Inner voice, self talk, inner speech.
These are all ways to describe the internal running monologue of our thoughts that are usually directly tied to our own sense of self. Our personal set of experiences is what shapes our inner voice over time. You’re probably trying as best you can to help your child develop a positive inner voice by using praise, pep talks, and sometimes by breaking out your “I mean business” voice. Here is another way to help your child nurture a strong sense of self that will have her inner voice being one of confidence and kindness to herself.
“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice” -Peggy O’Mara
The other day I was talking with a 7 year old who was brought in to see me because of outburst behaviors and attention seeking. She told me “I clean my room but it’s hard because it’s just by myself”. And she got really quiet and small and admitted “I try to get my mom’s attention” when asked if she sometimes bugs her mom.
I sent the little girl off to play in the playroom. I told her “you can play with whatever you want, I know you’ll pick it all up when you’re done”.
Then I asked the mom to describe what has been happening. The mom started telling me how of course her kid was playing instead of cleaning her room and her kid purposely does things to annoy her and her child never picks up on her own without nagging. She said “your play room is going to be a disaster”
This mom is tired and frustrated. She feels doubtful about her parenting and sad about fighting with her daughter so much. She feels like she’s doing everything she can and that she should be doing better. Her inner voice tells her fearful stories of not being good enough and that her child will grow up to be incompetent.
We all have a narrator, an inner voice
It tells us what’s happening and provides explanations about the world around us. Your child develops this inner voice using the lessons she lives every day. If the lessons your child receives are loving, her inner voice will be loving. If her experiences of the world are harsh, her inner voice will be harsh.
You may have encountered a harsh inner voice yourself. One that says things like, “you’re already fat, don’t eat that cookie” or “why did you say that- it was really stupid”. If your inner voice sounds like this it means somewhere in your life you were taught that this is the way to treat yourself because that is how other people treated you.
You may be thinking “I would never talk to my child that way”, and I believe you. I know you don’t set out to be harsh with your child.
Sometimes though, we grown ups get scared.
Scared that if we don’t set a boundary our kid won’t respect us or if we don’t straighten them out they’ll grow up to be lazy. We get scared for them because we just want really good things for them and sometimes our fear comes out in a harsh way.
But, your child just wants to be certain that you love her. She’s not trying to drive you bonkers. She’s probably trying to get your attention because she’s scared or worried and needs your steady guiding wisdom. She’s not trying to manipulate you to get out of cleaning her room, she may be avoiding the task because it is overwhelming.
I want you to really hear me right now. I know you love your child. You try to show her all the time by teaching her how to be a kind, responsible, thoughtful individual. You nag about cleaning her room because you’re scared if you don’t she’ll grow up to be an irresponsible slob. You’re trying your best. I see that.
How about this?
What if, instead of nagging and pointing out where your child fell short, you try telling your child who she is and who she could become?
“You’re responsible so I know you’ll remember to put your dish in the sink.”
“You are thoughtful, I’m sure you’ll be able to come up with a solution.”
“You have integrity so I know you’ll make a good choice.”
“You’ve handled tough challenges before, you’ve got this.”
Words like this can build your child’s inner voice in a loving way. Waiting for your child to screw up and telling her “you’re just lazy” or “can’t you do anything for yourself“ or “what were you thinking” trains her voice to be negative and damaging.
I shared all of this with that mom. She seemed relieved to know her love for her child is obvious and she was ready to try letting her child’s inner voice develop into a kind and loving one so we walked down to the playroom to get her.
And guess what?
That playroom was spotless when we walked in.