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For a Great Start to the School Year, Nuture a Healthy Inner Voice

Published by , on Sep 3, 2014

Though it is something to consider throughout the year, the start of a new school year can be a particularly important time to reflect on the ways we can help nurture a child’s inner voice. In the article below, licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Josie Castaldi shares information about the many ways adults can influence a child’s inner voice and self-confidence.

All of us have an inner voice that has the potential to either coach and soothe us in a positive manner or criticize and belittle us in a negative way. When children are young and spending much of their time being cared for by adults, they begin to take in the messages we provide verbally, as well as from the way we behave towards others. It is the responsibility of adults to provide clear positive messages to children in both regards. The way that these messages are heard sets the stage for children feeling either capable and confident – or insecure and defensive – about their skills as they mature.

We all remember phrases and actions, both positive and negative, that our parents or other caregivers shared and modeled when we were children. What would you rather hear from someone you love or care about? “I’m confident you can do this. It may be difficult. If you need help, just let me know” or “You are plucking my last nerve! Let me do that for you.” What we say and how we say it can have a huge influence on the children with whom we interact each day.

There are communication styles that can help children to build a healthy and helpful inner voice. Here are some practical suggestions to encourage an inner voice that is realistic, gentle and resilient:

  • Use positive language. Providing discipline or corrective feedback in a supportive manner puts you in teacher/coaching mode. “Remember, we keep our hands and feet to ourselves” or “It’s important to pet animals gently” are respectful messages that can help children feel good about their behaviors and interactions.

  • Make honest statements that provide unconditional caring as well as, when appropriate, acceptance of different points of view. For example, “I like to spend time with you,” “I’m so glad that you’re part of my life,” “I get a smile on my face thinking about you,” as well as “You can do it your way,” and “It’s OK to disagree,” can all provide beneficial messages.

  • Be an active listener and encourage children to consider alternatives and solve problems on their own. Sometimes it’s tempting to make decisions for children, especially when we sense they are having a difficult time. Allowing them to work things out encourages competent independent choices over time.

  • Provide positive reinforcement for appropriate decisions and behaviors. Keep in mind that everyone learns best when given four to five positive statements for every corrective/constructive message.

  • Communicate clearly, especially when constructive feedback is needed. Use “I” statements (“I am upset that this room is such a mess” rather than “You are so messy”) which share your own feelings and reflect on other’s behaviors rather than their worth as a human being.

Everyone has an inner voice. As parents, caregivers and friends, we can help the children, teens and even the adults in our lives develop internal messages that will encourage, guide and strengthen them over time.

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