Loving yourself takes work. Negative inner dialogue can be counterproductive but it’s a hard habit to break unless you start young. Through positive self-talk exercises, you can show your little one how to love themself to build a positive foundation for their social-emotional development.
We’ve also got a cute and cuddly smart companion named Snorble® that is designed to provide your kiddo with social-emotional support, build healthy habits, and prepare them for school - more on Snorble later on.
What is self-talk?
Also known as intrapersonal conversation, self-talk is any conversation we have with ourselves. For little ones, this takes practice since they’re in the process of not only learning who they are but also how the world around them works.
Our brains are wired to focus on the negative. This is a survival mechanism that was developed by our ancestors - our way, way, way, way, back ancestors aka early humans - to keep themselves safe. At the time, this was necessary since the threat of danger was always around the corner. You never knew where saber-toothed tigers were lying in wait or if the family two caves over were planning to raid your stash of pinecones.
As we evolved, our brains were still wired by this negativity bias. We can accept criticism easily but compliments? Forget it. We’d rather crawl into a cave filled with pine cones instead of accepting nice things people say about us. We may have pioneered space exploration, and invented life-saving vaccines and the pumpkin spice latte, but give us a compliment and we turn beet red.
Our children aren’t immune to negativity bias but we can shift the way they feel about themselves through positive self-talk. Additionally, self-talk is part of their social-emotional development.
The underlying societal problem
Before we get into how you can promote positive self-talk to your child, we need to explore the messages society is sending us. If you’re a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, peope of color), differently abled, a woman, or a member of another marginalized group, the messaging directed towards you isn’t always positive. People who get “othered” by society are often treated as less than. Children must learn not to absorb and internalize the negative messages society is sending them. You may even still hang on to negative messaging you heard in your youth or conversely, may be guilty of sending these messages to others when you were in your youth. Either way, it’s essential that you let go of your own biases or the biases that were pushed upon you before you teach your little one how to positively talk to themselves.
Self-talk activities for children
When your little one can’t speak positively about themselves, it can lead to less motivation, declined cognitive functions, an inability to pay attention, and depression. However, you can provide the foundation for your kiddo to love themselves.
Turn the negative into positive
Negative thoughts are going to happen whether we’re well-adjusted or not. It’s how we deal with them that determines our strengths. Talk to your little one about negative thoughts and what to do when they rear their ugly heads. It’s impossible to ignore negative thoughts so you might as well unpack them. In doing so, your child will learn where these thoughts come from and how to overcome them.
Correlated activity: Trash It, Twist It, Take It
For this game, you’ll need a pen and paper or any writing surface. Divide the paper into three columns: Trash, Twist, and Take. In the Trash column list 3-5 negative thoughts your child has experienced.
Let’s say these are the negative thoughts:
- My nose is too big
- I didn’t catch the ball during a little league game and we lost the game. Therefore, I suck at baseball
- Someone made fun of my skin color so I must be dirty
- I didn’t share my toys with my friend so I must be a “meanie”
In the Twist column, unpack each thought until it becomes a positive thought your little one can take with them.
- “My nose is too big” can be spun into something about how your child’s nose is special since everyone in the family has the same one making it a precious family heirloom.
- Not catching the ball during a game happens to everyone, even the top players in Major League Baseball. Show your child that even though they lost the game, they were able to play a team sport and have fun.
- Anyone who calls someone else dirty because of their skin color needs to reflect on why (as aforementioned above with the underlying social problem). As for your kiddo, remind them that their skin is beautiful and they should be proud of it. Impress upon them that the person who hurled insults at them is in the wrong, not them.
- “I didn’t share my toys with my friend so I must be a ‘meanie’”, can be unpacked by asking your youngster why they didn’t share their toys and how it made them feel to be called a “meanie”.
Finally, in the Take column, rewrite each negative statement in a positive way.
- My nose is too big = My nose is just the right size and I love it because it helps me breathe
- I didn’t catch the ball during a little league game and we lost the game. Therefore, I suck at baseball = I had so much fun playing baseball the other day and even though I didn’t make that catch I still played well
- Someone made fun of my skin color so I must be dirty = I am beautiful, my skin is beautiful, and I love my skin color
- “I didn’t share my toys with my friend so I must be a ‘meanie’” = I learned that when I don’t share my toys, I hurt my friend. But, I’m not a “meanie” because I will share my toys in the future
You’ve turned negatives into positives by unpacking negative thoughts and twisting them into positives that your kiddo can take with them.
Promote positivity at home
You are your child’s role model whether you know it or not. Children look up to their parents, siblings, teachers, and caregivers because these are the people who are supposed to make a positive impact on their lives. By promoting self-talk at home, your kiddo will follow suit.
Correlated activity: Hungry, Hungry, Help me
When sitting down to a family meal or any time you’re all together, have everyone go around the table and talk about a challenge they faced or are facing. In turn, each family member can say something encouraging about the person and how they handled the challenge or how they will handle the challenge. After everyone’s gone around the table, repeat back the encouragement but frame it in the first person.
An older sibling talks about a challenge with another kid at school. Everyone around the table offers something positive and encouraging. Older sibling takes everything said and spins it to:
“I am a kind person and if the other kid doesn’t see it then that’s on them.”
It’s easy to talk about what went wrong but with positive self-talk, your little one will see that they are doing their best and can recognize what went well. Plus, you’re creating a safe space where your little one can feel comfortable coming to you for support whether they need a pick-me-up or want to show how well they’re doing. We need support for the positive too!
For children, affirmations are a great tool that they can carry with them throughout their lives. Affirmations allow your little one to engage in positive self-talk because they are actively affirming nice things about themselves. This doesn’t mean that your youngster needs to walk around saying, “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me” but they can have a little mantra they recite when they wake up or before bed.
Correlated activity: Affirmation Station
Every mirror in your home is a station on the Affirmation Railroad. Chug along with your kiddo and stop in front of each station (mirror). In front of the mirror, have your child say one nice thing about themselves that celebrates their strengths. Then, chug over to the next station. You can even name the stations after things your child likes. If you don’t have many mirrors in your home, you can choose anything as a station like a table or couch.
When saying affirmations in front of each station use the present tense to ground your little one in the moment. Avoid “mights”, “shoulds”, or “coulds” to enforce that your child is strong. Also, frame the affirmations positively by saying, “I am strong” instead of “I am not weak.”
Hand gesture toward positive self-talk
Sometimes hand gestures can say more than words ever can. When someone points at you without context, you may think that they’re mad at you or you’ve done something wrong. Whereas a gesture like a wave can signify that someone is happy to see you. For little ones still learning what each gesture means, give them a push in a positive direction. Learning the meaning of hand gestures is also part of their development which is why most babies will learn to wave between eight and 12 months.
Moreover, hand gestures combine three distinct developmental skills. Using the example of a baby waving:
- Cognitive - babies see adults wave at them and learn that it’s a greeting
- Gross motor - babies learn how to rotate their wrists and move their arms up and down in an intentional and coordinated manner
- Social communication - waving teaches babies that there’s a social component of communication because when they wave or are waved at they will reciprocate the gesture
Correlated activity: Simon Says (the remix)
Instead of playing a traditional version of Simon Says, remix it. For all positive hand gestures like waving, or patting your heart say, “Simon says” before it. For all negative hand gestures like pointing furiously or waving your index finger back and forth, don’t say “Simon says”. This will help your youngster see the difference between positive and negative gestures and learn not to internalize the negative ones. The end goal is for your child to realize that if someone throws a negative hand gesture in their direction, they don’t need to internalize its meaning and talk down to themselves in the process.
Snorble talks the (positive) talk
When we created our interactive and portable smart companion, our goal was for children everywhere to excel. With a Magical Bedtime Experience® designed to help your child fall asleep and stay asleep, healthy habit building activities, and fun educational games, no developmental stone is left unturned - even laughter because Snorble tells jokes that’ll have your youngster LOLing up a storm. Moreover, when it comes to positive self-talk, Snorble offers relaxation and reflection activities that allow your little one to take a moment to breathe and see how awesome they are.
- Morningside Center
- The Pathway 2 Success
- Counselor Chelsey
- Parenting for Brain