Some healthy choices are easier than others, and kids often choose the activities they enjoy, like soccer, ballet, math, or playing the piano. If they like them, your child might even choose carrots over chips! When children make healthy choices, it’s easy for them to accept praise and they may even applaud themselves if they know that they made a healthy choice.
However, other choices aren’t as easy. Maybe your child was tired when they got to class in the morning. Maybe they just wanted to sit and relax with some TV at the end of the day. When kids make choices that aren’t as healthy for them, you might notice that their mood slips and their self-talk gets more negative. You might hear things like:
- “I can't play basketball. I probably won’t be good at it.”
- “I can't try asparagus. I might not like it.”
- “I’m in the middle of a show/game, so I can’t get to bed on time.”
Now, no one is good at everything, and making healthy choices can be hard. Sometimes we need to remind our kids that perfection is not the goal. But that does not mean kids should give up when something is difficult or new. So what can we do to push kids through that negative self-talk? Encourage them to be their own cheerleaders by telling that downer voice in their head to be quiet. Any time they want to say “I can’t,” try something like this instead:
"I know I can." Remind your kids of the story about the little engine that could. He kept telling himself: "I think I can. I think I can." And eventually he fully convinced himself that he could do hard things, and his “I think I can” turned into “I know I can.” When your kids believe in themselves, they can turn their hesitancy into an "I know I can."
"I am going to try." Maybe your child wants to learn how to play baseball but is afraid that they won’t do well. When kids are faced with difficulty, the potential for failure is frightening and an easy way to avoid that fear is by giving up. When your child starts to lean into that fear, remind them that being perfect isn’t the point, especially when they’re trying something new. Encourage them to say to themselves, “I am going to try.” When they are trying something new, trying is the only thing they can do.
"Focus on right now." Sometimes kids look at something new and think it is too big to handle. They could want to run a race or start a new book, but they’re intimidated by the length of the race or the size of the book. It’s in that moment when a phrase like, "Focus on right now," can make all the difference. Focusing on what’s happening in the moment will help kids to focus on what they can do right then and there. Start by choosing to run for just 5 minutes, and add a minute or two each time they run. They can read their book one chapter at a time. In time, the entire goal will be achieved.
And don’t forget to remind your child that they don’t have to do it all alone. Trouble with a sport? Ask a friend or coach! Trouble with school work? Ask a teacher or parent. And if they’re feeling overwhelmed? They can come talk to you. Remind them that we all want them to succeed, so it’s okay to ask for help if they need it.
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