As parents have you realized that the most common response to negative self-talk in our child most often does not work. When our child says, “No, I don’t think I can do this”, use this powerful parenting word to flip the negativity and inspire your kid.
My 4-year old Anika is so creative and concentrates quite well when she is playing with her clay, or painting free-hand. I will always find her sticking out her tongue and rolling it when she needs to concentrate more.
She always wants to be independent and never accepts any help with things she believes she can do on her own. Even when she is stuck, for example, one time when she was working with clay in a mold and she was not able to take it out. She never accepted my help and somehow forced the mold out of the clay.
But yesterday when she was doing her school homework, she uttered something which kind of made me sit up and think. Usually when she is not in the mood to do something she will directly say,
“I don’t want to do this task now, give me five minutes.”
But she had never uttered this word ever and it certainly took me aback.
It so happened that she had to prepare some paper cuttings and then color them as part of her homework. She had to make water animals. Specific instructions from the school were to make a cutout and then color. Now cutting a paper at intricate angles for say an Octopus is hard to even for an adult but when she wanted to cut, I was certainly worried. I mean what if she cuts her skin or worse cuts her fingers badly that it may need stitches.
I am sure you as parents may have procrastinated negatively about many things like I did yesterday. But thankfully my wife was more sure about our Anika’s abilities and handled the task really well. She, in fact, gave the paper cutter in her hand asking her to feel the weight. When Anika gave back an affirmation that she can pick the cutter, my wife went ahead and showed her how to hold the paper clip and use the cutter like a pen.
All this while I just sat back on the sofa looking at her intently, all the time my heart was pumping like I was doing some exercise. Then Anika who was all set to cut the animals by herself uttered this sentence under her breath that took my breath away.
She had taken one clip of a jellyfish and the cutter on the right hand bending down intently. She carefully placed the tip of the sharp edge on the side of the picture of the fish. I got up and came close to Anika trying to tell her to move her thumb a little further away, when she said, “I cannot do this anymore”.
I just stood still all the while thinking what happened to my bright, creative daughter who does find a way for everything. How can she turn so negative suddenly?
Powerful parenting word, but what is the danger of negative self-talk in children?
Most of us parents instinctively handle such situations by telling our kid that they are not stupid and they should think and act smart. But have you ever wondered that when we try to handle the situation in this manner, it has never really resolved?
I mean put yourself in your kid’s shoes, how they will feel when someone reaffirms that they are stupid and should not try to act like one?
Let us go back in time to when you were trying to learn how to bicycle. Now I am sure despite being taught by a very good teacher on how to ride a bicycle. When the day came to take the bicycle on our own, if we keep uttering, “I am going to fall, I should can’t balance well.”
By telling yourself that we are about to fail, we have actually decided the outcome even before it has happened. What our brain then decides is that the body need not ride the bike because it will fall anyways.
Instead, if you changed the track slightly and told yourself, “The balance will be tricky initially but if I pedal hard then the cycle will balance out. “. This small change will make a big difference in you riding out on your own.
This mind track change is called self-fulfilling prophecy, or in other words self-declaration. Now you get to decide what you want to self-declare, negative or positive. If we instill positive words then the same gets fulfilled. But these words have to come from our kid and not from us. Why?
Let us look at the most common responses that do not work
Right, so to answer the question, why these words have to come from the kid. Let us look at some of the sentences that kids tell us when talking negatively.
I’m not good at this task.
I really can’t work this puzzle.
I’m never going to learn to write.
As all good parents, we try to combat this negativity with a slew of positive affirmations such as
You ARE good at this task.
You CAN work this puzzle easily.
You WILL DEFINITELY learn to write.
Now when I use a slew of positive affirmations such as the above ones on Anika, more often than not the situation never really improved and she ends up shouting and being cranky. I always wondered why, then after a few attempts I came to realize that when we are defending our child’s negativity with so many positive words, it is in fact boomerang back to the child negatively. What the child basically interprets is follows
If I am good why can’t I do it?
If it is easy why can’t I work this puzzle?
If I will learn to write what’s happening now?
This is what is actually happening inside their head
In the same above context what actually the child is saying is:
I’m frustrated at not being able to do this task.
I feel worried that I will make a mistake.
I feel scared that I will not be able to write well.
So when our positive affirmations come, they hear them in a completely different manner. In fact, if I were you and in this state and someone comes up to me and tells me to not worry everything will be fine. I will for sure be even more defensive and frustrated. Essentially what they hear is
Don’t be Frustrated.
Don’t be worried.
Don’t be scared.
As you can see our positive affirmations are actually reaffirming the negative state back to the child and that is the whole reason for the stalemate that happens. Actually, we are not Empathizing with their situation and feels. If you are like me and worked in the service industry you will relate when you hear this question, “Did the agent empathize on call?”
Yes, it is the same question you need to ask yourself when facing your kid who is negatively self-talking. Are you empathizing with their situation and feeling? No?
What can you do to always remember to empathize? Just say this one powerful parental word.
What’s this one powerful parental word that will turn the situation into actual positivity?
So on that day when Anika uttered that negative sentence, instead of involuntarily spewing a host of positive reaffirming words. I stopped and remembered something I read somewhere long back about empathizing. And there I was blurting out this powerful parental word, “Yet.”
I told her, “Honey, I realize you are scared, yet, can you think of other ways to perform this task.”
Without batting an eyelid, she replied with her addictive toothy smile, “I can use the scissors instead, and Dad you can show me how to cut once more.”
There it was the light bulb moment. A completely negative situation turned into a positive one, not by me but by Anika. And she was the one who arrived at the solution there was no more negative self-talk about this topic inside her head.
Now if we keep the same context from above and using this powerful parental word, yet.
I know your frustrations about this task, yet, what are the other ways to do it?
You may make mistakes, yet, can you think of ways to minimize them?
I know you are scared to write right now, yet, is there a way to start scribbling something?
Can one powerful parental word like “Yet” stop negative self-talk?
The short answer is, “Yes.” It may not completely stop, yet, it will definitely help in reducing the negative self-affirmations that we inflict with our positiveness.
In fact, for better results, we need to combine this powerful parental word with some more guidance till they can find their way out themselves.
Follow these 3-step process
1. Empathize – Empathizing to the situation is the precursor to using the word, Yet. You can say things like “I can feel that you are frustrated.”, or “It seems like you are nervous about this task”, Or “I know you are scared about this situation”, Or “You feel bad about making mistake”
2. Yet – Suffix your empathizing statement with this word, Yet. When your child starts negative self-talk, you provide an interruption with the word, yet. Use this word wisely in different situations. In fact sometimes when you do not want your child to do something, empathizing or using only Yet may not work. Then you need to use something like “……. not yet”
3. Flipping sentence – A flipping sentence is what we call the positive affirmation but in form of a question and not a statement. E.g. “What other ways you can think of dong this task?”, Or “Can you find other ways of cutting the paper?”
So remember the all-powerful parental word, YET.
Empathize, Yet, and Flipping sentence
Something to remember to empathize
Below is a high res picture that you can print and paste it in your kitchen or where it is always visible. It is a strong sentence about empathizing. In fact, you can get your child to color it and then paste the paper.
Try to use this word, let me know how it has changed the way your child responds. I am sure you also have certain tips and tricks that have evolved after parenting over the years. Share them in the comments below!