5 Ways to Help Children Silence Negative Self-Talk – Shrinking The ‘Critical Critter’

5 Ways to Help Children Silence Negative Self-Talk - Shrinking The 'Critical Critter'

Somewhere, inside us all, hides the CRITICAL CRITTER – a rather scary, hairy and un-fairylike creature. The Critical Critter is fed on a diet of negative self-talk and unkind, unsupportive words from others. Each time we chew on harsh and unjustified criticism, it’s like giving the critter another burger to munch on. 

And then, one day, we notice that the Critter has grown – and started throwing it’s weight around. In fact, the Big C is bossing everyone in the brain house; bullying them, even. You see, the Critter is making frequent visits upstairs to tell the thinking characters that they’re wasting their time. 

Not content with that, this dastardly doubter is also lurking downstairs and telling Fearsome Fred that he’s right to panic and flip the lid, because it’s all going to go wrong. And when it does, insists the Critter, Fearless Fred will be to blame because he’s useless. We. Are. Useless.

The Critter in Action

What else does the Critter do? Well, on sports day – aged 7 – our internal critic sits on the sidelines and bursts into fits of self-incriminating giggles when we trip over in the running race. 

Aged 16, it hides under the exam desk and repeatedly whispers ‘Hey thicko – you’re gonna fail at this!’ When it’s time to leave education and think about a career, the Critter starts a chorus of ‘You’ll never do it; you’re not going to make it; you’ll never amount to anything.’

In short, the CRITICAL CRITTER makes us feel rubbish about ourselves. It makes us give up when things get tough. It makes us feel sad and miserable. But we can fight back…

5 ways to shrink the Critter

If your Critter has grown bigger, scarier and hairier recently, it’s time to put it on a crash diet – here’s how:

1.  Give your Critter a name.

This may sound a bit daft, but separating your inner critic from yourself is a great way to give you the space you need to notice what it’s saying, quieten it down and tame it. Call it anything you want – just make it memorable.

2.  Take the Friends and Family Test. 

Whenever you notice your Critter speaking negatively, ask yourself: “Would I speak like this to my best friend or closest family member?” If the answer is “no”, then don’t allow it to speak to you that way – be your own best friend.

3.  Answer back.

You may have been told as a child that it’s rude to answer back – but this isn’t the case with Critters. You need to boss them about, just as they’ve been bossing you, to make them shrink. So when you hear Critter chanting ‘This’ll never work, you’ve always been useless at this’, answer back. Use these sentences and your Critter will be eating broccoli for a week!

•  “That’s enough out of you Critter – I’m doing my best.”

•  “I can’t hear you Critter, I’m too busy being amazing over here.”

•  “Maybe it didn’t work this time Critter, but I’m giving it another go.”

4.  Call for Back Up.

If the Critter is firing out harsh words when you’re working hard to try and master something or reach a goal, prove it wrong (and keep it quiet) by trying again. Maybe you’re doing a Couch to 5K running programme, trying your hand at knitting, or learning how to boil an egg – whatever it is, seek the advice and support of people who have done it before. If you surround yourself with those who say “You can” then it’ll be harder for your Critter to keep yelling at you to give up. And soon, it will stop shouting ‘You can’t’ and sit quietly in a corner chomping on an apple. 

5.  Strengthen yourself 

Being under attack from the Critter is tough and, for some people, can feel relentless. It can make us question ourselves, our parenting skills, our ability to do our job… everything; even whether we should get out of bed. To cope with this relentless criticism, it’s important that we find things about ourselves that we like. Each day, make time to notice the things – no matter how small they are – that went well BECAUSE OF YOU. And don’t be surprised if your Critter laughs with contempt at your first try at a list. Use the tips above to wipe the smile off its face – and put one back on your own.

[irp posts=”12520″ name=”5 Simple Ways to Build Resilience and Well-Being in Children (by Dr Hazel Harrison)”]


About the Author: Dr Hazel Harrison

hazel-1Dr Hazel Harrison works as a clinical psychologist in the United Kingdom. She founded ThinkAvellana to bring psychology out of the clinic and into everyday life. Her website is www.thinkavellana.com and you can also follow her on Twitter at @thinkavellana and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/thinkavellana.

3 Comments

Jonas Daniel

Such an inspirational post. Especially for the parents, sometimes parents are not aware that their children are suffering from negative self-talk. By your informative blog, they will come to know about various things that are very important for the parents to know about their children. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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AMB

Really appreciated this and it’s come at a time when my six year old is often laden with self-doubt and tears because of a lack of confidence and occasional snipy comments from a ‘friend’. But armed with this help, she won’t be able to hear those comments, because she’ll be too busy being amazing to notice!

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Catherine

This article is awesome. Thank you. I’m going to read it to my 5-year-old and 10- year-old…And maybe read it to myself again. We seem to be having a lot of trouble with our Critters lately.

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Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.

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