Kelsi Shipley Recently I had a conversation with an adorable five-year-old boy. At one point he confided in me that he thinks his mom is a negative person. Knowing this boy’s mother, I was surprised by the accusation, and assured him she wasn’t. We talked about a few other things, and then as we parted ways he exclaimed, “Wait! I don’t know what negative means!” In the best five-year-old terms I could think of, I explained that when you are negative, you are not very happy about what happens around you. He then got a puzzled look on his face and said, “Oh. My mom is always happy.”
This experience made me wonder where he had heard that his mom was a negative person. Had family members said it? Had dad said it? Had mom said it about herself? How we talk about ourselves affects our children’s opinions of us, and their opinion of themselves. Throughout the day we are constantly thinking to ourselves through our inner voice. We use this voice to make critical decisions, and to analyze situations. To describe this inner voice, psychologists use the term self-talk. Our self-talk can be positive or negative. Self-talk often becomes our outer voice and unfortunately, our negative thoughts about ourselves are often expressed before our positive ones. “I can’t do that work project. Carol would do a much better job.” “If Joe really knew me, he wouldn’t say such nice things about me.” Not only have you probably had these thoughts, you’ve probably expressed them out loud. Children often mimic their parent’s habits, reactions, and expressions about themselves.
Children with lower self-esteems often make negative remarks about themselves, don’t want to try new things, or give up easily. “I’m dumb. I’ll never get this assignment” “I can’t do this.” “What’s the point?” Some feelings of self-doubt are normal, but when these feelings affect everything we do, it can be debilitating. A child’s self-esteem, as well as an adult’s, is a valuable tool in helping them to succeed. If we want children with healthy self-esteems, we must have a healthy self-esteem ourselves.
The following are suggestions of ways to increase your self-esteem which then, by example and teaching, may increase your child’s self esteem.
- Feel your thoughts: You don’t have to like the negative thoughts that you are feeling. You also don’t need to believe them. However, it is important to truly feel these thoughts. Author Karol K. Truman has said that, “Feelings buried alive, never die.” Find out where these thoughts are coming from. Use the phrase “I feel______about________because________. This will help you identify how you truly feel, and why you feel that way.
- Adjust your thinking: Use “I can” statements to change your understanding. “I can do this work project.” “It does matter, and I can do it.” Encourage yourself to keep progressing. Write down the positive things you are doing, and look back on these notes when you need them. Also, ask yourself what you can do to make a situation less stressful.
- Forgive yourself. Life is hard. We all make mistakes. Daily. Learn how to forgive yourself. Work hard to make the changes you need to make, but don’t be so hard on yourself that you forget who you are, or your capacity for greatness.
Youtube sensation Kid President made a video for babies on the day they are born. He said, “You’re gonna need a pep talk sometimes, and that’s OK. For now, remember this: You’re awake. You’re awesome. Live like it.” Each of us will not always feel great about ourselves. We will make mistakes. However, each of us has the capacity to be great, and to help others feel better about themselves. Just like the five-year-old boy I talked to is watching and listening to his parents self-talk, your child is watching and listening to yours. What you say truly does matter. Your self-esteem, and your example will have a greater impact on your child’s self-esteem than you can ever imagine. Take Kid President’s advice, “You’re awake. You’re awesome. Live like it.”