Not Child’s Play: Overcoming Negative Self-talk

talking to child

Kids often have the bad habit of negative self-talk. Like you, children face different challenges and uncomfortable situations. They’re just in the form of decimals and fractions or moody classmates. It’s tempting to swoop in and replace their “I can’t” with positive thoughts, but that’s not going to help them in the long run. If anything, it will only encourage dependence on others for the needed pep talk. If you want to help your kids overcome unhelpful self-talk, train them to be aware of their negative thoughts. It’s a difficult task but not an impossible one. Here are the forms of pessimistic self-talk that your child should avoid:

Mind Reading

This is the kind of internal chatter wherein your child assumes that they know already what others are thinking. You hear them say something like “My classmate doesn’t like to play with me” or “My teacher must think that I’m stupid.” They’re unaware that they develop these thoughts without real proof, so you must highlight that when trying to process things with them. Ask them probing questions, like “Are you sure they thought or felt that way?” or “Is it possible that your classmate didn’t play with you because they were tired or unhappy?” Hopefully, when you do this exercise, they’ll see that judging things without evidence is wrong and unhealthy. The next time such thoughts intrude, they’ll be quick to ignore them.


sad child

In this kind of negative self-talk, kids emphasize what went wrong. For instance, when they’re not able to read a tricky word, they think that they can’t do anything right. Or when they lose at a contest in school, they promise themselves that they won’t join any activity anymore. In this situation, you must emphasize that a single unfortunate event doesn’t define all the other things in their lives. Challenge them to try again. With every attempt and milestone, they will understand that magnifying failure is not just unhealthy but pointless, too. This is bold advice, but find opportunities for your child to be exposed to challenges and possible setbacks. Childcare facilities can offer various activities for this purpose.


This is the counterpart of magnification. In cases wherein kids accomplish good things, negative self-talk takes the form of dismissing strengths and positive qualities. For instance, when they’re able to perform well in their ballet recital, they fixate on one twirl they missed. Or when they get an A in an exam, they say that they did it because the questions were too easy. These thoughts, when unchecked, result in perfectionist standards over time, leaving them restless and anxious. So to help them overcome this type of unhelpful self-talk, you have to let them see the importance of celebrating wins. You need to get them into a healthy mode of thinking wherein they counter thoughts of inferiority with thoughts of victory.

Ultimately, the best way to help your kids deal with negative self-talk isn’t to pepper them with positivity. Instead, make them aware of these forms of unhelpful chatter and equip them with the skills to battle such thoughts on their own.