Have you heard of positive and negative core beliefs before? These are the beliefs we hold of ourselves, other people, and the world based on our life experiences.
These beliefs happen as a result of decisions or interpretations we make about situations we encounter. For example, when a child continually tries to build a tower, but it keeps falling, and the parents respond with this kind of language, “That tower building stuff is tricky. It looks like you’re really thinking about how to make this work,” the child is likely to believe (s)he is capable of figuring it out. In this example, the child might develop positive core beliefs.
Here is an example where a negative core belief might start to grow. In the same situation with a falling tower, consider the effect if the response to the child was this: “Stop doing that if it’s going to make you mad—it looks too hard for you. It’s not worth it.” In this example, a negative core belief of not being capable or giving up when things are hard might develop.
Here are three suggestions to using language that fosters the growth of positive core beliefs:
In order to foster the growth of positive core beliefs, focus on using strength-based and supportive language. At the same time, reduce the kinds of speaking that triggers our children’s defenses and coping mechanisms like: name calling, judgment, lecturing, blaming, shaming (saying things to embarrass them), demoralizing (pointing out what they are doing wrong), and threatening.
What is strength-based and supportive language? It is language where we focus on the effort, not on the result. And importantly, to correct them in a way that teaches a better way. Use language that shows your child you understand the outburst that happened, but it is important to do things differently the next time.
For example, “I heard you yell at your coach today. It can feel pretty hard to keep it together when we’re in the zone for a game, but it’s not okay to be hard on others. Let’s talk about a plan to managing that anger if it happens again.”
Think about how you can teach your child to behave more appropriately rather than snapping at him or her for losing their cool.
When a child doesn’t follow instructions, breaks something, doesn’t follow the rules or talks back, parents can correct the behaviour without attacking the personality of the child. Look at the misbehaviour as a mistake, not as a personality flaw.
We can also remind ourselves that mistakes happen for lots of reasons. Perhaps the child is compromised (exhausted, frustrated, tired or hungry) or simply hasn’t learned the skill she needs to prevent this mistake. We can’t get mad at a child for pouring her cereal onto a plate if we haven’t gone through the steps of showing her how to get her own cereal.
We also can’t get mad at a child for being mad. If parents start coaching their children at the toddler age how to process emotions and repeatedly walk through calm-down steps to develop rational thought, two-to-four year olds are still likely to throw, hit, bite, and freak out. It takes several years to grow the automatic response of calming when emotions surge. Please don’t be discouraged! Don’t see your child’s inability to stop a freak out as a failure of his character, but more as an opportunity for more practice. There are still a great number of adults who have a very hard time reeling in the strong instinctual reaction to freak out; it takes time to develop calming skills.
They key to doing this is to separate the child’s behaviour from who he or she is as a person. Look at the misbehaviour as a mistake, not as a personality flaw.
Here are some examples to show you how to do that:
Use this word instead of hard, which can feel rigid and impossible. Tricky implies there is challenge involved but it’s a matter of maneuvering through the trickiness—to figure out a way through the maze—but that there is a way!
This is what I mean: “Wow. Tying shoes is tricky. Would you like to take a break, try again, or some help?” (I call this the “frustration mantra.”)
“It can be tricky not to hit your brother when you are mad, but that’s what we have to do. Hitting is not okay.” And then talk about a calm-down plan to handle big feelings.
Instead of Please put your boots on, Can you put your boots on, or Would you like to try You may…
The first three examples are yes/ no questions, which give your child an opportunity to say, “NO!” I suggest steering away from those. Using, “you may” let’s your child know what needs to happen next and in a friendly manner.
Focus on what CAN happen rather than what cannot.
Children are likely to feel a push to do the opposite of what you tell them (that’s called “counterwill”) when they hear, “No,” and “Don’t,” or “Stop!” much of the day. Think of how you can word things to reduce the use of those words.
I suggest adopting a “sure” attitude: “Sure, you can do that. (These are the conditions to make that happen.)” This is what I mean: If a child is jumping on the sofa, instead of saying, “Stop jumping!” or “Get down! Don’t do that,” try this, “It looks like you want to jump. The jumping spot is over there. Sofas are for sitting.”
Here are a few more examples:
“Sure. We can get out the puzzles out right after your books are put in their away spots.”
“Great idea! After your cars are back in the bin, we can have a snack.”
“This is a walking place.” (Instead of “stop running”) or “Walking feet.” And if they are having too much trouble walking, take them to a place they can run around until they have all their ya-yas out.
If you would like more information about core beliefs, I recommend reading my full-length eBook, where I dedicated the first section to understanding those. Also, I created an app (for iPhone & Android), called Taming Tantrums, which is full of positive phrases to boost positive core beliefs. Do you have any questions? Please do ask those here or over on my Facebook page.