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Parenting on Purpose - The Way We Speak to our Children Becomes Their Inner Voice

We all have a little voice inside our heads. You know that one that gives us a pep talk and whispers words of encouragement when we are having a tough day, or the one that might cause us to feel insecure by shaming us for our mistakes? That is our inner voice.

As humans, we all have an inner voice that can lift us up when we practice positive self-talk, or further drag us down when we engage in negative self-talk. Oftentimes the inner voice that children develop comes from the way in which their caregivers and loved ones speak to them.

"Your words sow the seeds of their inner voice."

The human brain processes positive and negative information differently. Negative information and unpleasant emotions tend to have more of an impact than positive ones. We tend to notice undesirable behaviour and bad events more than the positive. Similarly, we can tend to notice more when our children misbehave. As a result, children may hear more criticism from parents rather than praise, which has an effect on their self-esteem and their inner voice.

This is why when interacting with our children, it's crucial that we remain mindful of how we are communicating, and the messages that we are sending them with our words, body language and our tone. We want to communicate in a way that ensures they consistently feel loved, respected, valued and supported. Here are some tips:

Provide positive feedback

Provide your child with lots of positive feedback and make a point of acknowledging desirable behaviour when you notice it, even if it's something small. This might sound like "I appreciate seeing you both getting along and playing together so nicely", or "You have such lovely manners, thank you for asking so nicely", or "I can see you're having a tough time and I am really proud of you for keeping so calm."

Be specific with the praise you give

When you are clear about what your child is doing well, they will be more likely to keep doing it. This might sound like "You are so kind for sharing with your brother", or "You did such a good job tidying your room and putting your toys away", or "I noticed you started on your homework all by yourself. You are very responsible."

Acknowledge their efforts

If you notice your child is finding something challenging, instead of focusing on whether they did something right or wrong, try to praise their efforts. For example, if they are having trouble with their homework, instead of saying "No, that's the wrong answer", you might try saying "I can see how hard you are trying. This is a tough one, let's try and find the solution together."

Remember the 5:1 ratio

There should be 5 positive interactions for every negative interaction or criticism. This is what is known as the 5:1 ratio, and it's backed by research in creating healthy, happy relationships.

Be mindful of your nonverbal communication

Kids can pick up on tone, facial expressions and body language. Combining criticism with an angry facial expression and disapproving tone makes for an even more negative interaction. Likewise, when giving praise, using a positive tone and facial expressions will make the interaction an even more positive one.

Practice coping skills

When you're finding it challenging, engage in coping skills such as deep breathing, moving your body, or stepping away from the situation until you find your calm. Try modeling these coping skills to your children and where possible invite them to join you. This might sound like "I am feeling overwhelmed and am going to take some deep breaths to help calm me down. Do you want to try, too?" This not only helps to show your child healthy ways of coping, it also teaches them that it's okay to feel their feelings.

Model acknowledging and apologising for misbehaviour

It's not realistic to be cool, calm and collected all of the time. We're human and we all make mistakes in the way we communicate. If we want our children to learn to take responsibility for their own misbehavior, we need to be able to do the same. When you do or say something to upset your child, wait until things calm down, and then have a conversation with them. That might sound like "I was very mad earlier. It's okay to be mad, but it's never okay to yell. I shouldn't have raised my voice. I am sorry. Next time, I will wait until I am calm before I speak to you. I love you." A good apology has acknowledgement, accountability, and amends. When we do these things, we are showing our children that it is okay to make mistakes, and that it's important to take responsibility for them when we do.

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