Ever been told you’re your own worst critic? It happens to all of us.
It’s likely a habit we learned long ago… and one we should do our best to break for our children, according to psychologist and The Local Moms Network contributor Niro Feliciano. “If you’re self-critical when you make a mistake, when you mess up, or have a setback, realize that you weren’t born that way, you inherited that.”
Somewhere along the way, says Niro, there was a lot of criticism around us, most likely from our parents, and that’s how we learned to respond. Now we have a golden opportunity stop that cycle. “As parents, we need to recognize that we become the voice that our kids internalize and carry into adulthood.”
It’s a huge responsibility, but Niro says simple positive affirmations can have a lasting effect. “What experts recommend is a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative comments. But that ratio may seem daunting when you are just getting started. Start with a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio of affirming thoughts to critical ones,” Niro offers.
Of course, as parents, correcting kids is part of the job description. But it’s how we correct is what truly affects the inner voice. Niro suggests that when parents have a criticism or a correction, that they first pause and ask themselves, “Have I said anything positive today to this child? Have I affirmed anything about them?”
It’s easy to assume that affirming is largely about what a child does, but it also extends, even more significantly, to who they are: “We have to affirm them as a human being not as a ‘human doing.’ We want their worth to be recognized as inherent to who they are not solely what they accomplish.”
‘Kids are under a lot of pressure these days and receive criticism from their schools, teams, peers and themselves,” says Niro. She adds: “Ultimately we want to become very attuned to all the things they do right in a day, because there are many when we pay attention to them. Of course we have to correct and steer them along the right path. However, when we can affirm regularly, they will be more open to receiving criticism when it comes.”
TIPS FOR MEANINGFUL AFFIRMATIONS
- Praise something that is rooted in truth about the person your child is.
“I’ve noticed that you were a great friend to x when she was sad at school. You are a kind friend.”
“I know you have a caring, generous heart. It makes you very special.”
“I love your crazy energy. It lifts our spirits!”
“You are such a thoughtful person. You may seem quiet to others but I know you think about things carefully and deeply. That is a wonderful quality.”
“I heard you were very polite at your playdate today. I was so happy to hear that.”
“I’ve seen you working really hard at math lately, I’m so proud of you.”
“I know you tried your best on that test and it’s not always going to show in the grade. You should be proud of your effort. I am.”
- Affirm the simple things (that are actually big things!):
Example: “Well hey, you got up this morning and made it downstairs, which is an accomplishment with all the stress you have been under. That’s enough of a win today!”
- Use affirmations in the form of gratitude.
Acknowledging what they do right instead of wrong and showing that you noticed it can also go along way.
Example: “Thank you for picking up your shoes, toys and books that were left on the stairs” (said no mom ever.) “I really appreciate that.”
It is ok to affirm appearance, however, it can be a slippery slope, especially with females. Says Niro: “I personally like to say to my kids very generally ‘You are beautiful.’ I will also say ‘You look beautiful’ but I am intentional about not just saying that when they are dressed up and cleaned up, but also when they are a mess and stressed and not completely together, because to me they still are beautiful in those. I want them to remember that.”
Niro Feliciano is a psychotherapist, author of “This Book Won’t Make You Happy” and host of the podcast “All Things Life with Niro Feliciano.”