Children do what feels good to them and follow their natural instincts. Well meaning parents teach children that it is not socially acceptable to behave in certain ways, thus going against a child's natural inclinations. Children internalize the voices from their parents, teachers and other adults in their lives and start to criticize themselves. Although parents are being helpful, this often contributes to the birth of the inner critic.
Who is the Inner Critic?
The inner critic is the voice inside everyone's head who periodically points out our failures, inadequacies, and our shortcomings. Although disguised as a friend, confidante, this inner critic sabotages our best interest. The inner critic undermines our belief in our abilities.
In children, the inner critic tells the child that they are not smart enough, good enough, or talented enough to accomplish their goals. Children start to use their inner dialog as a defense mechanism against the world. The inner critic criticizes the child before the world can. The inner critic gets the child to believe that it is helping the child by offering "constructive criticism". The truth is that criticism can never be constructive. According to Merriam -Webster dictionary, the definition of constructive is: promoting improvement or development, while the definition of criticize is: to find fault with: point out the faults of. Since the inner critic is so powerful and convincing, how can parents help their children deal with their inner critic?
Help children to identify when their inner critic is attacking. Since the inner critic attacks mentally, physically and emotionally, you can help your child to know when the inner critic is set in motion.
Signs of the inner critic are fear, feeling powerless, feeling disappointed or discouraged, feeling tired or sick (such as a belly ache or headache), self blame and lack of motivation. Once the child senses when the inner critic is at play, help them to observe the underlying situation. What is the inner critic telling your child that he/she can not or should not do? Tell you child to observe what he/she is feeling physically and emotionally when the inner critic attacks. It might be helpful to have your child write down whatever he/she is feeling. It could be just one sentence such as: I am not a good at math. My hands get sweaty and my stomach hurts when I have to take a math test. Have your child do this whenever he/she notices the inner critic. If your child is young, ask him/her to draw a picture about what it feels like.
Help your child to develop powerful self-talk. Helping your child to develop powerful self -talk takes time and practice. This is a tool that is useful for parents too! It is very easy for us to name our weaknesses or to recognize our limiting beliefs. However, it takes time for us to identify our strengths and potential. Try this exercise: Ask you child to tell you 5 things he/she believes is a weakness or something he/she is not good at. Time how long it take for them to respond. Next, ask 5 things he/she knows is strength or something he/she is good at. Time how long it takes for a response again. Most children who have a healthy self-esteem and practice powerful self talk are able to tell you their strengths much quicker than their weaknesses. You can help your child nurture his/her strengths by brainstorming on strengths and helping your child to use his/her strengths more often. Make a list of all the strengths and post it on the wall, where your child can see it on a daily basis. Start to focus less on your child's weaknesses and more on their strengths.
Use your relaxation techniques with your child. Have your child practice deep breathing or use any other method that calms him/her down. For breathing exercises, have your child concentrate on his/her breathing and to visualize the air going in and out. Massage your child's head, neck and shoulders and loosen tight muscles. Use this opportunity for your child to open up and talk. If your child starts talking, just listen without interrupting.
Offer positive feedback. Listen to how your child explains what failure means to them. How does your child react when he/she fails a test or scores lower than expected? Find out what position your child takes on his/her accomplishments or failures? Don't rush to solve the problem or tell your child why he/she failed. Let your child use critical thinking skills to identify what is going on. If you notice your child making excuses or talking down to him or self, make your child aware of it. Help your child to problem solve by letting them talk and you listen.
Be a role model. Do you have a grasp on your inner critic? Does your child notice how you behave when your inner critic attacks? When you are disappointed or have failed at something, talk to your child about it. Be honest with your child about your own inner critic. Notice how you behave when your inner critic attacks and set the example for your child. Let your child see you demonstrating healthy ways of dealing with disappointment.
One thing to remember is that the inner critic never goes away. As parents, we can offer support and encouragement to our children to let them know we are here to help them. Watch your language, let your child dream big, and focus on your child's strengths. By being aware of their inner critic, children can transform the inner voice from a critic to a useful guide.
A Free Introduction to Taming Your Gremlin for Kids: A Road Map for Raising a Confident Child. http://www.tamingyourgremlin.com/tyg_teleclasses.cfm
PDT A Parent's Alphabet for Building Self Esteem- http://www.ops.org/reading/self_esteem_.html
50 Ways to Bring Out Your Child's Best- http://www.thomasarmstrong.com/articles/50_ways.htm
Marie Magdala Roker is an Academic and Personal Development Coach a who works with parents,teens and young adults to help them unlock and nurture the personal and academic potential and strengths.