As parents, our words and actions shape our children’s inner dialogue and core beliefs about themselves and the world around them. The things we say to our kids when they are young don’t just disappear – they echo in their minds throughout their lives.
When we are harshly critical, our criticisms become part of our children’s self-talk. If you frequently tell your child, “You make me so mad!” s/he may grow up feeling responsible for other people’s anger and frustrations. But if we express anger and frustration calmly, while also validating her feelings, s/he learns that all emotions are valid, even difficult ones. For example, “It’s okay to feel frustrated. I understand your anger. Let’s take some deep breaths and talk about this.”
Similarly, constantly telling your child “You could have done better” implants a feeling of never being good enough. But acknowledging his efforts builds his confidence and resilience. “That was a tricky test. I’m proud of the studying you did and that you gave it your best try.”
When children make mistakes, criticizing them makes them feel inadequate. But if we help them take responsibility, they learn accountability, for instance “I know you didn’t mean to break his bike. Let’s think about how you can make this right and do things differently next time.”
The behaviors we model also become part of our children’s inner narratives. If we frequently put ourselves down, they absorb the idea that self-criticism is normal. But confident, compassionate self-talk teaches them to be kind to themselves.
Our words have power. With patience and care, we can cultivate our child’s inner voice to echo the meanings we most want them to internalize – that they are capable, accountable, and worthy of love just as they are. The way we guide them through emotions today impacts how they navigate life’s challenges long into the future.
No matter what, we can remind them of their value – that they are not defined by mistakes or shortcomings, but instead by their intrinsic worth. By having consistent conversations and displaying healthy behaviors, we can create an outlook that stands the test of time.
It’s never too late to start strengthening our children’s self-esteem and empowering them to find their life’s happiness and fulfillment. Even when we feel too busy or overwhelmed, we can take a few moments each day to build our children’s self-confidence and resilience. Regular compliments, encouragement, and positive reinforcement can have an immense impact in the present and in the future.