By now, most of us know that positive affirmations can improve our outlook in life, making us more confident and successful people. By repeating a positively worded phrase (I’m successful, I’m smart, I’m confident etc) several times a day over a period of weeks, we actually change our neural pathways so that we believe these things to be true and actually become more successful, smart and confident.
The reason we need these positive affirmations in the first place is usually because we have a negative belief about ourselves that stems from childhood or, possibly, later in life.
This negative belief comes about because of something we are told repeatedly by a parent, teacher or peer. It could be a direct verbal message such as ‘You’ll never amount to anything’ or something more indirect such as pulling a disgusted face every time you change a nappy so that the child learns to feel unclean and ashamed of his bodily functions.
These are extreme examples and most of us, thankfully, would not say these types of things. However there are many other negative messages that we send our children without even realising it and most often we’re coming from a caring space when we say them.
I’ll give you an example. Your child heads towards a climbing frame at the park and, worried that they’ll hurt themselves, you say ‘Don’t go up there darling, you’ll fall.‘
Or how about when your little one picks up a sharp knife and you say ‘Put that down, you’ll cut yourself.‘
The problem here is your assertion that they will fall or they will cut themselves. Unless you can see the future then you have no way of knowing this. Sure they might fall or cut themselves but then again they might not.
As we’ve seen, if you tell someone something enough times then they’ll come to believe it – it’ll become true. So if you tell your child enough times that they’re going to hurt themselves then chances are they will start hurting themselves. How many ‘clumsy’ children out there are simply a product of a self-fulfilling prophecy, having been told over and over again that they’ll hurt themselves or break something?
Children learn by trying new things. Sometimes they’ll succeed and sometimes they’ll fail. Sometimes they’ll hurt themselves and sometimes they’ll emerge unscathed. Don’t set them up for failure by putting that negative thought in their head. Would you like it if someone told you not to do something because you’ll fail in some way?
Most of these scenarios that I’ve just described come from a concern for your child’s welfare and safety so how can we continue to keep our kids safe without creating negative thought patterns?
The answer is to own your fears and communicate them clearly to your child:
“That ladder is very high and I’m worried that you might fall off and hurt yourself.“
“That glass is very easy to break. Please hold onto it very carefully so that you don’t accidentally drop it.“
This alerts your child to the potential dangers of the situation while still allowing them a measure of control as to how the situation will play out. Maybe they’ll decide to get down from the ladder because, they too, are worried about falling. Or maybe they’ll decide to keep climbing in which case you can stand next to them to catch them if they slip.
There will be situations where you cannot allow your child to proceed because it is too dangerous but you can still own your fears and explain to them why you need them to stop what they’re doing.
“That knife is sharp and I’m scared that you’ll accidentally cut yourself. Please put it down. When you’re a bit older, I’ll teach you how to use a knife.“
Being aware of subtle changes we can make in how we communicate to our children can make a big difference to their self-esteem as they grow up. We all want our kids to be brave, confident and well-liked and it’s up to us as parents to assist in this process by helping our children to believe in themselves.
Let your children succeed and let your children fail – it’s all good! Just make sure they feel supported throughout.
Comments? Thoughts? Let me know!
by Mel Duncan