Self-talk is normal and has several benefits. Here are a few ways you can teach your child how to use the habit of self-talk to his advantage.
By Amrita Gracias
Quite a few times, you would have heard your child engage in a conversation with herself. You may also have interrupted her during one of those conversations, wondering if this was something normal.
Don’t worry! There is nothing wrong with a child who has the habit of having a few words with herself. In fact, you can turn this habit of your child into an effective tool for self-pep talk.
But to do this, let’s try and understand what self-talk is and why children engage in it.
Psychologists refer to self-talk as private speech and describe it as a sign of cognitive development that can benefit mental health and infuse a sense of well-being. It is seen as a significant representation of a child’s sense of curiosity and his willingness to explore and learn. According to Chennai-based psychotherapist Dr Ravi Samuel, “Self-talk is essentially a child's 'judgement' of his own self, others and the world.” He further adds, “It can be either an accurate assessment of one’s self or exaggerated or downplayed.”
Self-talk is a normal developmental activity that toddlers are known to engage in either with themselves or with their toys. It is known to reduce stress, enhance confidence, develop a positive self-image, process emotions and provide motivation or encouragement to focus on goals that a child wishes to achieve.
The Russian psychologist Lev Semenovich Vygotsky, famous for his Sociocultural Theory of Cognitive Development, believed that self-talk is a process that results from the emergence of thoughts and language. This causes children to talk aloud to themselves. And, as they grow older, this gradually develops into an inner voice or speech. He also described this type of talk as a means for children to direct their own thoughts and behaviours when facing difficult tasks.
Toddlers typically begin these conversations by the age of three when thoughts and language begin to merge. Vygotsky believed that language plays a critical role in cognitive development. He said that language directed towards the self – private language – plays an important intellectual role. It facilitates the cognitive processes to overcome obstacles, and enhances thinking and imagination. Self-talk slowly begins to decrease by the age of 6–7 years. And, by the age of 10, it is fully internalised in most children.
When the talk children have with themselves is positive, there is a better chance that they will continue to remain optimistic even if things don’t go their way initially. Self-talk is also a good way to organise thoughts when the mind is cluttered or when overwhelmed by a difficult situation. “Appropriate and realistic self-talk makes the child feel confident and realistic about his expectations with others and the world,” says Dr Samuel. Indulging in self-talk can also be a great stress reliever and a means to deal with anxiety, as it helps a child recognise what is troubling him and allows him to face his fears with confidence. It also helps a child deal with negative emotions like anger or frustration. Dr Samuel also says, “Self-talk can enable a child to be competitive where it is required and give in where it is warranted. Thus, the child may not need to pursue everything with a competitive spirit as it may result in emotional burn-out at a young age.”
Explain self-talk: If your child does not indulge in self-talk and you want her to learn it, you can introduce her to the concept. If your child is older and has inhibitions about talking to herself in a loud voice, tell her that positive affirmations in the mind are as helpful. Most importantly, let your child know that there is nothing wrong or abnormal about talking to herself at times.
Discuss how positive self-talk helps: Explain to your child about the power of positive self-talk in helping him deal with overwhelming situations. Talk about instances when he might feel anxious such as talking in front of the class, taking a test or on the playground. Show him how he can pep himself up through self-talk to approach the task with more enthusiasm and self-confidence.
Recognise and replace negative self-talk: Our brain is prone to throwing up negative thoughts like ‘I can’t do this’, ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘I’m a failure at this’, usually during challenging situations. Teach your child how to overcome this type of negative self-talk. She can do this by identifying negative words like ‘can’t, ‘will not’ or ‘will never’, and replace them with positive words instead. Remaining optimistic will help her approach every situation with a positive frame of mind and think of possible solutions or alternatives.
Teach positive phrases: Teach your child positive phrases that would boost his confidence and help him achieve his goals. He can repeat these when he is overwhelmed, nervous or anxious. Here are a few positive phrases you can teach your child:
You and your child can even come up with more such phrases.
Model self-talk: When you practise positive thinking aloud, your child will be encouraged to do the same. Another effective way to model self-talk is to start the day by saying an inspiring line to yourself like ‘It’s going to be a great day’. Remember, your optimism can inspire your child to give himself the push that is needed.
If you do find that your child’s self-talk is becoming increasingly repetitive or that it isn’t necessarily helping him, it might be a sign of a more serious underlying problem. Do seek professional help to rule out any other causes.
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