Thursday, July 24, 2014

Outer Monologues

People always talk about inner monologues, but I'm convinced toddlers have outer monologues.

This morning my two-year-old wanted to go outside.  He was looking for his shoes.

As he ran around searching, I could hear him saying something like,
"Hurry up!
Not go fast enough!
Take too long!"
As you might guess, these words were uttered with a pretty bossy authoritative tone. Um... I wonder where he got that.

Hearing my son give this little self-lecture, made me cringe and examine my own lectures.  Anyone who has a toddler knows it's impossible to live life at their pace.  They're quick to do the dangerous and destructive, and slow to follow directions. I can't regret trying to hurry him along sometimes, but hearing him repeat my words made me think a lot about the way I talk to him and consequently, how he talks to himself.

I started thinking about the influences on my own internal voice. I'm pretty sure my mother is my cautious shoulder angel, while the voice that encourages my own drumbeat is the amalgamation of my father and Disney princesses. (I'm sure he'd be thrilled to know he's being grouped with such wise characters:) Then there is my husband, my brothers, self-help books and goals I have set to purposefully change the ways I think. Teachers, authors, and religious/spiritual practices have had a major influence as well, and I do believe that our thoughts are often placed by God when we are looking for direction. I'm gonna go ahead and give hormones and amount of sleep a good chunk of credit here too.

Obviously, when it comes to our children, we can't influence all of these things but we can lay a foundation for healthy inner narrative. Here are some ideas and goals I came up with.

1. Watch your criticism to compliment ratio. I heard somewhere that it takes seven compliments for a person to recover from the negative feelings left by a single criticism.  Harvard Business Review puts the number at 5.6 here, at least for adults in business leadership teams.

2. Model problem solving out loud.  Often times the first thing we do when we've caught our own  mistake is to roll our eyes and berate ourselves.  Instead, cue little ears in by talking yourself through your thoughts. "Oh no, Mommy left the tickets to the movie at home. Do we have time to run back and get them?  Maybe if I call daddy he can bring them by on the way to his meeting.  I think I'll call him to see if he's still home.  Then I'll know the best thing to do."  Notice there is no mention of how the mommy is ALWAYS leaving things behind or losing things. She's not forgetful or stupid. She's capable. She can solve problems. Since she can solve problems, her kids can too.

3. Speak positively of other people. Especially yourself and his/her other parent. Your children know where they came from, and if daddy is stupid, they will think they must be too. When you're in front of the mirror, don't talk about how you're too big in all the wrong places and too small everywhere else. You're their mom and you just look like a mom to them. They are less likely to empathize with you, and more likely to learn how to criticize themselves.

4. Never tell embarrassing stories about your child while they are present.  Little kids can be especially sensitive to this, and with their limited experience, they may not realize that their mistakes are cute, just that they were wrong.

5. Teach through questions more than commands. No one likes to be told what they should do, even if the one doing the telling is ourselves. Instead of explaining to a child what they should have done, ask what they think they could have done instead. They will usually come to a better solution either by themselves or with minimal prompting.

Rainbow of Books (Explore #86). by mind on fire, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic Licenseimage by  mind on fire

6. Encourage good books and movies.  Books and movies let us into the thoughts of others. Characters can provide good or bad models for children. Parents can help by knowing the content of books and movies and by discussing the narrative of the author or the inner narrative of the characters.

7. Encourage journaling.  Reading our own thoughts gives us a chance to self-regulate. When I reread some of my journals as a kid, I realized just how embarrassingly dramatic I felt about certain situations. I like to think I made the appropriate adjustments.

8. Teach positive conflict resolution among siblings.  Siblings are often the people your children interact with most other than you. Bullying within families can do a lot of damage. I have very little experience as a referee for sibling disputes, but when my boys are older, I am going to do everything I can to teach positive communication skills.  When children feel they aren't being heard, they are more likely to dwell on negative interactions.

I'm sure there are a million more things that could be added to this list. What would you add? I think the overall idea is that we keep our interactions positive and our criticism limited and constructive. In fact, the best questions to ask before we criticize may be:

Is it necessary? 
Is it helpful?

As my son gets older, I will have fewer opportunities to direct his inner voice.  Until then, I'm going to seize those chances while using his outer monologue as my guide.

Right now he is in the other room alone playing with his blocks.  I just heard him exclaim, "Good job, little buddy!"

I think he's going to be ok.

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