parenting

Helping Kids Develop a Positive Self-Image

In October 2016, I published two blogs, Undoing Stinkin’ Thinkin’ Part One: Adults and Undoing Stinkin’ Thinkin’ Part Two: Children. In these two blogs, I discussed the fact that beginning in childhood, human beings are hardwired for negative thinking. This is actually a defense mechanism. Like allergies, where our immune system overreacts to innocuous pollen and other harmless substances, the amygdala, the part of our brain where negative thoughts originate, generates negative thoughts to protect us from getting hurt. By imagining scenarios of the worst sort, and lowering our expectations of self or others, we may subconsciously feel braced for the inevitable disappointment we’re sure we’ll always experience.

But negative thinking can reach a whole new level when we have learning disabilities or challenges. We react to our struggle and frustration by forming beliefs about self, such as:

  • I’m stupid.
  • I must be lazy, or not working hard enough.
  • There must be something really wrong with me because no one else is having this much trouble.
  • It doesn’t matter how hard I work, I’ll never be good enough.

And if we’re surrounded by unsupportive people, who are all too eager to belittle us, the bombardment of negativity can become truly overwhelming.

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I recently came upon across an article that referenced a study in the journal Brain and Behavior published in 2015 that showed how brain activity changes when people repeat a mantra—a single word mantra—to themselves. By saying something positive and meaningful to themselves over and over again, participants slowed down the default mode network in their brain, which is what is responsible for harsh self-judgment.

How can doing something so simple have such a profound impact on our thinking and how can we use this knowledge to help our kids develop a positive self-image?

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A great place to start is to recognize how much effort our kids are making. This was the focus of an earlier blog that contrasts the North American style of parenting and expectations with an Eastern model. In the western world, results are praised, whereas, in the east, the level of effort being made is recognized along the way.

So we can help our child become aware of the level of hard work they are actually doing, and praise them for sticking with things that are challenging for them. Help them embrace such statements as:

  • I am a good learner.
  • I don’t give up, even when things don’t come easily.
  • I can do this!
  • If I take my time and don’t give up, I’ll be successful.
  • I am a reader and I love great stories.
  • I am proud to be a hard worker.

Thousands of adults have gone to therapy for extensive periods of time to learn that they can change thoughts and beliefs that cause them pain or don’t serve their needs. What a wonderful gift we can give youngsters growing up today by introducing them to this powerful skill during their formative years!

Who do you know who could use some positive messages about themselves? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Original Study Link: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/brb3.346/full

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