The Importance of Positive Self-Talk: Sage Advice for Parents

How do you talk to and about yourself? Do you notice when you do it in front of your kids?

How you speak to and about yourself impacts your children, for good or for bad. According to psychotherapist and mother Philippa Perry, your self-talk has a big impact on your child’s relationship with themself.

Keep reading to understand the importance of positive self-talk for both you and your kids.

The Importance of Positive Self-Talk

In The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read, Perry discusses the importance of positive self-talk and provides concrete advice to help you put it into practice. She points out that children model their behavior on the behavior of their parents. So, if you tend to speak negatively to and about yourself, your child will likely develop that behavior as well. 

For example, say you have an inner belief that you’re not very smart. Even if it’s not true, it makes you feel deeply insecure. Therefore, anytime someone compliments you for your cleverness or skills, you make a self-deprecating comment diminishing your intelligence. Likewise, anytime you make a mistake, you take it as evidence that confirms your self-assessment. 

You don’t treat or think of your child the same way, so you don’t think about how your comments about yourself affect them. However, over time, you might notice they stop trying very hard in school, they’re afraid to make mistakes, or they frequently minimize their intelligence. By watching you put yourself down, they’ve learned to do the same. 

(Shortform note: Some psychologists assert that you should think of your child as if they’re an alien observing and cataloging everything that you do. When your child arrives in this world, they (like an alien) have no inherent understanding of language or social customs—they learn it all from you. They learn how to fit in by imitating the behaviors they see in you because that’s what they perceive as normal. This includes negative self-relationships.)

Putting It Into Practice: Address Negative Self-Talk

To set your child up to have a positive self-relationship, you must address the negative ways you treat and speak to and about yourself. Perry states that the first step is to recognize your patterns of negative self-talk. These patterns often go unnoticed because they’re embedded in your self-image, so it’s important to consciously identify them. Start by writing down every negative thought you have about yourself for a day. 

Once you’ve identified a negative thought, don’t try to reason with it—engaging with it will take up too much of your energy and be unproductive. Instead, acknowledge the thought and pretend it’s an uncomfortable comment made by a person whose opinion you disagree with. Remind yourself that they can share their opinion, but you don’t have to listen. 

(Shortform note: One way to take power from your inner critical voice is to give it a name as if it’s a person. This will help you visualize it as something outside of yourself, as Perry suggests. Additionally, ascribing a silly name to it will make it seem less threatening, making the thoughts seem silly as well.)

Then, prove the thought wrong by doing something it claims you can’t do. By doing the thing that feels impossible, you build your confidence and create evidence to look back on when you begin to question yourself again. For instance, returning to our previous example, you might start working on the book you’ve always wanted to write despite the negative thoughts that tell you you’re not smart enough to be an author. 

(Shortform note: You can also collect evidence against negative thoughts by moving your attention away from them and toward positive things you’re already doing. Praise yourself for five things you do well a day, whether for simply getting out of bed, exercising, having a nice conversation, and so on. Praising yourself consistently will help reframe your thoughts away from constant criticism.)

Examples of Common Negative Thought Patterns

Negative thought patterns can be difficult to recognize since they’re so automatic. Look for these common patterns, and write them down any time you observe one in your thoughts:

Overgeneralizing. This is when, in response to a situation, you think that something bad always happens to you or something good never happens to you. These thoughts contribute to a defeatist mindset that precludes positive change.

Ignoring positive experiences. This leads you to always feel inadequate or underappreciated since you can never recognize when something is going well for you.

All-or-nothing perspective. In this thought pattern, you see everything in extremes. If something isn’t perfect, then it’s a failure.

Jumping to conclusions. This is when you have a negative thought or a feeling and you form a conclusion based on it, even if there’s no evidence to support it. 
The Importance of Positive Self-Talk: Sage Advice for Parents

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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