Helping Kids Gain Positive Control Over Their Thoughts

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  • By Kathy Slattengren.

    How often are your children thinking negative thoughts about themselves? Sometimes you know their thoughts are negative because they blurt out something like “I’ll never get this!” As they grow up, your children will be their own harshest critics. It is their own negative self-talk that they will hear most often.

    Everyone’s mind produces a steady stream of thoughts. When these thoughts turn negative, fear, doubt and frustration quickly sets in. Stopping negative thoughts isn’t easy and it starts with actually noticing those thoughts.What are your kids saying to themselves?

    What your children say out loud gives you insight into what they are thinking. You know they are engaging in negative self-talk when you hear things like:

    • “This is too hard!”
    • “Nobody likes me.”
    • “I can’t do it!”

    Whether our children are struggling with school work, relationships or athletics, their thoughts can help or hinder them. Peter McWilliams put it this way, “Our thoughts create our reality — where we put our focus is the direction we tend to go.”

    Dr. Alison Arnold came to my daughter’s gymnastics center to work with the kids on the mental side of gymnastics. Like so many athletes, gymnasts need to be in control of their thoughts if they are to give their best performance.Negative thoughts like these wreck havoc on a gymnast’s routine:

    • “I’m going to mess up.”
    • “She’s so much better than me.”
    • “It’s too difficult for me.”

    When negative thinking takes over, the likelihood of getting injured is increased. You definitely do not want your daughter having negative thoughts right before she does a backhand spring on the beam!

    How can you help your children change their self-talk from negative to positive?

    There is a Zen concept called the Monkey Mind. It’s the part of your brain that races from one idea to the next, chattering endlessly, craving things, being unsatisfied and judgmental. Dr. Arnold used this concept to explain negative thinking to the kids. Negative thoughts are like a naughty monkey running away instead of focusing on the task at hand.

    What can you do once you notice your Monkey Mind is off in the weeds? You need to flip your negative thinking.

    Dr. Arnold discussed a three step process for flipping negative thinking:

    • Take a deep breath.
    • Think to yourself “Stop. Relax.”
    • Say something positive to yourself like “I can handle this.” or “I am strong.”

    By following this process, the kids learned how to stop their negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones.

    What are you saying to yourself about your kids?

    It’s every bit as important to watch out for your own negative thoughts. One of the worst patterns parents can get into is continually thinking about their children’s faults.

    One mom of three children complained she couldn’t stop thinking about how they really weren’t measuring up like she had hoped. Despite her children’s many achievements, she struggled to control her negative thoughts. This led to nagging them, lecturing them and pointing out where they needed to improve. However, none of her efforts seemed to change their behavior.

    What you say to your children has a big impact on them. By making more positive comments, you can help them develop more positive self-talk. One way to do this is simply describing their positive behavior:

    • “You sat down, got out your math book and started working on your homework.”
    • “You shared the truck with your friend.”
    • “You waited patiently for your turn to go down the slide.”
    • “You helped set the table for dinner. I appreciate that.”

    Practice making positive comments to your children every day. Your positive comments will help both you and your children focus on what’s right instead of what’s wrong. As your children spend more time thinking positively they’ll have less time for any negative thoughts!

    Kathy Slattengren

    Kathy Slattengren, M. Ed., has helped thousands of parents from across the United States to Australia through her online classes, presentations, coaching and books. Parents excitedly report their success in replacing yelling and threatening with calm, confident responses. When your children’s behavior is really pushing your buttons, discover ways to set effective limits, invite cooperation and have a lot more fun together!

    For more information, please visit PricelessParenting.com.

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    1. marjorie
      marjorie says:

      I’m 57 and one of the strongest messages I can remember from my mother was, “You’re a naughty girl!”. That still takes a lot of work to keep that message at bay.

      Reply
      • Kathy Slattengren
        Kathy Slattengren says:

        You raise an excellent point about the lasting impact of negative messages from childhood. I’ve spoken to so many adults who struggle to feel good about themselves given how they were treated as children.

        Reply

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