This time of year has us thinking about all the different ways we can encourage kids to show love. To those around them, yes, but to themselves too. We recently chatted with our friend Kerry, a Brooklyn-based Montessori educator, about positive self-talk. Below, learn what it is, why it's important, and how grown-ups can help kids cultivate it.
What exactly is self-talk?
Self-talk refers to how we communicate with ourselves. Consider it your inner voice — it's there to help you process the world around you, and understand your place in it. Self-talk can be positive or negative. The way a person speaks to themselves can impact their overall self-esteem.
What's an example of negative self-talk? And of positive?
Here's a scenario for grown-ups. Let's say you point out what you think is an error in a group presentation. Your co-worker double checks, and as it turns out, they were correct — there's no error.
Negative self-talk would look something like, "Ugh! Why did I say anything? I should just keep my mouth shut next time." An example of positive self-talk, however, would be to say, "I was looking out for my team, and I am proud of myself for speaking up."
It's important to note the difference between positive self-talk and simply suppressing negative emotions. Consider positive self-talk as an opportunity to acknowledge whatever negative thoughts come up. But instead of giving more energy to those negative thoughts, reframe them by calling upon and identifying your strengths.
That's so interesting! So how can grown-ups encourage kids to engage in positive self-talk?
While there are many ways, here are three suggestions:
Model: Kids are super observant and can pick up a ton of their grown-up's own habits. So, a powerful tool for practicing positive self-talk with your child is actually practicing it with yourself. (Easy, right?!) Late for a meeting? Try sharing, "It's okay to make mistakes. I was present and participated when I arrived, and am going to keep a closer eye on the clock next time!" Not only will this help your child — it will nurture your own resilience and self-esteem, too.
Prompt: To make your child more comfortable with positive self-talk, provide opportunities for them to reflect on positive parts of their identity. Ask questions that inspire your child to think deeply about what makes them feel strong, proud, and confident. For example, if your child shows you a piece of art they made, try prompts like: What's your favorite part? Walk me through a part you're especially proud of. How did you feel when you finished the project?
Respond: Along with prompting, responding to and engaging with your child in these moments can help them learn how to better understand and name positive emotions. Elaborate on any physical cues you observe, such as a big smile or eager stride, and validate what they share. Take the art example above, for instance. You could add, "Yes, I can tell you feel proud by the big smile I see on your face! I wonder if you feel proud because you worked really hard on this project, and now it's finished."
And of course, you can always lean on books! Here are a few recommendations for stories about developing a positive sense of self: I Can Do Hard Things, I Believe I Can, and I Like Myself!.