Words can be amazingly powerful. If you want kids to feel better and succeed, start with positive self talk. While real behavioral change is admittedly hard and takes time, changing the language we use is relatively quick and simple.
When we eliminate phrases from our vocabulary that take us down, it has a remarkably immediate and effective impact. Words won’t change everything, but they are an essential first step in re-framing a situation.
1. SHOULD HAVE/ SHOULD BE
Seriously, get ‘should’ out of your vocabulary. Think about every time you hear the word. It suggests you’ve done something wrong or someone has wronged you. Either way, you likely feel hurt, upset or dissatisfied which often leads to blaming someone else.
“I should have gotten an ‘A’ on that test, but the teacher…”
“I should have won the game, but the referee..”
“I should be pleased, but…”
Try substituting wish or prefer. Not only do these words feel better, they are more realistic. Maybe your student wanted or envisioned an ‘A’ or winning the game, but wanting the world to be a certain way doesn’t make it so. The good news is that ‘wants’ are far more in our control than ‘shoulds’. If kids want something, they are motivated. When they are motivated, they are open to finding solutions and ways to improve.
“I wish I had gotten an ‘A’ on that test. I might need to study more next time.”
“I wish I had won the game. If I play better next time…”
“I wish I were pleased, but I’m not. Can you help me?”
2. Yes, But…
It’s easy to find reasons not to go along with new ideas or reject a suggestion, especially if you’re a teenager. It’s a lot more challenging to stop and carefully consider the pros along with the cons.
In fact, research shows there are a lot of kids who are more naturally prone to say “yes, but…” Psychologists call it weak flexible thinking. At Mindprint, we say that these kids, all kids, need coaching on how to step back and evaluate a new idea before jumping to a negative opinion.
It all starts with simply not allowing them to say, “Yes, but…” and shifting to, “Yes. Tell me more so I understand how…”
If you’re not talking about school, the doctor, or an essential family obligation this might be another phrase for the trash bin. When kids get caught up in a “Must Do” list they often get anxious and overwhelmed.
If it’s not truly a “must”, consider changing it to a “can if I have time” or “like to if it’s possible”. Keep the Must Do’s to a minimum. It helps kids keep life in perspective and allows them to focus on getting the important stuff done right.
What’s more, when kids have time to choose from their “can do” list they implicitly recognize where they want to spend their time. It’s in those choices that they will discover what truly makes them happy.
Model Positive Self Talk
Keep in mind that kids do what you do, not what you say. Consciously make an effort to use positive self talk. Correct yourself when you use phrases like “should be”, “must do”, and “yes…but”. When a child uses them, gently suggest a way to re-phrase what they said.
Consider making a game of it– anyone who uses a negative self-talk phrase, puts a quarter in the jar. Agree to donate your collection to a charity.
Go ahead. You can do it!
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