Benefits of Positive Self-Talk
Self-talk is the inner dialogue we have with ourselves. Sometimes when we feel threatened, our self-talk turns negative (“I can’t do this”; “I’m not smart enough”; “I don’t have enough friends”), compounding our stress. Some beliefs about popularity, competition, and perfectionism may also be the root of these stressful thoughts. It is important for us to remember that we are not our thoughts.
One great way to recognize if our internal dialogue is overly critical is to ask ourselves, “Would I speak this way to a friend?” Often we are much more harsh in speaking to ourselves than to others.
Self-Talk for Elementary-Aged Children
One way to support kids as they develop healthy self-talk is to help them become more aware of their thinking. As they become more aware of their thoughts, they can begin to challenge thoughts that may not be true. Listening carefully is an important first step to recognize cognitive distortions. Some key words and phrases to be aware of are “can’t,” “never,” and “always” (overgeneralization), “should” and “must” (perfectionism), and “I am a __” (labeling), among others.
Listen empathically: Listening to your child’s concerns, without dismissing them, is an important first step. After they feel they have been heard, gently ask follow-up questions to uncover the underlying thought causing worry or frustration.
Realistic Approach: Helping your child think more positively does not mean painting everything as rosy. Some moments in life are difficult. However, you can help your child reframe the situation. For a child nervous about the first day of school rather than saying, “Don’t worry, you’ll have a great time!” you might say, “It makes sense you are nervous. The first day of something new can often be both exciting and worrisome. Though it may be scary at first, as you settle in you will become more comfortable.”
Provide Context: Children do not always have the ability to see the big picture, which can lead to catastrophic thinking. As an adult with more life experience, you can provide a bigger picture and help contextualize their experience.
Model Positive Thinking: One of the best ways to help children develop healthy thinking patterns is to model it as a parent. Children are constantly learning from those around them, picking up on how adults frame events in their life.
Books on Positive Thinking
Most books are available at the Livermore Public Library
by Grace Byers Year Published: 2018
An uplifting book about knowing who you are, dealing with adversity, and self-respect.
Self-Talk for Adolescents
Negative self-talk can often be rooted in cognitive distortions, or irrational beliefs. One of the techniques to combat negative self-talk is to think critically about our beliefs.
These steps include:
- Identify the troubling situation.
- Identify the thought behind the troubling situation.
- Label how it makes you feel.
- Challenge the underlying thought by looking at the evidence that supports and does not support it.
- Find a more balanced, evidence-based thought as a replacement.
Click here for a worksheet that may be helpful for following this process.
Often our thoughts are not objective. Here are a few ways in which we can distort our thinking:
- Filtering: We only look at the negative parts of a situation and ignore the positive.
- All-or-nothing thinking: We create false dichotomies between good and bad, right and wrong, without leaving any gray area.
- Overgeneralization: We view a single event as representative of all events.
- For a more cognitive distortions look through this list.
Source Credit: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: An Information Guide
Challenge vs. Threat Thinking
Surprisingly, how we think about events in our life can directly impact how our bodies and minds respond to stress. One way to think about situations is to view them as a “threat.” In this framework, stress is a bad thing and the situation feels like a danger to our values, goals, or identity. We can also characterize the same situations as "challenges" or "opportunities." While we may have a pounding heart and sweating palms, we can reframe the situation as our body preparing to perform a difficult task. This type of reframing has been shown to improve learning, memory, connection, and physical health. Changing our relationship to stress can have profound effects on our thinking, emotions, and physical health. (It is important to note that this research studied acute stress--stressful situations we face in our daily lives, as opposed to chronic stress--experiencing stress for prolonged periods of time.).
If you are in need of further information, please contact your child's physician or your child's school. For middle or high school students, contact your school's counseling office. For elementary students, contact the school's main office.