boy older divingHow do you explain why something good or bad happens in your life? To what do you attribute your successes and/or failures? Our self-talk generally gravitates toward holding ourselves responsible or charging others. But sometimes it is jumbled up.

Listen for how children attribute the good and the bad in life.

Certain children tend to put the responsibility for all failures on their own flaws and weaknesses: “I failed the test because I’m so dumb.”

On the other hand, they attribute all successes to fate, a bizarre circumstance, or someone else’s charity. “I got an A on the test because the teacher made the test too easy.”

Some children tend to attribute all their successes to their own ingenuity, good looks and great ability. Success is because of ME, even if there were others involved: “The play was a success because I had the lead (never mind the efforts of everyone else in it!)”

On the other side of the coin, they attribute all failures to everyone else’s ineptness and/or circumstances beyond their control. “I failed that test because the teacher made it so hard no one could pass (even though more than half the class did).”

sports team boys“Poor me” or “Lucky me”

Hear the patterns in how children report life events, such as their school day or their recent soccer game. Sometimes these spoken statements become their self-talk and sometimes their self-talk surfaces in their spoken words.

The self-talk of children who blame themselves goes something like this: “Life doesn’t have many good things for me.” Or “If I fail, I will lose my value and I cannot let myself risk it.” Self-talk of kids who blame others can sound like, “I have nothing to apologize for.” Or  “Life owes me happiness and success.” Or “Why am I in trouble for fighting? Joe hit me first so it’s his fault I was fighting.”

Our actions can help them find balance. Conversation Starters —

  • “Whose responsibility is it really?”This week, call attention to times the children are either not taking responsibility for their behavior or assuming responsibility for something that’s not their fault. When this happens, ask them to “say what is true” about whose fault it is.
  • “Brainstorm your evidence.” Guide the children to stop and be mindful about their self-talk, rather than continue on autopilot. Reject the faulty self-talk by brainstorming with the child all the reasons why he or she knows it is not true: “Dad breaks promises to lots of people, not just me; there’s nothing I can do about the fact he goes out with his friend lots of Saturdays,” and so on.

Game: Make-A-Monster Scavenger Hunt

Illustrate that the lies we tell ourselves can add up to a monster voice living in our heads.  Send the kids outside to find junk materials to build a monster: dead sticks and leaves, old cans, stones and other “junk.” This monster is the lies we tell ourselves. Have a variety of miscellaneous materials they can also use, such as yarn, markers, glue sticks, tape, buttons, etc. Let them create the biggest monster they can.  [With younger kids, you could keep it for a week and, each time they correct their self-talk, unattach one monster section and trash it.]

Tweetable: Conversation starters and a scavenger hunt illustrate for children how to overlay new, positive self-talk statements. Click to Tweet