We all have inner voices. You know, that non-stop loud-talker that sometimes dominates the private conversations we have with ourselves. Unfortunately, neuroscientists have actually discovered that these often too critical voices are, naturally, more negative than positive in tone. Sadly, a child’s inner voice(s) can be particularly negative, even more so than adults, since it is usually driven by fear, doubt, and shame.
Is it possible to teach young preschoolers the “power of positivity?” Does negativity affect a young child’s healthy development? Can we help our kids deal with their “inner critic?”
Silencing Our Worst Enemy: The Inner Critic
Let’s think about this example for a moment:
You arrive to pick up your usually bright-eyed, ever-curious three-year-old daughter at daycare one afternoon only to find her in tears. A three-year-old in tears? Well, that’s probably nothing out of the ordinary considering, as we all can attest to, the “three-nager” years are, basically, one huge emotional rollercoaster ride. However, after a brief chat with the teacher, you come to understand that mini-you had a fight with her best friend. It was a dramatic scene, apparently, complete with name-calling, pony-tail pulls and a Barbie in the face. It takes the entire car-ride home for her to stop crying. You open the car door, proceed to remove her safety harness when you hear her whispered, “Lisa doesn’t like me. I’m a bad friend.”
Even though the sound of your heart breaking over the words of your child can be deafening, the truth is, of course, that it’s NOT true! And yet, it is these kinds of negative thoughts that all too often repeat in a child’s mind, over and over again, on a daily basis. That’s why it’s important to break this cycle of negativity as soon as possible.
Moving from Negative Nelly towards Positive Pete
Think about how many times a kid hears the word “no” in an hour, a day, even a week. Or, how many times they deal with a negative experience in class with their friends or at home with their families. According to neuroscientists, this exposure to negativism is, essentially, similar to exposing them to second-hand smoke. Does that sound a bit too dramatic to you? Well, here’s the deal: negativism produces stress chemicals in the brain, regardless of age. Therefore, when it is combined with a child’s natural negative inner voice, this bundle of negativity can, ultimately, lead to poor mental health.
Certainly, it is impossible to remove our children from any and all negative situations. Even though negativity is a natural part of life and a human’s genetic makeup, the good news is that parents, teachers, and caregivers can help shift this balance toward the positive. How might we do so? We can improve outcomes for kids by simply understanding how children become positive thinkers AND paying attention to how WE communicate. With each other. With them.
Three Easy Steps to Positivity
So, how exactly can adults help kids to achieve an optimal balance between negativity and positivity? How do we guide them towards becoming positive thinkers? We practice!
1) Start by Learning How to Have a Great Time
Spending time with those you love helps to deepen relationships. Unsurprising as it may sound, and regardless of the usual rigmaroles of our everyday lives, taking the time to plan family-fun-time reminds those around you just how much you mean to them. Thus, encouraging children to design a special day with family, or someone close to them, will make them happy. This happiness will help them to savor their positive experiences once they reflect on the things they most enjoyed. Parents and teachers can help guide them to this positive feeling by encouraging them to talk about their good times.
2) Speak to Them About Developing Themselves
It is when children imagine themselves at their best that their self-confidence increases. Parents and teachers can help children become their “best selves” by encouraging positive behavior and showing an interest in the kind of young people they want them to become. Find a moment when a child feels good about themselves and then help them remember those feelings and positive thoughts that they had previously experienced. Ask them about what, in particular, felt good to them. Then, turn around and tell them what you (parent or teacher) noticed about them.
3) Help Grow an Attitude for Gratitude
Children develop a sense of optimism and satisfaction once they learn to recognize and appreciate the “good things in life.” It can truly become a transformative and powerful experience when they are inspired to speak their gratitude aloud. Finding an attitude for gratitude is an excellent way to guide kids to becoming more positive.