This morning I was sitting on the couch with my husband, Scott and my 2 year old son, David. Scott kissed David’s feet and then looked at me and asked if he could kiss mine, to which I replied, “No, my feet are gross. I need to shower.” David then sprung into action, telling his dad that mommy needed to shower and that my feet were gross.
I thought this was funny, but as I stood in the shower I started to think about how much of what we say David actually internalizes. The other day he pointed at his stomach saying it was “fat.” I quickly corrected him, telling him that he was perfect and so strong. My 2 year old is not fat. Can a toddler even be fat? I don’t think so.
David doesn’t even understand that word or its negative connotation, but he is learning. He is learning that his dad points at that same spot on himself and calls it fat while looking in the mirror. He is learning that if someone he admires so much talks about himself in such a negative way, then maybe it’s appropriate for him to do it too. He’s learning that this is normal.
This is not normal.
Negative self talk is something we need to be aware of as parents. We have a huge influence on our children’s mindset. It is our responsibility to teach them how they should view themselves. The way to do that is not only through praise when they accomplish something great and encouragement when they fail, but also by showing them how we view ourselves and our accomplishments & failures in a positive light.
Negative self talk contributes to low self-esteem.
I love this definition from UC Davis:
Low self-esteem is a debilitating condition that keeps individuals from realizing their full potential. A person with low self-esteem feels unworthy, incapable, and incompetent.
Low self-esteem keeps individuals from realizing their full potential. This is huge. Just imagine with me for a minute. Flash forward 20 years from now. Your son/daughter is doing fine. They are making ends meet. But now imagine knowing that they could have been 10 times the person they are had you just changed the way you talk about yourself. They could have accomplished more, they could have looked at failures as a challenge to surpass instead of a reason to give up.
It’s amazing. Your children are learning from your example. How you perceive yourself is how they first learn to perceive themselves. How you react to adversity is how they first learn to react to adversity.
Just because something is hard, does not mean it is impossible.
David went through a 2 week phase where he would try to do something, say “I can’t do it” when it became too difficult, give up, and then ask mom for help. It broke my heart. Hearing my son accept the fact that he couldn’t do something that he desperately wanted to be able to do hurt me. I wanted him to continue trying and feel successful when he finally accomplished it.
As a mother there is nothing that gives me more joy than to see my son learn and feel proud of himself. For two weeks whenever David told me “I can’t do it,” I responded “you can” and taught him how. Sometimes I had to help him, sometimes I didn’t. But, I never let him give up. He no longer says “I can’t do it.” If it’s too difficult, he just says it’s hard and we do it together.
The effects of too much praise.
Growing up, my husband had a lot of natural talent. He was amazing at football and received a lot of praise for it. He recently confessed to me that he used that praise as an excuse to not push himself harder. He didn’t take practices seriously. He didn’t warm up before a game. After all, why did he have to if he was already the best without even trying? There is nothing better than the best so it would be silly to aim higher.
This is not uncommon. If you praise your kids for every little thing they do without encouraging them to be better, you are telling them they don’t have to push themselves. Confidence comes from practice. It comes from failing, trying again, and succeeding.
If they really are the best on their sports/academic team, let them know of their potential if they were to dedicate themselves and continue practicing to become even better.
I write this post to encourage other parents to stop the negative self talk; to stop saying there’s something you can’t do or something you aren’t. Words are so powerful. We can be whoever we want to be and it all starts with believing it. Focus on the positive and see how the world changes around you. See how your children react when they realize that nothing is impossible.