The One Magic Word That Turns Negative Self-Talk Around

Parents instinctively know that calling a child “stupid” can have a negative influence on that child. As it turns out, a child calling him/herself “stupid” can have the same effect.

When kids engage in negative self-talk, it may sound like:

I’m no good at this.
I can’t do it, it’s too hard.
I’ll never learn.

Because we love our kids, our gut reaction as a parent is to convince them that their words aren’t true:

You are good at this!
Yes, you can do it!
You will learn, I believe in you!

But have you noticed that when you try to fight your child’s negative self-talk with your own positive words, it doesn’t work?

I learned that lesson the hard way with my 9-year-old. It took me a while to realize that when I unleashed a slew of positive affirmations, it made her attitude worse. She’d furrow her brow, cross her arms on her chest, and shut herself off from me.

I had unknowingly turned her frustration into a power struggle instead of addressing the heart of the issue.

So, what can you do in that moment when you hear your child saying mean things about themselves, to themselves?

Say one simple word.  YET

“Yet”, gives your child a vision of their future where the do “get” it.   They will make choices that will help them live up to that new “truth.”  And, saying “…yet” will stop you from spewing out positive affirmations that will just make your child dig their heels, further into the muck of negative self-talk.

  • I do not know how to do this project, I suck at it! “You do not know how to do it YET”
  • “I am no good at this, I cannot do it!” You say “YET”.

For the best results when teaching optimism, grit, and stick-to-it-iveness, you’ll want to follow up “yet” with a little more guidance:

  1. Yet– When you hear your child engage in negative self-talk, add “…yet” at the end. Depending on the statement, it may work better to say “…not yet.”
  2. Empathize– When we counter with positives, we’re not empathizing with our kids’ emotions. Let them know you hear their frustration by saying “I can see that you’re frustrated.” Or “It seems like you’re nervous that you won’t figure this out.” Or “You feel bad that you made a mistake.”  In that moment when your child gets frustrated and her confidence is shaken, she needs to feel heard.
  3. Turn it around– Engage them in problem-solving skills so they can move forward in a positive way. For example, “How can you try this a different way?” or “What part isn’t making sense yet?”

Taking the time to coach your child through difficult situations and avoiding the impulse to save them from frustrations, can build self-confidence and trust. These tools make it easy and fun to engage with your child and allow them to envision and then experience success!