Six kids sat down at the table, excited to follow along with the easy drawing lesson on YouTube. By the end, four were upset with themselves and two were in tears. Disappointment is normal, but we needed to have a discussion about negative self-talk.
Nothing can derail a homeschool lesson faster than a child who's frustrated that he's not able to perform at the level he had hoped. This is especially true with skills like handwriting, playing music, and creative expression. Learning how to correct negative self-talk is a habit with life-long value.
On a Scale of Perfect to Awful
My eight-year-old was visiting with my parents. She asked if she could make an omelet for my mother. When she was ready to flip the omelet onto the plate, she didn't fold it exactly in half and the two edges didn't quite meet. She was very upset with herself.
My mother was amazed that she was able to prepare an omelet at her age. She hated to see her so disappointed when in the grand scheme of things, she'd done really well. The approach she used was one I've adopted for talking to the kids about how they view their achievements.
My mom held one hand above the other with palms facing. She explained that the top hand represented the best omelet ever and the bottom hand represented an awful omelet that no one could eat. She asked my daughter to show with her own hand where her omelet was on this scale. My daughter placed her hand near my mother's upper hand.
Next, she asked her to show with her other hand how she was thinking about her omelet. My daughter placed her other hand much lower. It was a striking visual representation. She was able to see that though the omelet wasn't perfect and wasn't what she had hoped, it also wasn't as terrible as she was telling herself it was.
Turn the Tables
On the day of the disappointing YouTube drawing lesson, I asked the two most distraught girls to tell me what they were saying to themselves about their drawings.
- This drawing is stupid.
- This doesn't even look like a column.
- I'm terrible at drawing.
Then I asked them to imagine how they would feel if they heard a friend saying those things to one of their siblings. Would those comments help someone to learn to draw better? Would they teach someone what to correct in the drawing?
Look in the Mirror
Are you really serious about helping your kids to address negative self-talk? Then you may have to take a hard look in the mirror first. And speaking of the mirror, what do your kids hear you say to yourself when you look in the mirror?
- Ugh. My skin is so splotchy.
- I am so fat. I look awful in this top.
- My hair is a disaster.
Or maybe you insult your housekeeping, your social skills, or some other aspect of your personality. Yes, in an ideal world, we would perfectly model only healthy behavior for our children. But we are living in reality. We don't make all the right choices in front of our kids. The good news is that even those less-than-ideal choices can be used for their good.
Model transparency with your kids. Mention the comments they've heard you make. Ask them how they feel when they hear you talking disparagingly about yourself—someone they love. Ask them if they think those comments help to motivate you to learn and grow in the areas where you want to improve.
One of the misconceptions kids have about negative self-talk is that it's something they won't have to deal with when they grow up. They may think that when they are adults, they'll be able to do All. The. Things., and there won't be anything disappointing about their own behavior.
By sharing your own personal challenges, you demonstrate that while you may not cry over crayon smudges, it's still important to know how to encourage yourself. Most importantly, it helps them to know that you don't despise their struggles. Rather, you share those struggles and are willing to acknowledge it openly.
A View Towards the Future
Our children's words reveal what they're thinking. Therefore, if we're willing to be intentional, we can help guide them from negative self-talk to a proper view of themselves and the world around them.
About the Author
Lynna is a former homeschooler, then classroom teacher, now homeschool mom of eight crazy (and lovable) hooligans from middle school down to bouncing baby.
She calls her blog Homeschooling without Training Wheels because she loves to encourage families to embrace the freedom and flexibility that come with homeschooling and let go of the things that are holding them back! You can read more in her free eBook 5 Myths that are Killing Your Multi-Age Homeschool