Written by Ashlee Ellerbruch, M.C., R. Psych., and Lisa Kaldenbach, M.A., R. Psych.
Have you ever had to do something new and scary, and had a moment where you gave yourself a little pep talk? I can do this. It doesn’t matter if I make a mistake. I am good enough. This little pep talk, in psychology terms, is called positive self-talk.
Positive self-talk can also be described as our inner monologue that helps us reframe how we might be viewing our world. This is an important tool to have, and it’s not just a skill that adults use. Children can greatly benefit from learning this skill - it can increase problem-solving skills, self-confidence, and stress management.
Here are our top 10 strategies for you and your children to learn the art of positive self-talk:
- Model positive self-talk. Modeling any positive behavior is a simple and easy way to teach a child. The tricky part is being mindful about the process and being intentional about modeling specific behaviors. Often, positive self-talk is something that adults are still learning to successfully implement themselves. When you are experiencing something frustrating, tough, or new, try talking out loud to yourself while your child is present. Use positive self-talk to model for your child that everyone benefits from a little self-encouragement.
- Praise the process. We all benefit from knowing we did well. But research shows that praising the process or effort, rather than the person, helps to support a growth mindset, resiliency, and confidence: “Wow, you must have worked really hard!” “I saw how many different ways you tried to solve that problem.” “I love the colors you chose to use.” Although this may seem like a small change, it can have big and positive impacts!
- Make a positive affirmation list. Positive affirmations are positive statements that we make about ourselves. For example, “I am smart.” “I am creative.” “I am ambitious.” “I am a good friend.” There are many ways we can incorporate positive affirmations into our day. We recommend finding a time in the day when all household members are present (i.e., dinner time, mornings, before bed) and have each member go around and say something positive about themselves and the family member next to them. This makes positive self-talk and affirmations part of your family’s day! You can also encourage your children to use these positive affirmations during times that they feel stressed or overwhelmed, to remind themselves of their strengths, and that they can do hard things.
- Do regular check-ins. Talking about emotions regularly or doing daily ‘check-ins’ is a great way to integrate discussions about a child’s feelings. Talk about those moments where your child was feeling scared to try out for the basketball team, anxious about taking a test, or worried about starting a new school. How were they feeling? How did their body feel? What types of thoughts were they having? These are great conversations to have with your children to create an open dialogue around those tough emotions that they may experience.
- Support their passions and interests. Provide outlets for self-expression that helps your children feel confident and capable. When children can engage in a variety of interests and hobbies, they are more likely to experience a sense of positivity, which contributes to their overall sense of optimism. Be open and accepting of each child’s unique and specific interests, and don’t let your personal preferences interfere with the passions each child pursues.
- Allow space for their stories and emotions. We typically engage in positive self-talk when we’re feeling, well… not so positive. We are often quick to dismiss our children’s negative emotions and try to make them feel happy again. But it is important that we allow space to acknowledge and process big feelings. It’s okay to feel scared, worried, or upset - these are emotions we all feel and must learn how to manage them appropriately.
- Support problem-solving. By helping to coach a child as they problem-solve a fight with a friend, a bad day at school, or a disappointment, we are giving them the tools on how to reframe a problem, think about the other person’s perspective, and brainstorm solutions. Problem-solving is a lifelong skill that children are learning, and positive self-talk is one more strategy they can have in their problem-solving toolbox.
- Journaling and reflection. Journaling is a great tool for all ages and allows us to express our thoughts and experiences in a safe and therapeutic space. By journaling, you can reflect on your experiences, plan for how to manage future struggles, incorporate positive affirmations, and process tricky feelings. Reflective journaling allows you to process and learn from past experiences while also being a source of inspiration and rejuvenation. Journaling is all about self-expression, and there is no wrong way to journal.
- Practice, practice, practice! Learning positive self-talk is like any other skill, you must practice it to get better at it. Although this may seem like an easy task, it takes a lot of effort to implement this strategy, especially if you are not used to practicing positive self-talk. By modeling, participating in fun games and activities, talking about emotions, and reflecting on those experiences, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a positive self-talk pro!
- Make it fun! Learning happens naturally when we are having fun! This is a simple yet effective way to increase learning within your whole family. Some of our favorite books about confidence, growth mindset, and self-esteem are I Like Myself! by Karen Beaumont, What’s My Superpower? by Aviaq Johnston, The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds. And when you feel like cuddling up to watch a movie together, try turning on Finding Nemo, How to Train Your Dragon, Inside Out, Brave, Sing, The Boy Who Learned to Fly. These stories and movies can help you to start conversations about positive self-talk and confidence with your kids. The bonus? They are fun for the whole family!
Be gentle with yourself as you practice incorporating more positive self-talk into your life. It may feel silly at first, or not come easily, but by readily practicing this skill, it can promote optimistic thinking, feelings of confidence and hope, and most importantly, happiness!
Ashlee and Lisa are child psychologists who created KidsConnect Psychology as a place for children and families to access tools, supports, and therapy. For digital downloads, parenting tool kits, information about parent counselling, school consultations, daycare consultations, and more, visit kidsconnectpsychology.com. Follow on Facebook and Instagram @KidsConnectPsychology.