes and mistakes get higher when they’re older.

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Learning to manage negative emotions is a key skill for them to have and to use mistakes to learn in a productive way. Here are a few things you can do to help them combat this behaviour to work towards a more positive and productive approach to mistakes.

Find the root of negative words

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When our kids begin to speak negatively to themselves, it hasn’t just come out of the blue. This is usually a feeling that has been building up for a while, and has just been triggered by this specific event. Avoid engaging with the words they’re using, and focus more on the feeling – why do you feel this way about yourself? Do you feel like this often? What can trigger this feeling? Reassure them that these emotions and feelings are perfectly normal and that everyone feels them – but that they also have to be put in perspective.

Get rid of general praise

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When we’re praising our children ‘good boy’ or ‘good girl’ can be a little general. Think of the action that prompted you praising them and keep your praise specific to that. For example, ‘I’m so proud of how you share you toys – you’re so kind’ or ‘You should be so happy with yourself for eating all your vegetables – that’s very grown up.’ Children then have these values and compliments to fall back on once they begin to feel negatively about themselves in certain situations.

Discuss how things go wrong for the best sometimes

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Talk to them about how things don’t always work out and how that’s just life – but how sometimes its for the best. We’ve all had something we really really wanted in the past that never came to us – but hasn’t everything worked out great, if not even better anyway? Sometimes opportunities pass us or we mess things up and we learn from that experience. This is a valuable lesson and one they’ll only learn through experience, but it never hurts to let them know about a few examples of times things didn’t work out for the best.

Create an encouraging environment

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Negative self-talk is not necessarily a learned behaviour, but teaching your children to treat themselves kindly is. Watch how you treat yourselves and others in the home when mistakes are made or when things go wrong. Being aware of it will make you kinder to yourself and others, which never hurts. Having a loving home where mistakes are allowed can make all the difference.