Don’t Become Your Child’s Negative Voice

by Nikkya Hargrove
Originally Published: 

In our house, we tell it like it is; we are honest and straightforward with our kids. We tell them when their actions are hurting others or when they could have done something differently. What we do not do in our home is berate our kids. We don’t criticize them in ways that knock them down, or hurt them in ways they will carry with them through adulthood. I’ve learned over the years that how we speak to our children affects them on a profound level. The words we tell them, how we praise them, and how we correct them, it all matters. Our delivery is everything.

We don’t have to be the doubting voice our kids hear in their heads when they are adults, that negative thinking hamster wheel of thinking. We all have them, don’t we? It’s that voice from childhood of our mom or dad or caretaker that has stuck with us. It could be just one phrase that stuck — “Your dress is ugly,” “You’re selfish,” “You’re too fat to wear that.” At the end of the day, as parents, we have one responsibility, and that is to keep our kids safe, which also includes our words.

We can learn from one another too, even when we live in the same house. There are days when I’ve had enough, especially being the main parent doing it all — the cooking, the remote learning, the driving to activities after school — and I lose my temper. My words may derail into the insensitive zone and I recognize that once they leave my lips, I cannot take them back. But when I am with my partner, and I am quiet and taking it all in as she defuses a situation between our twin daughters, I can add a few more tools to my parenting toolbox.

The words which (not always, but most of the time) come out of my partner’s mouth positively frame what she wants to convey to our kids. When speaking to our especially sensitive daughter, Aviah, she might say something like, “Aviah, your hair is beautiful just the way it is. No one’s hair is perfect all of the time.”

It hurts us as parents when our kids engage in negative self-talk about themselves. When they fall short of succeeding at something they tried to accomplish, they might say things like “Man, what I did was stupid” or “No one likes me at school” or “I just can’t do that” or “I am a failure.” We have to help our kids develop the skills necessary to change the negative self-talk into positive.

It starts with us. We are the captains of our parenting ship and we must be the ones steering it in the right direction. It’s a delicate balance we must straddle to not overpraise our kids or be too negative. Once we put our self-talk in check, it’s easier to figure out when to praise and when to reframe situations with our kids. We know 95% of parenting is trial and error. We know that there isn’t a book to tell us how to parent. Sure, there are self-help books out there for parents and there are therapists we can call on if we need. But to deal with the day-to-day of ever-changing emotions and words which circulate in our own homes with our unique situations — the words that leave our lips are ours to take responsibility for.

So, let us own our shit, step up, and build up our kids with positive words and responses.

In the end, it also matters what we say to ourselves too. The words that circulate in the far corners of our minds. The negative self-talk that holds us back from improving our emotional intelligence are the same negative words we may spew onto our kids. If we change the words we say to ourselves in our minds, just maybe, we can also change what we tell our kids.

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