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Negative Self Talk: 3 Ways to Respond to Your Child’s Inner Critic

Blog - 17 November 2021

Negative Self Talk: 3 Ways to Respond to Your Child’s Inner Critic

It's been a roller-coaster ride during lockdowns and although children are resilient by nature, there are times when they may think negatively about themselves. We turned to Art of Smart for their wisdom when it comes to identifying if your child is having negative self-talk, and what you can do about it.

Children can go through times of feeling like they aren’t good enough - they don’t look good, they don’t get chosen for the school play, their friends don’t like them… And there is no time when trying to stop negative self-talk is quite as challenging as in primary school.

What is negative self-talk?

Self-talk is that stream of unspoken, half-conscious thoughts that continuously form in your mind. We all experience this throughout the day, each day.

However, these thoughts may become negative if you are continuously thinking about yourself in bad scenarios, where you mess up. You may feel very insecure or like you’re not good enough to complete tasks.

Research suggests this can come in several forms, including personalising (blaming yourself), catastrophising (making everything the worst case scenario) and polarising (seeing things as very good or very bad).

Of course, a little bit of negative talk is quite normal, and can even be healthy for staying grounded, but we need to be aware of when it turns nasty.

Negative self-talk can have some harmful benefits. It increases stress and the potential of mental health issues. It also makes people feel as if they aren’t adequate, distorting self-perception, so it’s essential to implement strategies to stop their negative self-talk from worsening.

How can you recognise negative self-talk in your child?

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Identifying negative self-talk in other people can be challenging. After all, you don’t have access to your child’s brain!

Here are a few key things you can look out for if you’re a little concerned. Your child:

  • Is constantly blaming themselves for things
  • Says they aren’t good enough
  • Feels inadequate in friendship groups
  • Believes they aren’t as good as other people
  • Is unhappy with their grades after working hard
  • Doesn’t want to socialise as much as normal

If any of these things seem familiar to you, or you just have a feeling that your child isn’t treating themselves kindly, we have some tips you can try to put a stop to your child’s negative self-talk!

Tip #1: Give your child perspective

You may notice that your child is speaking about things in an irrational way. They may be listing all the negative things about themselves and discrediting the good bits.

As a parent, you can be the perspective-shaker. Show your kids that there are good things happening in the immediate future. Here are a few ways you can do this, including:

List Writing

Get your child to write down all the GOOD things that have come out of a situation. Sure, perhaps they didn’t get the mark they wanted. But did they learn something? Did they work well in a team? Jot it down! Crossing off a list increases our sense of purpose and promotes positive self-esteem.

Mind Mapping

Do a similar thing to list writing, but in a mind map. This may help your child to draw positive links that they didn’t even realise were there. This tip can work well with highly analytical students.

Think Critically

If your child is upset about something that genuinely is a problem, start problem-solving with them. How can they improve next time? What is the best thing you can do to help?

Playing a Healthy Comparison Game

This one walks a thin line, but for some students, getting them to think about how far they’ve come since this time last year may be really helpful. Listing achievements and pointing out how much they’ve grown may put things into perspective.

Depending on the age of your child and your relationship with them, this might be a task for someone else to tackle. If you think a friend or another family member would be better suited to helping bust those negative thoughts, perhaps gently mention the situation to them. Chances are, they’ve noticed it too.

Tip #2: Turn that thinking around!

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This one is similar, but with longer-term implications. Once your child has had a bit of a confidence boost from the tips above, get them to think long-term about how they can improve.

If they didn’t do very well on a test, flip the thought to “I can make positive changes next time by studying or giving myself more free time.”

Your child may need a fair bit of help with this. Get them to consider why they feel the way they do, and how they might take practical steps to better their situation. This will likely be a continual process over weeks or months.

Here’s some things you can do:

Make a planner

If your child is particularly concerned about marks, which we’ve spoken of a lot, then making a planner for the term can really help. Here, you can tick off key goals and areas of improvement. It’s all about working towards something positive.

Create a regular ‘social day’

Some students have particularly challenging self-talk when it comes to friendships. You can help them by creating a welcoming environment, and perhaps a regular day, where they can bring friends over and socialise. Work with them through any negative thoughts they have around their friendships before getting the party started.

Have weekly goals

One good way to turn around negative self-talk is by having regular and achievable goals. Instead of aiming for better grades, perhaps aim to complete all homework tasks, or for good sleep. Think outside the box of things that are relevant to what your child is struggling with, but that don’t cause them to fall into a trap of doubt.

Tip #3: Get out and have fun

This tip is easy! Sometimes, students don’t have any particular issues that they are causing self-doubt. Instead, they may just be run-down and in need of a break.

You can create a tangible reward for your own kids, helping them to stop negative thinking in its tracks.

Take them out for a day to do something they really enjoy. This may simply be getting ice cream or going to the movies. It may also be heading to one of their favourite locations, the park or a sports match.

This has two benefits. First, there’s evidence to suggest that doing what we love helps with overall mental wellbeing. This makes total sense — doing things we enjoy releases endorphins in our brain, so we can more easily kick negative self-talk.

Second, spending this time with your child shows that you care about them, and that they are worth your time. Hopefully they will start thinking positively as a result.

There you have it! Putting a stop to negative self-talk is definitely a challenge, especially when it’s your child’s inner critic that you’re dealing with. We hope these 3 tips will changes your child’s perspective so that they can reach their full potential in anything they’d like to achieve!

About Art of Smart

Art of Smart Education is an award-winning provider of holistic tutoring and mentoring for students in years K-12. We help primary school students develop a love for learning and grow confident so they can smoothly transition into high school. Over the last decade, we’ve supported over 8,000 students and have over one million young Australians, parents, and teachers access our guides, resources and videos to navigate the K-6 journey.

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