Before we jump right into our children’s psyches, let’s run through a little psychology lesson so we can make sure we are all on the same page. After all, this psychology stuff can be confusing!
First off the subconscious/unconscious mind is a part of our consciousness that we are not consciously aware of. It’s kind of like a broken record playing in the background of our heads, that repeats classics like, “you are not lovable,” “you are not valuable,” “you can’t do that,” “you aren’t pretty enough, smart enough, thin enough or good enough.”
Wow! That song could go on forever!
Now, this is not to say that our subconscious only supplies us with this negative way of thinking. It does many other awesome things like, helping us remember our phone number or where we live without having to consciously think about it but for the purpose of this post we are going to focus on where we get these negative thoughts and beliefs from.
We gain these subconscious thoughts from experiences we have in our lives.
These negative beliefs are solidified in childhood because as a child the conscious part of the mind, which includes critical thinking, reasoning, abstract thought and logic has not yet fully developed. Which is why children believe in Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy as much as they will believe they are a “bad kid,” if that’s what they are told.
Once a child’s brain develops more, they will be able to use their advanced thinking skills to determine that Santa Clause is not real but unlike Santa Clause “bad kids” are real and that label may stick in their subconscious mind for a long time. Until…hopefully, like most of us they hit 30 and realize that these thoughts have been playing in the background of their mind their whole life, ultimately holding them back from fully acknowledging the many gifts they have to share with the world.
Of course these negative messages don’t necessarily come from parents. They come from experiences with friends at a young age or interactions with other adults. These rotten seeds of negative thought and self-talk are planted in childhood and then strengthened as we grow up through experiences with friends, our intimate relationships, our work environments and so on…
By building self-esteem and cultivating a positive self-image we can give our little seedlings strong, supportive roots to blossom into healthy, happy adults.
Top 5 tips for a positive self-image:
1. Be mindful! Fully embrace the impact words and actions have. Think about how every experience and interaction children have is literally laying the blueprint for their beliefs about them self and the world around them.
2. Highlight positive qualities often. It’s easy to get stuck on the negative, especially when there are some negative behavior patterns but when we shift the focus to positive attributes kids want to live up to those behaviors even more. This directly relates to the self-fulfilling prophecy theory. Which states that there is a direct link between belief and behavior. So, when we expect a child to act badly he will and conversely we will get same result when good behavior is expected.
3. Create positive affirmations that to say together, before bed. Here’s an example mantra, “I am loved, I am safe, I am special, I am happy, I am grateful”. Added bonus! Saying positive affirmations daily can help you add some self-love into your daily routine too. Get creative and find what resonates with your family and it will become part of your nightly routine. Want more ideas for mantras? Click here for a list of 100 positive affirmations.
4. Either at dinner or before bed try sharing at least 5 things each family members is grateful for. People who practice gratitude have been shown to be more loving, forgiving, feel a greater sense of self-worth and are more hopeful about the future. Who doesn’t want that?! For more info on the benefits of practicing gratitude check out this excellent article by Dr. Kristina Hibbert.
5. When a child has negative experiences with friends or others it’s important to talk to them about these situations in a way that builds them back up. Explain to them that it is sad when others make us feel bad but that it does not change how special or how loved they are.
The “big picture” goal is to stop those negative messages from being added to their internal playlist. We want to make the songs playing in the background of their minds as positive and uplifting as possible.
“There are two lasting bequests we can give our children. One is roots. The other is wings.” ~Hodding Carter, Jr.
Have any tips to add ? Please share your thoughts!