We’ve all had that nagging inner voice at one time or another.
It’s the one bent on criticizing our every move and laughing at us if we fail. It fills us with fear and causes us to doubt if we’ll ever succeed at anything. This voice comes from our inner critic and it tears us down with negative self-talk.
Now you can be sure that if we experience it, our kids do too. It’s also a safe bet that they start to hear that inner voice at a young age, maybe even younger than we think. Experiencing bullying, social isolation, or intense criticism puts this critical voice on a fast track to becoming your kid’s constant companion even from when they’re little.
The good news is, there are ways to combat this negative self-talk so your kid doesn’t hopelessly suffer from it. The younger you start training your kid, the better, but there truly is no age limit on learning how to fight back against the inner critic (you can even use these tips to help you as an adult).
Let’s get down to it and talk about how to fight negative self-talk!
1) Give your kid’s inner critic a name.
Maybe it sounds silly but this actually plays an important part in taking control from that mean and nagging voice. Giving your kid’s inner critic a name helps separate them from this piece that they don’t want to be bothered by anymore. Suddenly, it’s no longer a part of them but something outside them that they can learn how to control.
It honestly doesn’t matter what name you and your kid give to their inner critic. It could be something silly or, if the voice sounds like someone they know, it could be the name of the kid that bullied them in the past. Whatever your kid lands on, stick to that name going forward.
Now that they’ve picked out a name for their inner critic, here comes the hard part.
2) Train them to start talking back.
We get it. This might sound like the opposite of what you’ve tried to teach your kid from a young age. When it comes to their inner critic, however, it’s time to forget all those lessons.
Start with training your kid to develop a sensitive ear so they can detect when the negative self-talk of their inner critic starts popping up. Learning to sense that critical voice the moment it starts talking is a skill that will take time but your kid is capable of developing it with practice. As soon as they hear it, call it out by name and talk back to it.
That’s enough _______, I’m doing the best I can.
I hear you _______, but I’m not going to fail at everything I try.
It’s time to leave _______, I know it’s not true that all my friends hate me.
We’ll be honest. This is going to take a lot of practice, especially if your kid’s inner critic been running un-checked in their brain for years. They probably won’t even believe the good things they say about themselves at first and that’s ok. The key is to keep going, no matter how hard it is because, at some point, your kid will start to believe it. That self criticism will start to shrink as they starve it of the freedom it used to have.
But, no matter how good they get, it’s important to remember your kid will never be perfect at this and will need a little extra help.
3) Build them a safety net.
Sometimes, their inner critic will be too stubborn to leave, no matter how hard they try to fight its negative voice. This is normal! There are always going to be things that are just too hard for your kid to handle alone. In preparation for these moments, it’s important to do two things.
First, help them build a net to fall back into. This means helping them pick people that they feel safe being completely honest with, even if the truth is that they’re struggling. When they can’t fight off their inner critic on their own, it’s this group that they’ll turn to. These are the people that will come alongside your kid and give them the extra support they need with empathy and words of encouragement.
Second, teach your kid that they’re not a failure for struggling to keep their inner critic in check. It’s easy for that voice to get meaner if they need help from the people in their safety net. Equip them to fight against the extra load of shame by reminding them that this even happens to the strongest people. It’s not weakness; it’s just part of being human.
4) Practice their “Because…”
Until now, we’ve talked about how to help your kid react when they notice their negative self-talk taking over. This last piece is something they can practice BEFORE that inner critic even has a chance to open its mouth. What do they need to do?
Every single day, teach your kid to notice at least one good thing that happened BECAUSE of them.
My class laughed because I told a funny joke.
______ didn’t feel lonely at lunch because I sat next to them.
That science project was a success because I worked so hard on it.
Whatever it is, train your kid to call out something good that wouldn’t have happened without them. At first, this will probably be really hard, especially if their inner critic has been in control for years. It’s likely that they’ll have a hard time finding anything to call out because their self criticism has convinced them they have nothing good to offer. However, as your kid mobilizes all these steps and begins to fight their inner critic, they’ll slowly start noticing the positive impact they have on the world. As they start to recognize and believe this truth, they’ll start shutting that negative self-talk down before it even has a chance to get going.
With your help, your kid can develop all of these tools.
Instead of being controlled by negative self-talk, they’ll have everything they need to both be reactive and proactive towards their inner critic. As they continue to grow through life, this inner strength will help them build resilience and a healthy sense of self-esteem.
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