‘A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.’ – The Twits by Roald Dahl
This quote from ‘The Twits’ is fun but there is a wonderfully deep lesson in it which refers to a person’s inner life. What are your thoughts like? Are they nice or ugly? It could be detrimental to your face according to Roald Dahl!
In all seriousness, we should pay attention to the thoughts that make up our inner voice. Especially in a big life event, like divorce. During these times we can have so many big emotions and dark thoughts, it is difficult not to feel adrift in a sea of negativity. Our inner voice is powerful. If we could become more intentional to harness it, it could be used for good.
Roald Dahl has very effectively shown us that children can understand the power of our inner voice in his humorous description of looking sunny and lovely despite a double chin. However, how do we as parents help our children to moderate their thoughts and grow through the experience, instead of getting bogged down in negativity?
An effective technique I would like to suggest is positive self-talk. Basically, this is creating an awareness of the thoughts we have, both negative and positive, and then reframing them. It is training your thoughts to approach life with the idea that we can apply ourselves to things and learn from them even if we don’t see perfection. Moreover, it is having compassion on ourselves and recognising who we are, where we find ourselves and what we have been through.
Here are some examples:
“I’ve never done this before. I don’t think I can do it.” Versus “This is an opportunity to learn something new, I can give it a go. It doesn’t have to be perfect first-time round.”
“I made such a big mistake – I am an idiot.” Versus “I didn’t get that right but I am willing to try again. What did I miss?”
Now, I’m not talking about toxic positivity where a person supresses their emotions and marches on ignoring the severity and sadness of the situation. This can be hurtful and damaging. Healthy positivity deals with our experiences and emotions through a positive outlook without denying the pain and difficulty of that moment.
See if you can see the difference with these examples:
“Always look on the bright side.” Versus “It can be difficult to see the good in this situation, but we’ll make sense of it when we can.”
“Failure isn’t an option.” Versus “Failure is part of growth.”
Positive Self-talk produces some great benefits for children:
• Builds self-confidence
• Improves attitude and gives positive outlook
• Helps develop self-compassion
• Encourages risk taking and a willingness to tackle difficult things
• Grows motivation
• Reduces stress
• Develops critical thinking
I’m sure you’ll agree that if we can cultivate some of these outcomes, we will be setting our kids up for future success in so many ways.
How can positive self-talk help in divorce recovery?
So, the next question is how can positive self-talk help our children specifically for divorce recovery? I would like to focus on three areas that all children of divorce have to face during and after this transition.
After divorce children gain a measure of independence. They have to grow up a little quicker than their peers and new demands and expectations are put on them. They often have to take on more responsibilities and learn to use their initiative. This can be a good learning and growing time, but it can also be difficult and stretching. Self-confidence can blossom if this experience is cushioned with a helpful positive outlook. Doing new things and making mistakes are great moments for them to tell themselves that this is hard, but they can …
ask for help,
and they’re doing a great job!
In most divorces there are lots of changes to get used to: houses, routines, new family members, weekends, pets, schools and so forth. It takes time to adjust to a new normal. Changes can bring insecurity which can cause a dip in self-confidence and even withdrawal. This can be a good time for kids to calm anxiety with positive self-talk and tell themselves that they …
Have people who love them
Can take it one day at a time
Can grow through new experiences
And they are coping very well!
During and especially after a divorce, children experience a rainbow of emotions. This is no different to adults, except for children some of these feelings are not only new but they have never felt these emotions so strongly before. This is a huge learning curve. It can be both wonderfully beneficial in the long run, but can also be very difficult in the present. How can they process these big feelings in ways that are socially acceptable? Can they clearly express themselves and communicate to others what is bothering them? How can they ask for help and support when they don’t really know what they need? Positive self-talk can be a great technique to help kids stay calm and make good choices. It can be the bridge between feeling out of control and keeping a handle on their reactions.
When angry, children could tell themselves that as long as they stay calm, they are in control.
In times of anxiety, children could tell themselves to focus on the things that they can control, not on the things they can’t.
For sad moments, children could tell themselves that feelings come and go, tomorrow may be better.
When loneliness strikes, children could tell themselves that they have lots to offer a friendship and when the opportunity to make a friend comes along, they are brave enough to take it.
What can parents do to help?
As parents, what we say makes up a big part of our children’s inner voice. Do you remember as a child how your parents’ statements used to mentally pop up in moments of stress or vulnerability? If we can be mindful of this, we can be intentional in influencing a positive outlook in our children’s thinking, and that truly is a wonderful gift!
Parents who model self-compassion and have a positive outlook are going to create a culture of positivity in their family. Are you kind to yourself? For many of us, this has not been part of our upbringing so it’s not a natural thing. Doing the mental work and making the effort is definitely going to help yourself and your kids along the road to recovery.
Do you know what the mental traps are that send your kids into a downward spiral? Is it self-doubt, anxiety or guilt perhaps? Find an opportunity to have a conversation about these traps and help your child to develop some helpful self-talk that they can draw on in these difficult moments. I have made a printable PDF to help you have this conversation.
Finally, developing positive self-talk is a process and something that needs space and time to master. The brain develops new thought patterns as we practice it. Therefore be patient and encouraging, but most of all, celebrate the little steps your children take towards a positive outlook. You are their cheerleader and biggest fan.
My wish for you is that as you and your children journey along the road to mastering positive self-talk, your faces will shine like sunbeams and that you will always look lovely! (Thanks Roald Dahl) 😊