quick trick: the power of positive talk
I had a conversation with a neighbor a few weeks ago that took me way back to second-grade class when my teacher continually referred to my class as “the smartest class she ever had” and said we were her room full of “hard workers and smart students.”
Hearing her proudly refer to us this way–whether she meant it or not–pushed us to live up to her expectations. I really believe it did; I was proud to be a part of her “smartest group ever” because that meant that I was one of her smarties.
This recent conversation with an acquaintance was completely the opposite of my experience back in second grade. When asked whether or not my Owen would be starting kindergarten in the fall, I said, No, we’re going to wait to send him because he has such a late summer birthday. We think it will be best if he begins school the following year.
This person went on to say, But he knows his numbers and letters. She (insert her 4 year-old daughter’s name who was standing beside her) doesn’t know her letters, and she can’t even write her name. You’re going to make Owen the head of the class. (Insert name) will be totally behind no matter when she starts. And she walked away.
I’m not going to get into the anxiety that our decision to ‘red shirt’ Owen has caused us; that’s a whole other story. What I want to stress is the fact that kids pick up on these conversations, these messages–direct or indirect–which they hear from the adults in their lives.
And that is today’s Quick Trick–speaking positively (or as positively as possible) in front of your kids. It’s something that I struggle with some times, but that I’m trying really, really hard to make habitual.
- Powerful Positive Talk: In front of your kids, let them hear you praising them for their accomplishments, their patience, their journeys, their being. The more they hear that they’re smart, that they’re creative, that they work hard, that they’re kind and loving kids, the more they’ll believe it themselves, right?
It’s not always easy–this I know. Sometimes when I finally see a pal or two at kindergarten or preschool drop-off, my first inclination is to vent, especially if we’ve had a tough morning. I want to let all it go with an:
Oh my GOSH it was a ridiculous morning. Maddy was an absolute mess, hysterically crying because she said she didn’t want to go to school. Cora was a hot head–quick-tempered all morning, screaming and yelling because she was up all night saying that she doesn’t like her room and is afraid of shadows. And Owen still cannot tie his shoes. Can you believe it? He started a huge screaming fit as we walked out the door because he couldn’t do it. Someone find me a sitter because I totally can’t get through today w ith these kids.
But really?! Do I want to label Maddy as a school-hater? Do I want label Cora as a bratty, hot-tempered 3 year-old who’s got a problem sleeping? Do I want Owen to hear me confirming that he can’t tie his shoes, something he’s sensitive about already? No. No, and no.
Child psychologists all over the place say the same thing: When our children feel like we believe in them, they often grow to believe in themselves (Dr. Michelle Borba, Boosting Kids’ Success Quotients by Building Positive Self-Beliefs. 03/23/10).
I love these four steps that Dr. Borba mentions that parents can take in order to “boost self-beliefs and to boost your child’s success quotient”:
- Convey to your child, “I believe in you”: Among other points she makes here is one I feel is incredibly important–avoid using negative labels for your child; never let anyone else label your child; avoid making comparisons; and refrain from using generic labels. Instead, turn the negative to positives to help your child develop a more positive self-image.
- Set expectations that enhance success: Parental expectations are a huge determinant in children’s success. The expectations that parents set should encourage kids to try new possibilities, expand their potential, and nurture their self-confidence.
- Nurture strong, internal self-beliefs: Model positive self-talk with your children, and nip the negative talk in the bud–theirs and yours.
- Help your child see success and develop an “I can” attitude: Focus on improvements your child is making, and help him to record progress. Doing so will show him how he’s growing and will help his self-beliefs grow.
Dr. Becky Bailey’s Conscious Discipline follows a similar thread in her Encouragement and noticing ideas. She says that “encouragement is a dose of hope, and people need hope to feel safe. When your child is having a hard time obeying you, he needs to believe that you have faith in him. He needs to sense that you have confidence in him before he can develop self-confidence” (from Conscious Discipline).
Parenting is hard. Really, really hard. And we all need to get the tough stuff off of our chests sometimes so that we stay sane and so we learn that we’re not alone in our struggles. Goodness knows I’ve earned the ‘complainer crown’ more times than I can count. But I think if we save our ‘venting’ conversations to times when our kids aren’t in earshot, we’re all better off in the long run.
I’m not pretending to be an expert on this stuff. A perfect parent I certainly am not. I just read a lot, respect what the professionals are saying, and will take any and all advice I can find from any reliable source.
Just a worthwhile little something to keep in your back pocket. Here’s to keepin’ it positive!