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The Way We Talk to Our Children Becomes Their Inner Voice

When we’re with adults, we tend to be diplomatic and polite. We respect another’s space, standing at a reasonable distance. We pause while someone interjects a comment. We converse in a way that sounds sincere and considerate. Yet somehow, in the rush of our everyday lives with our kids, we often forget to do the same.

Children seek their parents’ approval. If they feel you approve of them, they will approve of themselves. Out of frustration, parents may yell at their kids from time to time. But after all is said and done, it is important that a parent goes back and restates what came out too insensitively.

Little kids tend to have harsh inner voices; they tell themselves they are “bad” pretty easily. As kids get older, they begin to modify their self-criticism, accepting that they can both do things incorrectly and remedy situations.

But the bottom line is this: what they think of themselves is significantly influenced by how they think their parents view them. Your voice, whether gentle and kind, empathic and warm, or strident and harsh, becomes a big part of their inner voice. They treat themselves the way they have been treated.

How do you want your loved ones to speak to you? The answer to that question should be a guide to how your children need to be spoken to.


Questions to Ask Yourself About How You Talk to Your Kids

Do you find yourself raising your voice when you’re feeling tired and rushed?

Do you forget to say please and thank you when you ask your child to do something?

Do you instruct and lecture instead of asking and suggesting?

Do you rush in with advice instead of taking turns in conversation?


Children Respect Themselves When We Respect Them

Children need to feel respected by the adults in their world, especially their parents, whom they love and need to feel loved by. Only then can they feel loveable, which is the basis of high self-esteem and self-respect.

Here are a few hints:

Let kids know you need them.

When you need your child to help out, tell them you need them and appreciate their help.

Feeling needed is a wonderful gift; share that with your child. Let them feel how important they are to you.

Ask instead of instructing.

Instead of instructing your children to do their homework, ask if they want to create a plan for their assignments.

Suggest rather than tell them how helpful you find it when you do things ahead of time, or reflect on your struggle with getting things done.

Then ask them if they feel good when they do things ahead of schedule. Have a discussion about feelings when things are completed in a satisfying way.

Have conversations instead of making demands.

When you feel overwhelmed with chores and want to share housework with your kids, open up about your wishes and seek their opinions about how to get things done together. Remember: conversations are about turn-taking, so listen carefully and comment on their ideas rather than just waiting to state your agenda.

If your children are part of the plan, they will want to carry it out. Plus, they’ll feel you respect them, and will, therefore, respect themselves.

Express sincere thanks.

When kids feel included in discussions and that they are genuinely listened to, much more gets accomplished. Your kids will know their input matters, and that they deserve the same thank-you we want to hear from them. It feels great when someone is grateful. Adults need to share how grateful they are for what their kids do.


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In Unlocking Parental Intelligence, long-experienced psychoanalyst, Laurie Hollman, PhD, encourages parents to find the significance behind their child’s behaviors by becoming “meaning-ma…

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Laurie Hollman

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I am a psychoanalyst with specialized clinical training in infant-parent, child, adolescent, and adult psychotherapy. I write extensively for parents about child development, mental health, Parental Intelligence, and a broad range of parenting topics… Read More


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