Negative self-talk is so powerful. So is, I guess by reasoning, positive self-talk. It's amazing how quickly the negative version of self-talk can take over for me. It's something I battle all the time. But, positive self-talk is the ultimate version of self-care and, dare I say it, self-kindness.
I've had a couple of parenting moments with my son over the past few months where I look at him and think…"wow, he is me." These moments are conflicted for me.
On the one hand, I feel proud and awe that this little creation not only came from my body but also is a true reflection of me. Then, I feel sad and a little scared because the things I have struggled with, like self-esteem, negative self-talk and social connection, are the things he struggles with. And, then hope, because after 40 years of learning to cope, I've developed some strategies that I hope can help him well before HE turns 40!
Those things that make me sad and scared for him show up in lots of little ways.
But, right now, it shows up mostly when I ask him to complete any kind of writing. Whether it 's a formal assignment or it's just writing on his own somehow. He starts off by fighting me on doing it and then when I finally get him to sit down, he just stalls.
He's impossible to talk to in the moment. He's frustrated at not being able to do it. He's mad at me for making him do it. So, one evening, I go into his room about 20 minutes before bed time when he is usually just reading in his bed.
As an aside, this is one of my favorite times of day. This is HIS time of clarity for the day and he almost always goes into some kind of self-reflection. He usually is open to conversation and hard questions at this time. I've built a habit of going into his room a bit early before bed time helping him get ready for the evening, picking up a bit, and using it as a time to be present.
Anyway, this one particular evening, I go in and sit down and say "Buddy, I am struggling. How can we not fight over your writing every day? It's important that you practice your writing so that you are ready for second grade. So, we have to do it. Do you have any ideas that would make it easier?"
He says "Mom, it's like my brain is telling me I can't do it. I am not a good writer. My brain is saying I'm not smart."
Ugh. Heart breaking. I realize in that moment my son is struggling from negative self talk. He's seven. And, I see myself in him more in that moment than ever before. Though, I'm pretty sure I was well into my thirties, and after lots of therapy, before I truly recognized negative self talk.
So, in bed, we start talking through a strategy that I've used for the past few months. I AM statements. It's a simple, quick exercise that helps me to get ahead of my negative self talk in the morning before it starts. Each morning, I write 10 or more words that describe who I AM.
These statements are meant to be both truth and aspirational reminders of who you ARE and you ASPIRE to be.
These are positive and forward looking statements. These statements help you envision how you want to walk through this world.
Just this morning, actually, I woke up feeling that negative self talk percolating in the back of my brain. And, the act of writing this out, kicked it right out.
As I spoke to my son about this strategy, it took a few minutes for him to get it. He often reverted back to "I have…" statements, which I could tell were not going to have the same affect. It was also clear he was going to share another challenge with me (and many people) - it’s harder to think of strengths than it is to think of weaknesses.
With a little help from me reminding him of who he is, he then started to think of his own "I am…" statements.
His first I AM Statements…
When he said the last one, I could see his face in the last light of the evening coming in through the curtains as he smiled to himself in contentment and the belief in himself that he is, in fact, confident.
We now try to do this every day. If I try to force him to do it in the morning, which is my routine, it usually falls flat. But, he often asks to do it as he is getting ready for bed.
It has also become a very useful tool when we practice his writing. Before we even get started, we discuss his I AM statements. We say them together and get started. When his assignment gets hard, we use the statements again to help re-focus.
It's still not always easy. But, this new little daily practice has changed our daily conversation. We not only discuss I AM statements but also what kind of self-talk he is having in a particular moment. I try to find times when that self-talk is both positive and negative. And, we discuss strategies for how to tackle it.
This little practice has had such a big impact. But, I will always remember the first moment when he realized he is in fact brave. And kind. And caring. And, confident.