I recently caught myself saying “I suck at this!” aloud while my toddler was within earshot. She was reading her books in the other room and seemingly didn’t react. But, we parents know that children are often aware of us, especially when we think they aren’t paying attention. Why did I feel the need to criticize myself? I burnt the blueberry pancakes. We recently got a new stove, and I’m still adjusting to the burners. As I scraped burnt bits of pancake mix from the pan, I started thinking about how I would react if my daughter expressed frustration with herself over ruining a meal. I would likely suggest she make a few minor adjustments and try again. I certainly wouldn’t berate her; nor would I accept her use of hostile words with herself. So, why do I think it is okay to use such harsh language with myself?
After the pancake incident, I decided to become more aware of my self-talk--I don’t want my daughter to grow up thinking that it is normal to belittle herself. After mindfully observing my inner and external voices for a few days, I was shocked by how often I criticized myself. I’m embarrassed to say that on any given day, I’m likely to call myself stupid several times over very minor mistakes or inadequacies. I would never let my daughter speak to herself the way I do. However, when I put myself down in front of my daughter, I am subconsciously giving her permission to speak negatively about herself. Whether I notice it or not, she is learning to be an adult by observing me. I need to demonstrate compassion for myself so that my daughter learns to do the same.
Why is this so important? Our inner voice often becomes our truth. If I repeatedly tell myself, I suck at this or I’m so stupid; I will begin to believe it. My choices will begin to reflect these beliefs and I may limit my options based on these false presumptions about myself. I know that I limited my career options by constantly affirming I’m not good at math throughout my teenage and young adult years. Truthfully, I was pretty great at what I now know is coding, and I loved geometry. It was just algebra perplexed me. Instead of working harder to understand it, I told myself I wasn’t good at algebra and accepted that as my truth.
Do we want our children to give up when faced with challenges and (wrongfully) assume they just aren’t good enough? Of course not--we want our children to be confident and demonstrate persistence. They will never fully believe that things like intelligence or talent aren’t fixed if they hear us minimize ourselves each time we encounter a barrier to success.
First, we must mindfully listen to the way we talk to ourselves. Then, we can make simple language adjustments that demonstrate we believe our talents can be developed through hard work and perseverance. I’ve started using these phrases in front of my daughter: This is a little tricky for me, but I bet I can do it! and, I need to practice this a bit more. I’ve noticed that she announces when things are tricky and celebrates when she tries to do something challenging. When we are mindful about our language, we can use our words to rejoice our efforts and communicate that determination is an admirable trait. Even a simple, good enough, demonstrates self-compassion and acceptance of imperfect results.
Mindful self-talk shows that we respect ourselves and that we understand that we are still learning and growing. More importantly, it communicates the same lesson to our children, who are easily influenced by our words and actions. When you are about to criticize yourself--stop, notice the thought, picture your child, and imagine saying those words to them. If the words are too harsh for your child, then they are too harsh for you. After all, your child is learning how to treat themselves by observing you. Teach them that they are worthy of self-love.