Dr. Shainna Ali is the author of The Self-Love Workbook for Teens. In this guest post, she offers insightful ideas for overcoming negative self-talk and helping your teen (or anyone) practice self-kindness.
When you have a healthy sense of self-esteem you are able to recognize your worth, build positive relationships, and pursue life with confidence. This is important across the lifespan; however, teenage years, in particular, are a crucial time for developing a sense of self. Fostering healthy self-esteem at this time can have lasting benefits for decades to come.
One way to build self-esteem is by improving self-talk. Your self-talk is the ongoing inner dialogue you have with yourself. This natural occurrence starts in childhood and continues on for the rest of your life. As you learn and grow, the quality of your inner chatter may develop as well.
The messages included in your internal script tend to range from positive to negative. Like heavy boulders, negative self-talk can weigh down your view of yourself. On the other hand, positive, helpful thoughts can help you to feel empowered. If you tune into your inner chatter, you may be able boost your mood, confidence, and self-esteem.
Here are a few strategies to aid you in improving self-talk.
1. Tune Into Your Thoughts
While we all have self-talk, it’s not uncommon to get so accustomed to yours that you don’t even realize what you’re allowing yourself to say to yourself. The first and most crucial step in being able to take down your negative self-talk is to be willing to pay attention to your thoughts.
Many people are surprised when they make this shift to tuning into their mind and listening to their inner script. Without this attention, while we may not intend to be cruel to ourselves, our thoughts may slip and endanger us. It is like having a lifeguard on duty in your mind, someone watching over you to catch you if you slip.
For some, improving this self-awareness in and of itself can help to reduce negative thoughts as you can swiftly begin to hold yourself accountable.
2. Say “No” to Negativity
It can be helpful to take a moment to clarify what exactly counts as negative self-talk. By doing this, you set boundaries to uphold your own self-respect.
For example, you may decide that you are unwilling to say something to yourself that you wouldn’t dare say to someone else. Another common example is to imagine if you would let your teen say something similar about themselves. Most people would say that they do not support bullying, and in order to fully embrace this notion, that would include being unwilling to bully yourself too.
You may also be tempted to let negative thoughts slide through if they have a grain of truth. However, when you are acknowledging the reality of a bad day, that doesn’t mean you have to put yourself down in the process.
Imagine, after a heated discussion with your child, you reflect that you may have gone too far. The thought, I am a bad parent, may flash across your mind. But is that level of negativity necessary? Is there a kinder way you could word that statement? You’re human after all, and we all make mistakes from time to time. While it may be uncomfortable, recognizing this fault, communicating your error, and sharing a genuine apology actually models healthy conflict resolution and communication skills as well.
3. Prepare for the Challenge
Sometimes paying attention to your thoughts and highlighting when a thought has crossed your personal boundary empowers you to drop that thought then and there. On the other hand, some negative thoughts can be a bit more persistent.
Have you had one of those moments when your child has asked you for something, and even after you declare a clear “No” they hop into a presentation enumerating all of the reasons why you should change your mind? A pesky negative thought can be somewhat like that. You may be tempted to cave and let the thought slide, but over time this could become a habit that takes a toll on your self-esteem.
With preparation, you can equip yourself for these challenges. In addition to reflecting on your personal boundaries, it can be helpful to practice your counter statement when negative self-talk takes the stand. Sometimes, a curious mindset can help you to take down your negative self-talk. What caused this thought to pop up? Where did that statement come from? What purpose is it serving?
If we take the “I am a bad parent” example from above, we may recognize that this statement comes from the fear of being a bad parent. While this fear has valid roots, jumping to the conclusion of being a bad parent because of something you said can minimize all of your other wonderful efforts. Recognizing where this negative thought arose from can help you get to the root of the issue without the toxicity.
4. Infuse Positivity
Another strategy to add to your self-talk toolkit is to pack in some positivity. Positive self-talk can be a powerful weapon against negative self-talk. You can increase your thoughts and your self-esteem by reflecting on your strengths, achievements, abilities, and successes.
Instead of being your own bully, try to be your own best friend. What words could you say to encourage yourself? When you hear your child’s negative self-talk take the stage, you likely pop in with strong counter statements to sift through the negativity, widen their perspective, and boost their self-esteem. These helpful remarks can be a great source of inspiration for your own positive self-talk. In addition, vocalizing your own positive self-talk can help to serve as a great example for your children.
About the Author
Shainna Ali is a mental health counselor, educator, and advocate. Dr. Ali is passionate about destigmatizing mental health counseling and helping individuals worldwide recognize the importance of fostering mental wellness. She is the author of The Self-Love Workbook: A Life-Changing Guide to Boost Self-Esteem, Recognize Your Worth, and Find Genuine Happiness and The Self-Love Workbook for Teens: A Transformative Guide to Boost Self-Esteem, Build a Healthy Mindset, and Embrace Your True Self.