You do everything you can to make sure your child has a positive inner voice.
You praise her at all the right times using the right kind of praise. You tell her you love her and are proud of her every day. You nurture her endeavors and give her encouragement along the way.
Despite all that, one day she declares, “I’m no good, so why bother trying?”
Your heart sinks. Could all of your efforts evaporate in a single instance? What went wrong?
When my daughter was born, the one gift I wanted to give her was a strong self-esteem. It is important to me as a woman and a parent. It took me years to build mine. I remember how painful it was during my childhood to never feel relaxed, calm, and confident, to be plagued with self-doubt.
I wanted so much to protect my daughter from the corrosive, universal effects of low self-esteem and a negative inner voice.
I thought I was well-prepared. My son was eleven-years-old when we welcomed my little girl into the world. He’s nineteen now and has always been a relatively calm, happy person.
When problems did arise, we were able to guide him through them. He is a strong, happy individual who is following his dreams and is beginning a business in producing a line of custom electric guitars and bases.
So, when my daughter was born, I thought, we’ve got this. Plus, my husband and I are in the mental health field and we’re older parents. We worked out a lot of our own issues. We know the importance of a positive inner voice and devote ourselves to supporting our children and each other.
As my daughter grows though, so does my concern. There are times where she expresses no self-confidence, and my heart breaks for her. I think, what am I doing wrong? Are life challenges genetic? How can I help her overcome her challenges so she never has to live with the pain of low self-esteem?
Moreover, how can I help her develop a positive inner voice that is so vital to building self-confidence? What am I doing during those times where she makes statements such as, “I’m no good at…”
Looking inward, I had to come to terms with two things. I am an ambitious parent. I set out to be a really good parent in every sense, to meet my children’s emotional needs as well as their physical needs. So, on those rare occasions where my daughter has a dark soul moment, I was taking her expression as a personal failure.
Even worse, I was afraid that the worst parts of my childhood were seeping into my present family life. I was determined to not allow any of my own personal burdens become my children’s problems.
That’s when it struck me that her positive inner voice is not about me being a good parent. While this is a worthwhile ambition, I had to take a good, long look in the mirror and face the fact that I might have wrapped my own self-esteem up with how my daughter was doing.
This is such a common parenting trap, it’s an ingrained part of the world’s culture. If your child is prospering, it shows that you are successful. When your child is not doing well, it reflects badly upon you.
It is these social forces that influence and shape our interactions with our children. If we feel pressure to conform to society, this has a trickle-down effect on how we interact with our children.
For me, this effect, along with my own desire to be a really great parent to my children, translated into hyper-focusing on my daughter’s inner voice. If she is self-confident, this means I am a successful parent. If I hear her experiencing the depths of despair as I had when I was a girl, I have failed her somehow.
This is when I realized that my ambition to be a great parent was interfering with my ability to help my daughter. I wanted so badly to help her it was getting in the way of my effectiveness.
Instead of helping her from a source of love and logic, I was allowing my fears to take over.
So, instead of focusing on being the “best” parent, I switched my efforts to be the most effective parent.
So, if I were to become most effective, how would I help my daughter develop a positive inner voice?
Effectively Building Your Child’s Positive Inner Voice
Building your child’s positive inner voice is a lot more than offering praise, and even a bit more than offering the right type of praise. It’s a matter of helping your children manage all of their inner voices, even the negative ones.
Here are some tactics you can use to first manage your own behavior. Following, I will explain how to help your children manage their inner voices so their positive ones win over:
See expressions of negative thoughts as an opportunity to help
When I stopped taking my daughter’s expressions of self-doubt to heart, it helped me realize that there might be times where she needs a little more fortifying in that area. She is expressing she needs help in the best way she can.
Every time she expresses a negative thought, it is because she needs emotional support in that area, and I will have the opportunity to help her because she felt safe enough to share it with me.
Also, I learned that my daughter has her own, unique way of expressing herself. She needs help in expressing her emotions well so, most of the time, they wind up sounding really bad. If I focus on the words she is using too much, I am only compounding the problem.
However, she’s just trying to tell me in the best way she can at the moment that she needs help. After all, what kid says calmly, “Gee, mom. That makes me very angry”? It simply doesn’t happen that way.
All children need many years of practice regulating and expressing their own emotions. If you hyper-focus when they say something that is off-color or extreme, it’s not going to do them any good.
Children may not be able to see past the present and into the future. They have a tendency of thinking that the pain they feel at this moment will never go away.
It is a very natural tendency for children to be more focused on themselves due to the stage of maturation. Most people are able to see the bigger picture of life and situations in adulthood, whereas children and teenagers may not be able to see beyond what is occurring right now.
I found that if I switch my focus and see their expressions of negativity as an opportunity to help, I could acknowledge my children’s feelings and then move on to the next step, problem-solving.
Focus on improving your own reaction through calming, and then problem solving
I see this step as an ongoing project. We all have bad days, and reacting consistently with our children can present challenges. Sometimes, when children have problems, they might fixate on something that is not really the heart of the issue. It is simply a sign that something is wrong or that they are upset.
This has taken a bit of practice, but when I feel myself getting upset or stressed, I take several deep breaths. Deep breathing dismantles the stress reaction in the body. If your child sees you calmly responding to problems and challenges, then you are providing your child with another way to see things.
From a place of calmness, I can then focus on problem-solving. When I focus on problem-solving, I am able to look at building a positive inner voice from many different angles.
It’s not always about what you say, but what you do and how you respond to life’s little problems and inconveniences. In the example I have listed below, you will see how effective problem-solving can be in practice.
Help your children develop clear boundaries
Like many children who grew up with abusive behavior patterns within the household, I had to develop my own sense of personal boundaries. When you grow up in an abusive environment, your abuser always violates many personal boundaries.
And, as a child, you have to learn how to accept these violations and yet still feel like you are loved and wanted. So, often, you accept these explanations of why the violations are expressions of love as the truth and tolerate the violation of your personal boundaries.
Also, like many children who experienced abuse in childhood, I felt responsible for everything that happened, a very common challenge for adults who grew up in abusive homes. As a client of mine stated, “My husband threw a laundry basket at me and broke my nose, but that was my fault. I made him angry.”
When you help your children develop healthy personal boundaries, it teaches them to realize that everyone is responsible for their own emotions and helps them develop their positive inner voice. This takes the weight and burden of unhealthy guilt off of your children, and they are free to be responsible for their own emotional state. Their self-esteem and their inner voice isn’t negatively affected because of someone else’s emotional state.
My daughter and I have similar temperaments. We are both extremely sensitive in so many ways. I realized that in order for me to help my daughter be unburdened with the corrosive effects of low self-esteem and for me to be helpful in developing a positive inner voice for her, that I needed to address my own problems with taking on too much from other people.
I was doing to her what I was trained all of my childhood. I was taking responsibility for her present emotional state. This burdened her with having to be perfect and happy all of the time, which is extremely unrealistic and unhealthy.
As a parent, I am responsible, but not in the sense I had thought. I had to teach myself that while my daughter and I are alike in so many ways, that she is her own person with her own set of emotions.
She has a right to feel angry, hurt, confused, lonely, bored, happy, excited, etc. If I don’t allow her this right to feel the range of emotions of human experience, then I am denying her a right.
This can affect her positive inner voice. If she learns that certain emotions are “bad,” then she might feel like I don’t love her when she has emotions that are difficult to deal with, such as anger or frustration.
This didn’t sit well with me when I realized this, so I had to set my own personal boundaries first. I had to know in my head and heart that my daughter is her own person. That separateness allows her to be her own person in any and all moods she experiences, which helps with her self-acceptance, which in turn helps her develop a positive inner monologue.
Think out loud
This feels strange at first, especially for us quiet introverts, but your child will pick up what you say in the home. If you make sure to think out loud in healthy ways for a variety of situations, when things work out awesomely, or when things don’t go as planned, you are modeling an inner voice they can use for themselves in the future.
For example, I make sure I compliment myself out loud when I do a good job. “Wow, it feels great that I washed all of those dishes.” Or when I’ve hit a setback I say, “I didn’t get to finish my list today, but I’ll be able to catch up tomorrow.”
In this sense, I am modeling different types of healthy behavior for her to learn from that will help her develop a healthy inner voice.
Stop beating yourself up
If you are really hard on yourself, your child might pick up on this habit.
I realized some time ago that I was beating myself up. It’s the unhealthy parent voice I had left over from my childhood.
Beating yourself up also establishes an unhealthy pattern of blame. If you find yourself saying, “It’s all my fault,” then your child might begin blaming herself every time something goes awry.
If I begin berating myself, I tell myself that this self-talk doesn’t help me solve my problems and issues. Instead, I tell that part of me to stop it and calm down. In doing this, I bypass the “blame game” and focus on ways I can improve the situation instead of wallowing in my own disappointment and frustration.
I’m not doing myself any good, and it certainly doesn’t help my children to see me in this state. So, in a sense, I am helping them with their inner voice by avoiding the unhealthy mental habits that encourage a negative self-talk and inner voice.
Putting It All into Practice
As most parents know, you can play an important role in improving your children’s life skills when you work on your own emotions. Managing your own emotional regulation and issues is a big part of it.
Next, practice how to handle your interactions with your children effectively to help them get through their difficult times. Begin by making sure that you don’t counter their feelings.
I know this seems counter-intuitive, because your first instinct might be to rush over and tell your child it’s not true. He is self-confident, competent, wonderful… The problem with this is that it doesn’t allow your child the chance to own his feelings. It tells him what he’s feeling is wrong.
It is helpful to your children to know that their parent is on their side. They might even roll their eyes and say, there she goes, doing her mom thing again.
So, the problem may not be the fact that they know you’re there. They could still know this fact and not feel your enthusiasm for them for themselves. While you think they are wonderful and competent, they might not feel this way about themselves, and their negative voice might have taken over.
Everyone’s initial reaction to a “bad” thought is to simply put it out of their minds. But, this is not an effective tactic, because it will always return. If it happens enough, negative thoughts could take over.
In the below suggestions, you can teach your children to establish a healthy “thought manager” in their heads so they can manage negative thoughts and promote positive thinking.
Follow this pattern: Ask. Listen. Summarize. Sympathize. Define/Share. Problem Solve. Thank.
Ask them, “Why do you feel this way?”
Here is an example conversation:
Michael comes home and is upset.
“Hi. How did everything go today at school? Did you do well on your test?”
“Yeah, that went okay.”
However, Michael still seems upset.
“Michael, is there something wrong?”
Listen Then Summarize
Give your child a chance to air his grievances, and then repeat back what you think you heard. Allow your child the time to correct you or to add some more details.
“I’m no good at sports. No one picks me for their team, and today, Jeff made fun of me while I was shooting a basket. He’s such a jerk. I hate him.”
“So, they picked you last today, and then Jeff made fun of you?”
“No. They usually pick me last, and today it got worse when Jeff made fun of me. Everyone laughed at me.”
“You’re right. That wasn’t nice at all.”
It is important to state to your child that another child’s actions are not fair, unjust, hurtful, or even nasty. This helps you children realize that they are not deserving of other people’s bad behavior. Kids don’t have the maturity or understanding, a lot of times, to be able to define abusive behaviors.
Children can internalize those behaviors and then develop a negative self-image. This was a big problem in my childhood, and it is a problem I have managed to prevent in my children because we make it clear to our children that they are not responsible for the way other people act. Ever. This is part of defining good behavior for your children, and it is explained further below.
At this point, it might help your child to hear how you handled the same or similar problem.
“You know, I went through the same thing when I was your age. My Jeff’s name was Steven. He hogged the ball all of the time and wouldn’t really let anyone else play.”
“Yeah, Jeff does the same thing.”
“He used to give me a hard time when I shot baskets or threw a ball, or went to bat when we played baseball.”
Sharing your experiences for a moment will help take the focus off of your child’s pain. It will also provide a model for how you dealt with situations like this in the past successfully, which will help your child manage all his inner voices.
This will also let your child know that what they are going through is a very common issue and that they are not alone in their struggle.
When children latch onto negative thoughts about their situation and are going through self-esteem issues, they can sometimes think that other people’s behavior is their fault, they can often go further in this feeling if allowed and latch onto the notion that their struggle with other children who behave badly is unique to them, creating a false sense of isolation.
Bad things happen to good people in life, and part of resiliency is in assisting your child in managing potentially unhealthy thought patterns so they don’t take on too much of other people’s problems.
It truly helps children when you define for them if what they are experiencing is unhealthy behavior. This helps dispel negative thinking, such as, “If only I were good enough at basketball (or anything else), then (I would experience a more positive outcome).”
When you define bad behavior and good behavior for your child, and then explain why other people might act badly, this goes further to embed their understanding of what they can control and what they cannot. This will leave them less vulnerable to buying into other people’s negativity.
“There are a lot of Jeffs and Stevens in the world. I learned that they act like that because they actually don’t feel good about themselves.
“When I realized this, I no longer listened to people who did this all the time. Instead, I felt sad for them that they were so sad, that they needed to say mean things to other people all the time just to make themselves feel better.
“I knew people who didn’t have to say mean things or nasty comments, and they actually would congratulate me when I did something really well. Jeff probably hears the same things said to him, and he is repeating a lot of what he hears at home. It must feel terrible for him to have to hear mean things like that all the time.”
Sharing how you handled your own experiences helps your child deal with outside influences effectively. Children are not raised in a vacuum. They have both positive and negative influences from society. This step will show them that they can preserve their self-esteem and positive inner voices even in these situations.
This section helps your child recognize when other people behave badly, and also helps your child learn when people behave well. You are pointing out that Jeff’s actions, while they got him attention for the moment, are not acceptable.
My husband and I have used this approach with our children, and it works every time. Your children learn that people don’t act the way they do because of something in particular that your children did. People act the way they do because of their own life circumstances.
In other words, you children learn that it’s not their fault, which helps them preserve their positive self-talk and image. Also, in using this tactic, your children learn not to hyper-focus on their problem. This term is called ruminating, and it is thought that ruminative thought patterns encourage the development of depression.
When they focus on the negative, it can grow larger and larger until the negative thoughts take over and push out the positive thoughts. When your children do this, they see the problem is more awful than it really is. In helping your kids realize that there are some things in life that are not within their area of control, it takes the responsibility and guilt off of them.
Next, after you steer your child away from awfulizing their problem and ruminating, and you have defined for them what is good relationship behavior versus abusive behavior, put the power back into your children’s hands by brainstorming solutions to their problems. You might have to throw out a possible solution to get things started.
“We could practice playing basketball in the park together this weekend if you like.”
Not only is this suggestion good for problem-solving, but it also helps your children when you spend some hands-on time together.
If your child doesn’t seem enthused for the moment, don’t take it as a rejection. It could be that your child may not like basketball. Work to clarify the issue, and also, reign in your own feelings so you don’t get defensive. There could be something else at work.
“So, do you like basketball?”
Michael shrugs. “I don’t know. I guess.”
“You watch soccer a lot with your friends. You don’t have to like every sport. Would you like to practice a sport with me that you do enjoy, like soccer or baseball? Maybe both?”
If you still get a rejection, maybe sports are simply not within your child’s interests. Perhaps your child and you could take art lessons together at a community college, or pursue another activity your child really enjoys. Your children and you get to spend time together as a result.
When things aren’t going well socially for children, they need extra fortification at home. One aspect of diagnosing mental illness is to see how people are coping with the different dimensions of their lives, like school, work, and relationships with families and friends. At least, your children will not have doubts about your devotion to him, and this can be a powerful force in your children’s lives.
After you have decided that, you might follow up with questions about the classmate. “Does Jeff always give you a problem, or was it just today?” It will assist you in discovering if making jokes at other people’s expense is the bully’s regular behavior, if he always singles out your child or if the negative attention is dispersed among his classmates, or if there are any other behaviors that need to be addressed.
After finding out those facts, you can brainstorm with your child to see how he or she is most comfortable in handling the situation every day.
Thank your child for sharing the story with you, and compliment him on communicating with you so well.
“You know, I am very happy you felt like you could share this for me. I know this wasn’t easy, but you handled this situation very well. I’m very proud of you. Thanks so much for allowing me the chance to help you out.”
In the end, all our children want is our love and acceptance. They want to feel valued and trustworthy. If we can effectively show them that they have it, this will help them build a positive inner voice.
Building a positive inner voice isn’t about your child always having nothing but positive thoughts in her head.
It’s about how to handle all of the voices effectively and healthfully so the positive voice becomes stronger and dominates the others over time.
Parents can facilitate their children’s positive inner voice by being good models and managing their own personal struggles so they do not take over and dominate their behaviors and reactions to their children. Also, the biggest favor you can do for yourself and your children is to be accepting and loving to you both, because if you are loving to yourself, then your children will follow your example.
2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
Even busy parents have time to help build their thought management skills so they can effectively learn how to solidify their positive inner voice and manage their negative thoughts. Think about how you can successfully follow these steps.
- Stop, listen, repeat. Listen to what your child has to say, and then summarize what you think your child is saying. Help your child flesh out more details and allow your child to make corrections.
- Empathize. Let your child know that you know how it feels to be in that situation so your child doesn’t feel alone in his or her struggle.
- Problem-Solve. If you have to, write down all of the details from your child’s account of the problem. This will help you both organize your thoughts. Then brainstorm a piece at a time until your child has a plan of action. Also, make contingency plans in case the first doesn’t work out.
- Thank. Make sure to thank your children for providing you the opportunity to help them.
Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
Long-term goals involve watching your own behavior. There are areas you can focus on that will help increase your effectiveness in helping your child cultivate a positive inner voice over time.
- Focus on keeping yourself calm. Remember, deep breathing really does help reset your body’s fight-or-flight reactions.
- Model positive behavior. Make sure your child overhears you thinking good, positive things aloud about yourself, and bring your child in as often as you can to help you problem-solve. This will help you both get into the habit of applying problem-solving every day and positive thoughts.
- Respect your child’s separateness. Your child is allowed to feel the full range of human emotion. But, switching to problem-solving after your child “owns” his or her feelings will allow your child to learn how to move forward and solve his or her problems, which will in turn build a positive inner voice.