It is probably not news to you that we all perceive reality in different and unique ways. Some of us have negative attitudes and some positive, some of us like to fight to achieve our goals and others give up. I don’t believe that this is a genetic tendency or something innate from infancy, rather I purport it is a habit that we acquire along the way. The good news is that habits can be changed.
Before we get into the “How” I would like to briefly share some insights about the way our brains function. Our brain is the best storyteller there is; all we do all day long is create stories and fill in gaps in order to make some sense of the reality we face. Unfortunately our brain’s tendency is to gravitate toward the negative scenarios rather than the optimistic resourceful ones. The audio that accompanies us every minute of our life can make the difference between a happy and fulfilled person or a bitter and depressed one.
So how can we assure that our children have the best stories? The stories that will make them determined, consistent, hopeful and compassionate to their own selves?
* Role modelling: When you face a challenging situation, narrate loudly and share what your thoughts are. For instance if the dish you cooked was not so tasty, you can say out loud to yourself “I am a bit disappointed but I know I tried and I know what went wrong so I will do better next time”. Your child will hear it and will most likely use this in a similar situation. This is a very important tool since it gives your child the language and the attitude to deal with various challenges.
* Using different lingo: When you hear your child saying “I am so stupid” or “I am a loser”, instead of saying “No you are not” just rephrase it to: “I feel so stupid” or “I feel like a looser”. The idea is to move away from declarations about one’s identity because the child perceives that message as a fact that can’t be challenged. Encourage the child to express feelings which are perceived as subjective and hence open to interpretation and to discussion to address the issue. This tool enables you as a parent to continue this conversation.
* The lesson: As a parent you want your child to look at a past situation in a rational way and to learn as much as she can from it. You don’t want her to dwell on her emotions, not only because it makes her sad, but mostly because it doesn’t give her a chance or any motivation to change and to act on it. If your child states “I am bad at math” you can help them learn to say “How can I be better at math?”
* Give the power: Empower your child and make her understand that she can choose what story to tell herself and how to proceed from that point on.
*Positive reinforcement: When your child is telling herself a resourceful story praise her to make sure she will continue with this positive habit.
It is extremely powerful to know that you can choose your stories, change them and get rid of the ones that don’t serve you. Having this skill and this habit is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child.