Dr. Phil McGraw of the “Dr. Phil” TV show often says, “It takes 100 ‘atta girls’ to erase one ‘you’re not worth the trouble.’” This quote demonstrates not only how much children soak up what parents tell them, but that negative words spoken only once have as great an effect as positive ones spoken 100 times. So not only do you need to speak positively to your child so she can internalize positive affirmations, if you put down your child, you’ll have a lot of making up to do.
Positive self-talk involves helpful thoughts that children might say to themselves. This sort of self-talk helps children try new things and do their best. Children who use positive self-talk can talk themselves out of being unhappy, according to Leah Davies, a teacher and counselor writing for EducationWorld. This contrasts with a child who uses negative self-talk. Children like that tend to become frustrated and depressed. You might be wringing your hands with worry, wondering how you can prevent this.
What you say to your child can build or break her self-esteem. Kids who have a positive self-esteem and feel good about themselves typically have an easier time in life. They can better handle conflicts and are more likely to resist negative peer pressure, according to KidsHealth. You set the stage for what your child says to herself as early as she can understand your words, which are the toddler years. You want your child to go through life thinking she can accomplish something, not that she isn’t good enough and can’t.
Capable and Loved
When you build your child’s self-esteem by making positive statements about her, you’re letting her know you love her. Self-esteem is really a combination of feeling capable and loved. If you tell your toddler to go away because she’s bothering you, for example, and she does go away and colors inside the lines for her first time, she’ll probably first be happy with her efforts but might then experience low self-esteem because she’s hesitant to show you her accomplishment. Likewise, if you show love but send the message that your little one doesn’t display the same artistic talent as her brother did at that age, she might understand you love her but be afraid to try her hand at art.
Actions and Words
You can encourage self-talk with your actions as much as with your words. Say your preschooler wants to pour her own juice. Let her try, and prepare yourself for some juice to spill on the counter. When it inevitably does, don’t say anything or swoop in to clean it right away — that’s giving the message that she can’t pour juice. Just wait and clean the mess later. You can even ask your child to pour you a cup of juice, too.
Joan E. LeFebvre, a family living agent with the University of Wisconsin’s Extension program, said the famous chant of “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me,” is wrong. Spot on, you say. You always knew it was wrong — and now there’s proof. Saying hurtful things to your toddler is a form of verbal abuse and can have lasting repercussions. Kids who’ve been verbally abused by being put down or called names often grow up to be depressed and anxious. A parent who tells her child that she’s stupid or that she’s no good affects her child’s developing brain and future relationships, according to LeFebvre.
As tough as it can be, take a deep breath. Don’t say that negative thought planted in the back of your mind. Perhaps your mom or dad’s words are rooted in your mind. And when your child does or says something that annoys you, you hear your parents’ words in your mind. Sometimes, it’s best to walk away for a minute, and then react in a positive way to the issue, rather than in the heat of the moment.