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The Power Of Words
Episode 14222nd February 2024 • How Not to Screw Up Your Kids • Dr Maryhan
00:00:00 00:24:53

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We have 6,000 thoughts a day - 80% are negative and 90% of which are habitual. If you have low confidence you're telling yourself 4,800 times day you're not good enough!! I'll share how you can help your child build a new narrative.

Here are the highlights: 

{1:18} The impact of words

{4:15} Our words shape our child’s brain

{6:50} They are always listening!

{9:21} Think about the gender-based language 

{12:50} Be mindful not to over praise 

{16:10} 80% of thoughts are repetitive and negative 

{18:05} Their incredible brain

{21:42} Mantras and affirmations

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Hello and welcome to the how not to screw up your kid’s podcast. So, pour yourself a cuppa, find a comfy seat and enjoy the conversation. Before I start the episode, I'd like to make a request if I may.

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It's how most people find me from your amazing reviews and the episodes you share with friends. Thank you. Now on with the episode.

This is episode 142 and today's episode, the power of words. I want to talk about the often-neglected impact of the words that we use with our children and the words our children use with themselves. Now the impact of words genuinely cannot be overstated.

They have a profound impact on our children's trajectories in their lives as well as the impact that they have on us as adults. Even to this day, you think about some of the words that have been uttered to you as a child, some of the words that have been uttered to you as a teen and even in your adult life, either uttered to you by other people or that you use with yourselves and how that pretty much narrates your life and narrates the outcome that happens. The Persian poet Havis used these words.

He said, the words we speak become the house we live in. And I think that to me is so fitting when I, you know, I often talk about this idea that we're a built, that our children are a building under construction and that we start with these foundations and then we become that support structure in the scaffolding. But if we take these words, how those, the building that our children end up constructing and then inhabiting are so influenced, not only by their experiences within the world, but the language that they speak or have spoken to them.

Because in essence, you know, we become the house that we live in and it means that we kind of, we create this emotional and psychological home from the vantage point that we look at, look at our experiences. And so, our words kind of constructs this narrative, this understanding, this lens with which we view the world about who we are, what we do and why we do it. So, if we love and accept ourselves, if our children love and accept themselves, the house in which they live in and the experiences that they have will naturally take a lens and a viewpoint that they're lovable, that they are fully accepting of who they are.

If our children are very hard on themselves, the house with which they inhabit views things very much in that critical way. And that then creates that narrative. So, the goal for each of us really is to gradually and slowly potentially begin to change some of the language that we use.

And this quote to me just epitomizes that journey that our children are going to take. And it's this, it's not how you're born, it's how you're built. And I think that's a really crucial one to sort of think about in the context of the words that we use.

So, the way that I'm going to approach it with my top tips is I'm going to give you five top tips about the words that we use as adults and the impact that they may well have on our children. And then I want to talk about three tips that I want to share in terms of the words that your children use with themselves and how you might help them that way. So, this way, I'm sort of feeling we're doing a bit of a proper belts and braces kind of approach.

So, let's start. Here are my top tips for your words. My first tip is our words help shape our children's brain and it starts super young.

So, if you're listening to this podcast and you have babies, then we need to know that communication is crucial to their brain development. Even when our tiny little babies are barely even, they're not even got to the babbling stage. It's this concept that they talk about quite often in the psychological research of this kind of serve and return.

So, our children's brains begin to develop from the moment that they're sort of in utero, basically when those cells begin to divide. And then obviously when they're birthed and then we begin to interact with them, even when they're not able to communicate with us, they are absorbing, and they are taking in information. Hence this notion about this sort of serve and return is that when we serve something to our children by saying something, whether that's babbling or whether we're talking and then we stop, our babies will return by babbling or saying something or themselves.

And obviously as they develop and they grow through their ages and stages, that gurgling then becomes babbling, then becomes words, then become sentences, then become this communication. So, it's really remembering from the outset in terms of words, even when it feels like we're maybe being a bit ridiculous because this baby can't communicate with us in any way. And it feels ridiculous to have that conversation, but it is having an impact on their brain.

It will have an impact in terms of the extents of the language that we use. For those of you who may or may not know this, when I did my PhD, I looked a lot around language development and generally children's vocabulary size at those young ages is significantly correlated. It has a significant relationship with the number of words and the complexity of the words that we use with our children, even when they are pre-verbal.

So, our impact on their language development and that obviously the connections that happen at the neural sort of level within their brain, all relate to the conversations we have with a baby who can't have a conversation back with us. So, if we know that that is happening at the language level, then it will be having an impact on so many other aspects in terms of our emotions, in terms of the tone that we use, all these other things. So, and obviously that just continues as our children develop into young children and then to teenagers and then into young adults.

So, it's really remembering that our words help shape our children's brains, whether that's when they're super young or as they get older. So that's number one. Number two, they are always listening.

Children are always listening, even when we think they're not. How many times have you done that whole like whispering to someone or tried to spell something out before your children are then able to kind of do spelling themselves? Our children are always listening. They are always watching us.

And even when we think we have uttered something to someone else quietly, our children will pick up from our body language, the tone that we use when we communicate and all these other things. We know that there is a concept called emotional contagion in that people, our children will pick up on our emotions, even if we don't necessarily articulate it. Even if we're trying to be incongruent and saying that we're fine, when really, we're not, they do pick up on all of this.

So, when we're talking about it from a words perspective, be mindful. We need to be mindful of what we say to ourselves as well as what we might say to our children. We're often as parents so preoccupied with saying and doing the right thing for our children that we forget that we're sending these messages really explicitly to our children when we speak about ourselves and when we criticize ourselves openly or our partner criticizes us or we don't prioritize ourselves and we make sure that we do anything and everything for everyone else and our children see us exhausted and frazzled and on our knees at the end of the day.

All these things are being absorbed. They're being taken in. They are beginning to create that world.

Remember, it's not how you're born, it's how you're built and every decision that we make each and every day says something around how we're building ourselves and how our children are building themselves too. So, it's really important that we keep that in mind. It's like they're always listening.

So, a very useful exercise to do maybe at the end of this podcast episode or press pause now and do it now if you're kind of in that zone is to do that bit of that audit. How do you speak to yourself often? How do you behave towards yourself? How do you demonstrate self-love, self-care? How are you building yourself with the language that you use on yourself and then reflect separately on how are you doing that in the language that you use for your children? So, this first one is our word to help shape our children's brains. The second one is they are always listening.

The third one is just to think through this. Think about any gender-based language that you may use. Again, no criticism.

It's said with love. Sometimes these things just slip out but it's uncanny. I find myself tripping up over this regularly.

So, this is a work in progress, and it often depends on what generation you've come into parenting. How old you are will have an impact because how you are parented and these things, but we just need to be mindful because we could be reinforcing gender stereotypes, and we may inadvertently limit our child's world of opportunities because we're using that. The other day I have a real genuine visceral reaction when I hear this pink and blue jobs.

It's one of those things that I have a real reaction to, and I heard someone say it the other day and I just find it but it's something that can typically happen. So, it's something that I've heard a lot and it really genuinely gets my back up. Things like princess used for me in the context of mummy and daddy's princess I have an issue with rather than princess in the context of role playing.

So, it's really just thinking through the language that we use and of course I understand that the gender stereotypes are things that just slip out. We maybe may well be very progressive in the way that we think and we're saying it in an endearing way that our child is our little princess, or our boy is our little man. But it's just thinking through if language and words create our reality then we may be at some subconscious level and so often our belief systems come from this sort of these subconscious beliefs that have been sort of filtered through in terms of our environment is that that can then limit our children into the possibilities and the opportunities that they think are available to them.

So just think about that gender-based language and I would also say be mindful how we approach any gender-based language that might come from those who are part of the village and the tribe with which raise our children. So that might be grandparents, that might be aunts and uncles, that might be partners, that might be friends. Let's have compassionate conversations with those around.

I've noticed that you tend to use this sort of language around my child and it's important to me that I really open their eyes to all the world and all of the opportunities, and I feel that sometimes that that might be limiting. I wonder if you might. So, it's having those conversations rather than being frustrated but also being mindful of our own language and this is not about beating yourself up, please don't do that, but it's just being aware that these things can then create these limiting and sometimes they're just really small things that we don't realize but they can have a big impact.

We hear it so often when we have this, you know, good girl sitting quietly and colouring in and being good that reinforces a gender stereotype of people pleasing for girls but it also reinforces a negative stereotype for boys who may then want to be more active and moving around and then feel that they can't, they're not as good with their English or they're not as good as with their handwriting. It's all age and stage so just think about our gender-based language. The fourth one is about being mindful that we don't over praise children.

I know we're really conscious about saying what we see and praising children in terms of giving them those sort of rewards for doing a good job, but we need to make sure that we're doing it where it's appropriate and also using really descriptive language. Children pick up on false praise, they pick up on this sort of, I'm just, you know, this isn't genuine so that whole kind of, oh my goodness me, you've done this most incredible painting or piece of work. Children know the quality of what they've done as they get older so praise that we want to deliver needs to be much more from that space of being descriptive.

I really like the way that you've used colour, I really like the way that you created this on the side, I really love the language that you use when you are describing this. So being really super descriptive rather than just lavishing them with these huge superlatives of you're incredible, you're amazing, you're wonderful, you can be anything. Yeah, really pick out and really focus in and praise what they've genuinely done and sometimes there will be no opportunity to give praise because actually what they have shown you, what they've demonstrated isn't praiseworthy so just acknowledge that too rather than feeling that we need to constantly sort of, you know, metaphorically stroke our children and give them praise all of the time.

So, it's our words help shape our child's brain, they're always listening, think about gender-based language, be mindful you don't over praise. And then the fifth one in terms of what we can do is really cultivate self-love language at home and then model it. So if it speaks to you use the word self-love, if it doesn't speak to you use a different word whether that be some aspect of that, you know, gratitude for yourself, whatever words you want to do but we want to cultivate language within our home around how we can show appreciation, acknowledgement and gratitude for who we are and the qualities that we have.

This is not a bit about bragging, this is not about being egotistical or self-centred but it's a recognition that I can't give to you, I can't give the best of myself if I don't recognize that I'm and acknowledge that I'm great and I'm good and I'm enough first. So, I think, you know, talk about and cultivate this language at home I think is a really, really crucial aspect that we need to do. So those are the five things that we can do.

I now want to shift to three things that we can really be actively encouraging directly in terms of the language that our children use. So, the tips that I've given you so far are very much driven from us, what we model, what we say, what we do. Now I really want to shift that emphasis in terms of our children.

So, our children's internal belief system will drive their behaviour and that belief system will come from the language, the words that we use with them but also the words that they subsequently use for themselves. Now there's some recent research I've been looking into because I was desperate to try and give you a statistic of how many thoughts that we have and there's a couple of kind of different bits of research out there, one of which has been debunked. So, you may well have read that we have 60,000 thoughts a day.

I have even quoted that, but I've done a bit more digging and actually that is not the case. Queen's University in Canada did some very sort of robust research and they have found that humans have around six and a half thoughts per minute. Now you just think about that 60 seconds you have six and a half thoughts so that's literally a thought every 10 seconds which equates to about 6,000 thoughts a day if we have eight hours sleep yeah and discounting so the idea that you know we're not thinking while we're while we're sleeping.

That's a profound number of thoughts and the statistics around thoughts are also that 80% of the thoughts that we have are self-deprecating they're negative thoughts and 95% well depends on the research that you read between 90 and 95% of the thoughts that we have are repetitive they're habitual they're the same thoughts you have again and again and again. So if you have a child who has very low self-esteem and very poor self-belief then between five and ten percent of thoughts are all we've got left of the habitual ones that they have that might be kind ones that might be positive ones that might be ones where they're enough so we really need to be this is something that we really need to be addressing if we're talking about wanting to raise resilient and confident children we have to address the words that we're using but even more importantly the words that our children are using so I’ve got three tips here three that i really want you to kind of focus in on the first one is knowledge is power so talk to your children regularly about their incredible brain talk to them regularly about the statistics that we know these are the more accurate statistics that I’ve shared with you now the crucial word here is to talk don't lecture it's so easy I have I’m telling you it's a fine line between talking and having an interesting conversation that we think we're talking and having an interesting conversation and our children receiving it as oh my gosh there's mum off again on one of her rants one of her lectures so it's really about where there is an opportunity let's just sort of drop a little bit of information about our brain it's a muscle we talk about neurons we talk about the goodness me I heard the other day on Maryhan's podcast that we have six thousand thoughts a day so every 10 seconds we're having a thought you know maybe get a stop clock out 10 seconds you know time a minute right there you go you've had six and a half thoughts in those minute make it fun make it interesting make it a discussion point that you can have rather than a lecture when we lecture or when our children perceive we've gone into lecture mode they have switched off and particularly our teens so we have to you know we have to accept that this is going to be a slow change we're not going to suddenly listen to this podcast and hopefully you're thinking oh my god this is all amazing you're not suddenly going to go that's amazing I’m going to go implement that now at home and our children are just going to go yay of course my goodness me how did i not realize that 80 of my thoughts are negative I’m going to change them immediately it isn't going to happen we're playing the long game so if we can just chip away remember we're gradually and patiently trying to change the words that we use every day and so it's the same with us we've got to gradually and but you know patiently chip away at the three in the narrative that our children have with themselves so the first one is knowledge is power number two this is a way that we could have this conversation and keep it consistent is talk about reprogramming your brain as you would reprogram a computer so talk we're talking about generating more constructive thoughts rather than generating more positive thoughts so it's easier for your child or your team to shift from extreme self-criticism to a more neutral stance because it's a much larger leap to go from this you know huge self-criticism to huge self-love if you imagine the continuum you're literally going from two opposite ends you're going from one extreme end to another which takes me to another point please please please don't talk about positive and negative yeah our thoughts are our thoughts they're critical they're not ones that that show self-love but I think our children and particularly teens automatically switch off when we say that this is positive and this is negative you're having negative thoughts let's shift it to a positive thought it's just simply using language around reprogramming trying to be generate more constructive thoughts we're in that critical how can we show ourselves a bit more compassion how can we have more constructive thoughts that reflect more of the reality of what's being presented to them we'll do a whole separate podcast around how our children teens perceive a specific situation and then how they frame it but when we're talking around words use language like reprogramming use language like constructive thoughts use language around being more self-compassionate so that's the second one the third one is encourage your children to use affirmations or mantras each day cliched I know but it absolutely works if we remember the words that we use to ourselves create our world if 80% of it is going to be critical then why can we not insert some affirmations and some mantras that are more compassionate now if you have got a child or a teen who's massively low in their confidence you are not going to encourage them I wouldn't encourage you to encourage them to use affirmations or mantras that say I’m a great X I’m a great person I’m because it will is likely to jar so try and encourage them to use affirmations and mantras that are much more sort of middle a bit more sort of neutral so I can set my mind to anything I want to yeah I’m opening myself up to having a fun day so it's really constructing ones that tend to be more neutral and of course they're going to jar initially so you may start by having some family ones you may have a mantra or an affirmation that you encourage your children to say together on the walk to school or in the car together or at the end of their day if you can insert something each day that moves them much more towards a constructive thoughts more compassionate and self-loving thoughts then of course we want to do that and obviously we want them to be part of that process and so it's trying to it's getting them on board with some of the language that we can use that helps shift the dial remember we're gradually and patiently changing the words we use each day so it could simply be adding a yet to some of the narrative that they had that they have or it could be instead of if I have a good day it's when I have a good day so it's really thinking through some of those real subtle shifts in in language that we that we use that helps move us in that right direction so my give this week is going to be both sets of top tips so the five top tips in terms of us but also the three top tips for our children so that you can have those as a checklist and you can work out which you want to start with first and obviously it depends on what level of confidence that your child is in as to which ones you do first.

So, as usual you need to head over to my free resource library where you'll find the link to download the resource all you need to do is pop in your email address and you'll get instant access not only to this week's resource all the other free resources across all my other podcast episodes as ever if you have enjoyed this podcast I would love it if you could follow and review this podcast so that others can find us and we can spread the love.

So, until next time…





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