Parenting Tip of the Week

Parenting Tip of the Week

Teaching Children to Use Positive Self-Talk

by Shari Steelsmith

Tip—One of the best methods for teaching children positive self-talk is to model it yourself.

Our kids are often frustrated. The subject of homework instantly comes to my mind when I think of my kids getting frustrated—but there are a myriad of other causes: learning a new task, dealing with siblings, etc. Both of my kids, now 11 and 8, are easily frustrated when doing math homework. My son, particularly, grouses when he gets stuck and makes dramatic statements like, “This is horrible! I’ll never figure this out!” Or, “I hate math! I’m no good at it.”
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I get concerned when I hear him make comments like this because I know that how we talk to ourselves makes a real difference in how quickly or easily we accomplish tasks. Parent educator Elizabeth Crary, author of the Self-Calming Cards, notes that “Self-talk strongly colors the mind. It impacts what we feel, see, and do.” I tell my children that their brains believe what they say, whether it’s true or not. I will usually prompt them to repeat a better statement, such as, “This is hard, but I can do it.” Although I do intervene in this way, I still wonder if there’s another way I could teach them to use positive self-talk. It turns out, there are more things I can do.

Tools—Crary recommends, first, monitoring your own self-talk, both out loud and mentally. If you find yourself making negative comments, she says to think about the following points: 1) You’re loveable, even though you’re not perfect, 2) You’re capable, even though things are not going well at present, 3) You are growing and getting better, and 4) You sometimes do (whatever it is you’re currently struggling with) just fine. For example, “I’m getting better at being on time. I had the kids to school on time every day last week.”

As for teaching your children positive self-talk, Crary recommends the following tools:


Model using positive self-talk. Do this out-loud for your kids to hear. For example, if someone is rude to you, you could say, “I am in charge of my feelings. I will take a deep breath and then decide what to do.”

Give affirming messages. You can say to your children things like, “It’s okay to be angry” or “You can be upset and still think of what to do.”

Model changing negative self-talk. When you say something negative, change it to something more constructive. For example, “I can’t believe how stupid I am. Oops. I meant to say, ‘Sometimes I make mistakes, but I’m learning from them and I can do better next time.’ ”

This material has been adapted from Self-Calming Cards by Elizabeth Crary, M.S.