I had the good fortune to hear Jim Webb, PhD give a lecture on the emotional needs for children.

During his talk he mentioned children and their self-talk. You know what that is, yes? Self-talk is that voice that constantly evaluates how you’re doing things, how the world is playing out, and ultimately how you feel about it. Dr Webb shared the tip that we can tease out and bring to light the inner critic our children have, too. Not only can we mention that this self-talk exists, we can demonstrate and model that voice for our children. We can show them we also have a voice that hovers to illuminate what we do wrong or what we do well.

Dr Webb made me realize we identify this self-talk early and help children acknowledge and own it. If I remember correctly, no one taught me about my self-talk growing up. I wonder if they had if my critic would be a bit more forgiving or generous…Maybe we can help our children identify their inner-critic and help them shape their critic into a more productive coach. Just knowing self-talk exists and bearing witness to this critic could be a great start to insight…

Teach Children About Self-Talk Early

  1. Teach children that self-talk exists. Once children are in school, start mentioning and letting them know that their voice and inner-critic is there. Help them recognize the self-talk they are participating in and ask them how it helps them during they day. Ask them if it trips them up.
  2. Teach children about the errors we make in self-talk–think about the tone of your own critic–what proportion of the day is your self-talk positive versus negative? Think about the proportion of the day as if it’s a pie chart. If you’re like most people, your self-talk is often predominately negative.
  3. Talk about what Dr Webb calls, “the bookkeeping errors” we make. Help your children learn to keep better books. Think about how it often seems the mistakes or mis-speaks of our day tend to overrule the triumphs or contributions we make. Self-talk, particularly with those children prone to perfectionism, can contribute to anxious or depressed feelings. It’s true that society proves this to us again and again — one lie can undo 10,000 truths in a political career for example. But when it comes to our inner critic, we may be able to shape a more perfect union. Talk to your children about how their critic can keep more accuate books.

Model your own self-talk — including when it goes south on you (when appropriate) and work together with your children to acknowledge it’s there.

Self-talk is a very private event and always will be. But one thing we can likely give our children is a better way to grow into themselves….coach or critic included.