As parents it can be alarming when children have negative self thoughts. We want to immediately jump in and correct them, talking them out of such a preposterous hypothesis, and installing our own ideas and perspectives. All in the hope of helping them to see their ability in a more positive light. The end goal here is indeed for children to see themselves as capable and confident, to feel valuable and worthwhile. But, there is a process that needs to take place before a child can move towards a different perspective and change the view they have about themselves.
If I was to tell a friend 'I am just no good at public speaking', they would probably say "Don't be ridiculous, you'll be fine. I think you are great". I would be left feeling much the same, or even worse. If I was to repeat the same statement to a life coach or counselor, their response would be very different. I would feel safe to express my thoughts and ideas. I would feel understood and not judged. I would be in a position to accept where I am right now and then have the ability to see the steps I need to take to move forward.
When parents try to talk children out of their emotions or dismiss their thoughts as wrong, children learn not to trust their own feelings. Children also learn that negative feelings or thoughts shouldn't be shared, especially not with parents. They learn to hide their feelings, ignore them or act them out in dysfunctional ways. These are coping strategies. Later on in life these strategies may well be in the form of food, alcohol, or drugs. Masking any uncomfortable feeling.
How do we as parents be that safe place for our children. What do we say?
When responding to behaviours we want to see change, we have to be a coach.
A coach empowers others to change for themselves. Its not through external motivation or fear, but from an intrinsic feeling of self belief.
A coach reflects back what he see's and asks questions that spark ideas.
These ideas are what motivates lasting behaviour change.
The following strategy can be used when a child exhibits feelings of self judgement.
The L.O.V.E response.
Listen, Observe, Validate and Empower
Child: "Im so stupid"
Parent using the L.O.V.E Response:
Puts phone down and makes warm eye contact. Has open, accepting body language and a curious look.
Parent observes own thoughts and emotions so as to not react. Putting their thoughts aside and remaining neutral and calm.
Parent validates the child's feelings as real, by stating how that must be for them;
"I see, that's a hard place for you to be in" or,
"I understand, that's difficult" or,
"I can see, you're really unhappy" or,
"Gosh, that's hard"
Parent asks questions that spark ideas.
"So, you feel like you didn't quite hit the mark"?
"What parts do you feel like you could have done better"
"What outcome were you hoping for?"
"I wonder what would happen if we were to break this task down into smaller steps?"
"What resources do we have that could help you"?
"What parts are you really good at?"
"Is this the first time you have felt like this?"
"Hmm, I wonder what you could try to make it work"
"Do you have any ideas?"
To empower a child means to put energy into or bring enthusiasm out of.
If you come across a situation like this, remember the LOVE response.
Listen, Observe, Validate and Empower.